to be my brother's sister

At six...

...meant kinship. It meant dragging a wagon down the street, filled with cherries we'd picked from the tree in our front yard. Special delivery for the neighbors, from the Baker kids. It meant sledding tandem in winter, and climbing beach dunes together in summer. Here, take my hand. I'll help you up.

At eight...

...meant idolatry. It meant begging for a spot on the Older Kids kickball team, and admittance to their basement Monopoly games. It meant promising to keep secrets, and not tattling when they messed with dad's tools. Come on - just let me watch? I'll make you guys Kool-Aid.

At ten...

...meant confusion. It meant not understanding why one minute I was invited to play Newscast with the tape recorder, and the next, being bullied and teased to tears. It meant toughening up, quickly, to physical torment much rougher than a fourteen year-old should be allowed to inflict. Mom's not here. Dad's not here. You're dead meat.

At twelve...

...meant bewilderment. It meant learning to fend for myself against the negative attentions of a classmate with a penchant for bookslamming and passing mean notes. The little sister of my big brother's best friend. A word from him could have stopped it. Ha ha, I heard Shannon kicked your ass again today. Loser.

At thirteen...

...meant a crash course in substance abuse. It meant my parents screaming, crying, begging, and ultimately disappearing as their teenaged son experimented - and failed - with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine. It meant answering my bedroom door to find my seventeen year-old brother holding up a finger with white powder on the tip of it. You have to try this. Rub it on your gums. It's really cool.

...meant fear. Violence against himself and others. It meant sneaking out of the house at four am to use the neighbor's phone and dial 911, because he was high and threatening us with the baseball bat again. It meant being pushed into a closet, and held hostage until the drugs wore off and the psychotic episode ended. Please open the door. Please let me out.

...meant chaos. It meant watching him grind a lit cigarette into his own arm, to move our increasingly detached, often drunk mother to some action. Feeling helpless and alienated as she returned from yet another visit to juvenile detention and retreated into her dark bedroom alone, door locked, bottle uncorked. Please open the door. Please let me in.

In my twenties...

...meant disgust. Finding out that he'd created fake online accounts in my name on every class reunion website, and written profiles cunningly weaving together enough truth and lies about me to create embarrassment at my upcoming ten year reunion. It meant him calling me out of the blue one day to announce that our dad had been killed in a car accident - a complete lie, just to hurt me. Mystifying and unjustified hatred towards me that manifested in voicemails so nasty I had to change my number.

...meant secrecy. Meant being afraid to share my mailing address with my own parents, despite their promises never to let him find it. Threats on me, my property, my loved ones, my pets.

In my thirties...

...meant detachment. It meant lying and saying, No, I don't have any siblings, because it's easier than bringing light conversation to a screeching halt with words like jail, violent, schizophrenia, sociopath, restraining order, homeless. Nearly twenty years of watching him destroy his own life and create endless misery for my parents had squelched any compassion I may once have had for him.

When my mother died...

...meant massive, years-long frustration. It meant begging him to sign over to me the right to execute her estate, so that her assets could be liquidated and her affairs settled. She didn't have a will, so it meant trying to reason with an unreasonable person a very disturbed and unstable person about reasonable things. You don't have an address. You don't have any ID, or a checking account. You're in jail now, and you'll be homeless when you get out. You cannot possibly execute her estate. Please, please, please just sign the papers and let me handle this. I have no interest in screwing you out of anything. I just want to get this over with.

...meant anger. It meant finding letters from him among her things, filled with lies about me, about what I was doing, about who I was with. Heartbreaking, horrible things designed to drive the wedge that already existed between her and I even deeper.

When my father died...

...meant apathy. It meant handling every last physical, emotional, financial, logistical, and legal detail of my dad's death completely on my own, because my brother was, as usual, in jail.

This evening...

...means fresh aggravation, in the form of an email from my attorney.  The details of it are too complex and uninteresting to recount, but they're enough to completely wreck my day and mood.

...means fresh pain. He has nothing but time, money, and anger to fuel his malice, his outward expressions of self-loathing. I'm the only target left, and there is no hiding.

...means fresh heartbreak. Just this afternoon I Instagrammed a shot of some of our old family photos, one of which features the very same red wagon we used to haul cherries in. This is what it used to be like. Don't you remember? This is the beautiful thing we had.

...is to have a stranger in my own two-person family.