Thursday, March 7, 2013

Childhood Cruelty;-)

It all looks innocent enough: Me & my siblings back in the day. From left: Cindy, Tom, Jama, The Contrarian

It’s a legendary story in the Meyer family folklore of childhood cruelty.  And though I’m a grown-up and ought to know better, I’m still not sorry for what I did. 

Not one bit.

My big sister Jama would wrestle me to the ground on a regular basis. Me — 5, 6, 7 or 8 years old, and Jama — 4 years older. She liked to sit on my chest and drive her knees into my shoulders until I’d agree to make some bullshit declaration like, “Yes, you’re the smartest person ever,” or “I’m a big doodoo-head.”

But one day when I was a little older I got the upper hand and actually found myself sitting on her stomach and driving my knees into her shoulders. I was really kind of amazed. Couldn’t believe I’d done it. She was in shock, too, and lay their screaming, her mouth wide open.

And it was in that moment that the idea seized me. You know, one of those ideas that once you think it, you can’t not do it.

So I did it. I spit in her mouth.

She immediately fell silent and glared at me in stupefied shock. A spasm of horror washed across her face, which triggered my awareness that I was in suddenly in very deep shit. I jumped up and ran for my life. Spent the rest of the day as far away from her as possible.

Some 40-odd years later I’m not sorry because she truly deserved it. It’s amazing she’s grown up to be such a kind, loving and reasonable adult with no criminal record, because she was borderline sadistic in our childhood. Her specialty was cruelty with a twist. Sure, she could haul off and just slug me, but no, that would be too easy. So instead she would innocently pass me as I was going about some mundane activity, minding my own business, and then sucker-punch me really hard, then in that fleeting moment when I clutched my arm and looked to her in disbelief, she’s scream, “Mom! Kurt just hit me! Kurt! Stop it!” wailing as if I was abusing her.

That’s not your typical garden-variety cruelty, that’s Nazi-in-training cruelty.

When my other sister Cindy was in her early teens, she started getting bizarre, disturbing notes in the mail. The notes were spelled out with letters cut from magazines and newspapers — a big red “K” would be followed by a small black “i” that was followed by blue, medium-sized “ll.”

The messages were sometimes threats and other times just something sinister like, “I saw you brushing your hair this morning in your bedroom. You better watch out because I’m going to get you!” The messages often contained information you could only know if you were peeking through a window or were already in the house.

Upsetting to say the least. Cindy had a stalker!

Then one day as I sat in our living room, through the front window sheers I saw the shadow of a figure climb the porch steps to the mailbox then disappear around the front lawn. I watched the shadow pass by the side window along the driveway, then heard our backdoor open. I went to the kitchen to find Jama closing the backdoor. When we checked the mailbox we found another threatening note for Cindy. You guessed it. It had been our sister Jama, all along, composing these messages and taking silent pleasure as Cindy came unglued.

Children like that grow up to be adults who end up in one of two places: prison or corporate America. Jama is now a highly successful business manager in southern California.

And she is the one I blame for the Christmas incident, though Cindy took part. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I came down on Christmas morning, thinking I was the first awake. I looked for my stocking and saw it was filled with sticks. My other 3 siblings’ stockings were filled with candy and gifts. As I sat down and began to cry, trying to imagine what I’d done to deserve this, I heard my sisters giggling in the adjoining bedroom they shared. Turns out they had dumped out my goodies and filled the stocking with sticks.

I'm leaving out a lot here. There's just not enough room to detail all the horrible things we did to one another. I won't even go into the details of the infamous "Kool-Aid" affair which resulted in my sisters and me chasing our brother Tom around with kitchen knives. He was way bigger than us, but three little kids with knives are a surprising power-balance to one kid of superior size and strength. I was probably only armed with a steak knife, but a little kid doing the windmill with a steak knife in one hand is good reason for caution, regardless.

This kinda shit could keep a psychologist busy.

A few years ago, as Jama’s 50th birthday party came along, all of this childhood cruelty was a distant memory. But as her friends gathered around the pool and across the lawn of her Pasadena home, an idea seized me that, yet again, once I’d thought it, I couldn’t unthink it.

I stepped up and introduced myself to an unfamiliar couple and added, “I’m so glad Jama has friends like you here in LA. This is going to be a really tough time for her and she’ll need people like you to lean on as this experience unfolds.”

They both looked at me quizzically, asking, “What do you mean?”

“What? She hasn’t told you? Well,” I explained, “Jama is adopted. She’s decided at this milestone of her 50th birthday to begin searching for her birth parents. And you just can’t know how such a thing will play out. They might not want to know her, or they might throw open their arms. So she’s really gonna need support from good friends like you.”

They both looked at me wide eyed. “She’s so brave,” one of them said. After they waked away, one of my own kids asked, “Dad, is that true about aunt Jama?”

“Of course not,” I smiled. I told that story another half a dozen times to the next half a dozen couples I met. 

Before long I heard Jama scream my name from across the yard. She was gripping someone’s arm in disbelief. Our eyes locked from 50 feet away, across a sea of people, most of whom were whispering about how my “adopted” sister was going to begin looking for her birth parents, (who incidentally, were already there at the party – our parents).

Oh revenge! Thy taste is so sweet, even when delayed by 3 or 4 decades. 

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