He would swoop in out of nowhere, and the harassment would begin. I was allowed to ride my bike on one street my mother had deemed safe. It was close enough for her to walk to or yell out the back door when I was needed at home.
My friends and I would buzz along, minding our own business, and a police siren would send the alarm that we weren’t alone. My older brother was talented in sound effects, and he made it seem authentic.
I had learned to look over my back, so I could outrun him if I had the chance. He had caught on to my dodging technique and would keep silent until he was right up on me. Easily I should have been able to escape, but he had a partner who would get in front of me while he closed in from behind. Ultimately, I stopped to avoid running into the neighbor kid, his minion.
If he got me in the middle of the road, he would demand I pull over to the curb, like the city officially licensed him to be an officer. Once I complied, he would take out a pad of paper and a pencil to write my ticket. He would purposely stare at the sky, trying to come up with something. He should have flunked every class in school because of inattention, but when it came to this, he was perfect in his penmanship.
“How fast were you going, do you think?” He would say in this nasal tone that sounded nothing like him in our house that was two lawns over.
I had no speedometer on my bike, but I had to go through the motions to get away from him faster.
“I don’t know! 20?”
“20 what? 20 miles per hour? I think that is low. I think you were going way faster than that.”
“50! I was going 50!”
“No. I think it was less than 50.”
It was like playing the higher or lower game on the Price is Right.
He would sigh, put the eraser on his chin, tilt his head and ponder the situation. Meanwhile, my friends were racing by laughing because they thought he was hilarious.
“You might be right about that. 40 sounds about right,” he would state in slow motion. Like a record being played backward.
Scribbling down a number, he would then proceed to inspect my vehicle.
“That back end looks like it’s ready to fall off. When was the last time you had that checked?”
My young mind would go blank trying to answer questions that didn’t make sense.
I was given a bike used by every kid in the family that my dad had repainted, put on a banana seat, and had multi-colored plastic spoke covers.
“I don’t know if those are street legal. We might have to take them off.”
On and on he went walking around jotting down infractions that should have warranted my removal from society.
“Let me go!”I would say after giving him plenty of time to annoy me.
“Are you talking back to a police officer, Chris? I will have to add that. That’s not good.”
When I thought it would never end, he would tear the sheet off with a grand flair and hand it to me.
“I don’t ever want to see you do that again,” he would say, walking away. I had no idea what he meant. Then, he would focus his attention on my friends.
After witnessing my humiliation, you would think they would want nothing to do with it. It was just the opposite. They could hardly wait their turn because they thought he was humorous.
From their standpoint, I would have too, but I had to live with him, and it was non-stop entertainment before streaming services were available. Once he set his attention on me, I knew I had to figure out a way to get out of it. Sometimes, it was so bizarre I sat transfixed, trying to comprehend what his brain was doing; he knew this tactic worked to keep me involved longer.
“Do you see this container?” he said, coming into the living room.
I was reading a book, nowhere near his domain. I had conditioned myself to ignore his inquiries because this was the starting point of the marathon that was about to take place.
I made the mistake of looking up. He was holding a plastic margarine tub. Our mom was a survivor of the Great Depression, so anything toxic like that was used for leftovers or a spare set of keys. Whatever she could think of to put in one, it was never thrown away.
I saw him swallow and blink a few times as he said,
“This is all some people will get for Christmas this year.” He cupped it in his hands like it was valuable.
“What?” I said, breaking my code of silence. That is all it took to get the party started.
“Some people, Chris, will only get this under their tree.”
That’s when I saw the tears form in his eyes. I blame him for my forehead wrinkles that began in my pre-teens.
“Isn’t it so…” he cleared his throat and let the drips fall. “Isn’t it awful? Someone will get this as a gift this year, and that’s going to be it.” He broke into a complete bawling session worthy of a funeral. The Academy Awards had missed their opportunity for best actor.
His skills didn’t stop with sorrow.
“Let’s fight in slow motion,” he suggested one time.
“What is that?”
“We throw punches at each other, but you don’t really hit the other person. You go slow, so no one gets hurt.”
That sounded like a fantastic idea to me. I could take swings and get out my frustration without injuring either of us.
In the basement, far from where my mom could see, we began to go around in a circle, with fists raised and jabbing toward one another. It was all going along as planned until I moved in the direction of one his fists striking me right on my nose. I dropped my arms and looked into his frightened eyes. The blood began to pour out of a nostril.
I didn’t realize he was capable of moving so fast. He did everything at half the pace of the rest of the world.
“Get into my room!” he demanded as I saw the bright red blood on my palm, signaling the wail he knew was about to erupt.
