S is for Sibling

My little brother and I enjoyed relatively unfettered childhoods. As was typical of the time, we grew up as free-range children, exploring our surroundings as we saw fit—biking, go-carting, camping, fishing, building forts, and playing dangerous games on the railroad tracks, just existing with nary an adult to report to for hours at a time. Some summer days we’d leave the house after breakfast, bicycle into town with our inner tubes slung across our torsos, meet up with friends and spend the entire day floating the river, dragging the inner tubes back up the winding trails and doing it again. We always made it home in time for dinner.

I don’t remember anyone ever telling me to watch out for my brother who was four years younger than I, to make sure he didn’t drown or get chased by the Doberman Pinschers who careened after us as we raced our bikes down the winding country roads. We all stuck together then, in a tight knit pack as we roamed the small logging town that shaped us.

Our parents often left us home alone together at night as well, in the log home that our father had built. At home we’d play elaborately imaginative games, build blanket forts, take the guns out of the gun cabinet, spread the bullets around on the floor, and imagine that we were pioneers who needed to hunt for our supper. We knew better than to ever point a gun, imagined or real, at any human being. We knew to put the key to the gun cabinet back exactly as we had found it before mom and dad got home.

On one of these nights, I took it upon myself to teach my little brother how to fight. As we sparred in his bedroom, I grabbed him by the arm and flung him into his closet where he landed hard upon a sharp bit of metal toy railroad track. Obviously he was not learning how to fight fast enough for my taste. He let out a wail and held up his elbow, which sported a two-inch long gash, a deep gushing gash.  I’d never seen blood so thick and dark.

Don’t cry! I admonished as I dragged him into the bathroom. Hush. Be brave. Don’t tell mom and dad! I sat him on the closed toilet seat and gave him a comb to bite on (my dad had done the same for me once when I’d gotten the soft flesh of my palm caught in a pump-action BB gun). Bite! I ordered and dug around in the cabinets for a BandAid and some Bactine.

He screamed as I dumped the Bactine into the wound, and the blood soaked through the BandAids as fast as I could put them over the gash. Hold your arm up! I commanded. Up! Higher! I pushed the loose skin together and peeled more bandages, slapping them on as fast as I could. Finally, the bleeding stopped.

You cannot tell mom and dad, I whispered fiercely so he’d know I was serious. We—I emphasized this—will get in so much trouble if they know you got hurt. Somehow, that wound went undetected for several days. Somehow, I never got in trouble. Somehow, as these things tended to do in the days of unfettered childhood, the injury healed without complication.


He still sports the scar on his elbow, a long jagged coil that has faded over time. We are still close in spite of the occasional childhood brutalities I meted out. He insists he doesn’t remember his childhood. I maintain he must have blocked it out.

He’s grown up to be a lovely man, a wonderful father, and amazingly talented at whatever he tries: banking, woodworking, grilling, restoring houses. He balances a complicated schedule but always has time and his full attention for whoever finds themselves sitting across the table from him. I count myself fortunate when I am that person.

We used to work in the same city—he drove north from his home in Oregon, and I drove south from my house in northern Washington. We each spent the better part of the week away from our homes and families, but we re-forged the bond we’d had in childhood.

I’m grateful we had those few years, the opportunity to reconnect as adults, the two of us away from the usual family settings in which adult siblings generally interact, settings fraught with the emotions of holidays and travel and aging parents. Our paths still occasionally cross when just the two of us can enjoy a meal or meet up to catch a Mariners’ game. When we can enjoy the rare days that are unfettered adulthood.

Indulging in Nostalgia

The tightness in my chest begins
A pang that travels from my solar plexus
Up my right shoulder
Not over my heart, oddly
It is the pang of loneliness
The pang of invisibility
And it radiates through me while
Tears stream down my face
The tightness in my chest begins
A pang of recognition from my solar plexus
To my groin
Not over my heart, oddly
The pang of knowing
And it radiates through me until
You reach to touch my face
The tightness in my chest begins
To soften
Life is full of dichotomies. We spend our days working our way through them, balancing our lives as we step across the divides that open up in our days. Sometimes there are great chasms—like this week: Utah legalized same sex marriage while a Catholic in Washington State (where same sex marriage has been legal for a year) lost his job for marrying his male partner. Since the push for legalizing same sex marriage began in earnest, I’ve been wrestling with my own complicated feelings around the issue, my own internal dichotomy, a push/pull between recognition and—I don’t know quite what to call it: Privacy? Subversion? Neither word quite works though the two together come close. Maybe what I’m experiencing is the tug between then and now. What used to be and what is. A yearning for the elusive and imagined good old days? The good old days were never as good as we remember them. But, Dear Reader, let me see if I can make myself clear. Indulge me while I indulge in a little nostalgia. Tis the season and all that, right?
A few weeks ago, my massage therapist and I were talking about singing, because my solar plexus is all jammed up. She recommended that I sing loudly to loosen things—I laughed and said I do not sing and she said she didn’t either except lullabies to her babies.  I too sang my children lullabies—we sang anyway, testaments to our mother-love.  This was a tangential and unremarkable enough discussion until she sent me a link to one of the songs she used to sing to her children. I read the lyrics first and something old and familiar tugged in me. I know this song, I thought, and when I clicked the link to a youtube video and heard it, a rush of aged memories washed over me. Memories from way before I had children, memories long dormant. I DID know this song—Cris Williamson singing Like a Ship in the Harbor. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It’s a pang, a tingling, an edge of my seat excitement. It is me all those years ago wondering “how did I miss all of this until now?” It is uncertainty and knowing entwined. It’s a feeling that 22 year old me knew well, a feeling full of angst and heartache, joy and discovery, the thrill of having a secret, the excitement of walking that fine line between discovery and being discovered, when I knew things about myself that no one else did.
I remember the first Cris Williamson concert I attended. I was in graduate school, just a baby lesbian, still all pink and new in my skin, and as we all streamed into the college’s performing arts center, I felt the scales fall from my eyes (I had also just recently left fundamentalist christianity, so the biblical reference works quite nicely here) and I finally saw, really saw, that I was not alone. And as I began this journey, out of one life and into another, the music carried me. I lived in a small apartment with two women from my church group while I was exploring my sexuality, discovering the deeply hidden real me, and I played these albums loudly and repeatedly over and over. I played Cris Williamson’s The Changer and The Changed, and I sang along, rising up and spilling over, it’s an endless waterfall. Rising up and spilling over, over all.
I listened for hours and hours as I embraced my sexuality, euphoric after years of wrestling down the demons of homosexuality. Cris and Tret Fure, Meg Christian. These women and their songs initiated me into a world I had not known existed, a subversive and secret world where women loved and sang and wrote about loving each other. A world that no one could know about just by listening. They had to know before they listened.
And I think that is what I miss. Being on that other side of Out, the subversive side, the secret club side. Kate Clinton used to do a bit about being a Stealth Lesbian, flying low under the radar of the patriarchy. Those were the days, as she said so succinctly, that we wouldn’t say the word lesbian even as our mouths were full of one. I miss the excitement of that secret.
Don’t think I’m romanticizing ignorance and fear. I’m not. I don’t want to return to a world where bigots like that A&E entertainer who shall not be named here can spew his hatred and bile without repercussions. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to pretend I am single and living with my roommate or in a world where my children have to be silent about having two moms. We still, to some extent, live enough in that world even now. I still watch my pronoun usage. I still fear being judged. I am happy that I could marry The Little Woman. I am glad I we have all the protections under the law that straight folks have. I am thankful these changes have occurred in my lifetime.
Still. I am aware that nostalgia may be clouding my vision, but there was a camaraderie back then, a sense of we-ness, an us vs. them mentality that wasn’t completely unhealthy, a quiet knowing that I was getting away with something that wasn’t hurting anyone else. And it is not lost on me either, that the jamming up of my solar plexus, this tightening of my diaphragm, might have something to do with all of those years of holding my true self in. After all, flying stealth requires keeping secrets, holding my emotions in check, and, more often than not, holding my breath.
Maybe being out in the fresh and open air is good for me after all and perhaps this is just a very long adjustment period, not unlike coming down from the dangerous peaks in the Himalayas or up from the depths of the ocean. While the world is spectacular from great depths and tremendous heights, we cannot live there. Sometimes though, we long to breathe again in that thin, rarified air.