He pushed me onto his bunk bed and ran into the bathroom to get a tissue. I got up to find my mom, a registered nurse, but he blocked me before I could.
“Sit down! Put this up your nose!” He was whisper yelling. “Shh! Be quiet!”
Had I known the punishment he would have received, I would have screamed at the top of my lungs, but he looked so scared that I followed his orders.
“See? You’re fine. It’s stopping.”
I sniffed a few times and tasted the blood go down the back of my throat.
“Pinch your nose. That will help.” He had suddenly gotten his medical license. He ran back into the bathroom and brought another wad of toilet paper. Moving quickly wasn’t usual, so I knew he was terrified. I heard him flush the evidence on one of his trips there and back.
Eventually, the bleeding stopped, and he was out of the woods.
It was one of only a handful of times that he and I started laughing about how stupid we looked.
His most outstanding performance came in the summer.
A group of girls were at our house, fangirling over him. He was born with the ability to drum, and like Ringo from the Beatles, the same peers who thought he was amazing as a police officer ranked him highly as an international musician.
“Do you want to try?” he asked one of them, handing over his sticks. Barely able to keep her knees from buckling, she walked up to him, and he gave her tips on how to play. One by one, they were warmly welcomed to his set.
I knew what was coming as I observed.
“Chris should play,” one of them said.
“I am out of time for today, but maybe next time.”
He shot me a shark teeth grin because he never let me near his drumset. It was covered with a cloth when he wasn’t playing, and if he ever caught me near it, I knew I would be in trouble. Whatever that meant, I didn’t want to find out.
After the drum lesson, he decided it would be fun to scare all of us.
For some reason, his performance in horror was also one of his strong points. I would be watching tv, and he would enter the room and stand in front of me to block my view, giving a long-winded speech about nonsense. In the middle of his talk, he would stop, appear to see something over my head that was terrifying, and begin to play the role.
“Chris! It’s coming! I can’t stop it!” He would lower his voice as if to warn me not to move and upset the unseen monster approaching.
The first time this happened, I fell for it and whipped my head around, jumping up to protect myself. He walked away, throwing his head back, laughing. The next time, I steeled myself mentally, trying to ignore his expressions of panic because what if this time he wasn’t faking? What if there was a hideous creature sneaking up to devour me? I reasoned that he wouldn’t care, so why bother moving?
I caught him off guard once and did it back to him. He never did it again.
“I am going to build a haunted house,” he announced that day after enthralling them with his drumming. In their eyes, he was the perfect brother.
He went into a back room where my parents kept a giant freezer. He shut the door while we waited outside, listening to him bang objects around. He taped a note to the door:
Knock Before Entering
A brave girl tapped lightly on the door, and it swung open with a creaking sound accompanying it. He had shut off all the lights. I remember her turning and looking at me for advice. I had been in that room a million times, but with it dark, it appeared to be a new addition.
She mustered up the courage and went in while the door automatically shut behind her. That sent a wave of fear through the entire group. His engineering skills were better than I thought.
Each took their turn, and as usual, I was last. I followed the instructions, and I was allowed to enter. The sound of a drum reverberated off the walls. The space was small so that I could feel it in my chest. Tucked away underneath the stairs, he was seated, banging on a brown plastic wastebasket. To add to his costume, he had taken a towel off the clotheslines where my mom hung the wash to dry. Wrapped around his head, looking like a swami, he pretended to be a mind reader.
From where I stood, it was low budget with a single light bulb burning.
“Enter,” he said. I was pretty much in.
He made moaning sounds like he was summoning the dead while he struck the wastebasket. Mr. Amazing had not thought about a hot light source melting the plastic container he was beating on, causing it to smoke. Jumping up, he tried to put it out before it became an inferno. His future was looking bleak.
I assumed my role as the runner.
“Mom!” I yelled up the stairs with all my friends watching. “Bob is setting the house on fire!”
I heard the stomping of feet in the kitchen above. I moved away before she ran me over.
Running into the dark, she was unaware of the ropes he had used to make the door open and shut. Her neck got caught, so she began to claw her way to freedom. The smell of smoke drifted out to where I was with the rest of the audience.
“Bob! What are you doing?” she screeched, somewhat constricted. Alfred Hitchcock had never directed or produced such a work. It was as if a snake had wrapped itself around her throat.
Unsure how he fixed the problem, it was rare to see him subjected to her wrath, but it was her favorite trash bin with a gaping hole in the bottom. Between coughing from the smoke and the choking of the ropes, she let him have it.
While dealing with him and all of his antics, he taught me that fear is temporary. Just throw a switch, and it can be transformed into laughter. What appeared to be so scary ended up backfiring and became a comedy.