Bill is a bunny

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Blue Mickey

If you want to talk about my sister and me you have to mention my brother. He was about seven years older than us and seemed like the biggest kid in the world. Gigantic in everything he did for us and said to us. There aren't too many memories left now, but the ones that are there resonate through my brain like fading chimes from a church bell.

We would all wrestle on the floor of our old house after dinner. He was much bigger than us but we never got hurt. He even let us win. Sometimes. Mostly I ended up at the bottom of a dogpile, screaming, "Momma. they're turning me into a sandwhich!"

We would take baths together, three in the tub. The bathroom in the old house was a warm pink that matched the water in the tub. Our brother told the most amazing stories about the world around us. Details we never could see from our vantage points behind our mother's skirt. We were stunned by the freedom he commanded on our trips with her to the grocery store. It seemed like he cold go anwhere and do anything. Seeing him on his bike on the weekends leaving the carport was like watching a ship leaving port. I always wished I could go with him on his travels around the neighbor. What did he do out there? What did he see? And why wasn't he scared of that great big world he moved through with such ease?

Once during one of those end of the day baths he produced two plastic balls from his pants laying on the tiles next to the tub. He handed one to my sister and one to me. After fumbling with the slipper things for a minute trying to open them he took the domes back and popped off the bottoms. Inside one was a pink, rubber Minnie Mouse which he gave to my sister. Inside the other was a blue rubber Mickey Mouse he placed in my hands. It wasn't our birthdays. It wasn't Christmas. He just felt like getting us soemthing. I couldn't have loved him more.

He was killed in 1983. He was on his bike, riding back to tell our mother he was going to the levee with some friends. He didn't want her to worry. A truck backed out of a driveway and knocked him off the bike and onto his head. They kept him aive in the hospital for a couple of days then pulled the plug. I don't know what happened to the guy driving the truck. I used to want to know but now I don't. I used to want revenge or some kind of confrontation with the man who killed my brother. My feelings changed about that. But I still miss him very much.

In the years following our brother's death, my sister and I tried to understand why he was taken away from us without much success. It seemed so meaningless, so pointless to have him removed from our lives that way. We both developed an interest i the supernatural. We read about the lives of the saints and the connection between this world and the world after this one. Maybe we could see him again before we died. I even believed I did see him occasionally in my bedroom . He would never say anything, no matter how many questions I asked. My brother would just smile.

I was eventually given his old room to sleep in but had a lot of difficulty doing that. My sister's room across the hall had a view of a baseball field and I would often join her there to watch the games rather than sleep in his old bed. I had nightmares that there were large crawfish at the foot of the bed where the covers were tucked in that would drag me down and eat me. I slept for years in a little ball across the pillows. I recently found a place mat in my parents' kitchen with a close up photograph of a crawfish in clover that probably gave me the crazy idea. At least part of it.

My world view became very fearful while my sister seemed to become more daring. She learned to ride her bike at six and embraced her newfound independence. She loved summer camp and sports. She slept over with friends and became very outgoing. I regressed into a world of television and homesickness at the very thought of leaving my mother. Camp was a nightmare for me, filled with tears and longing for the security of home. To look at my sister you would think she never wanted to leave.

As different as we were, my sister and I grew very close. She took over our brother's role as protector and confidant. She comforted me when my parents took vacations and soothed my nightmares. Whenever my father would come upstairs after hearing me crying out in the middle of the night he would always ay the same thing. "All the doors and windows are locked. Sugar (our golden retriever) is outside. (Your sister) is down the hall. Nothing can hurt you." Knowing that she was down the hall was always the most comforting thing and was always saved for last.

In our new house my sister and I shared the upstairs. There was an intercom installed by the previous owner that became a symbol of our parents omniscent prescence. There voices would boom over the speakers in the ceiling telling us to be quiet and get to bed. We rallied together to repeal bedtime. Sneaking back and forth to each others rooms was a daring adventure, every creak in the floorboards a potential revelation of our disobedience. We began to pretend we were in hiding like Anne Frank and her family in the attic. We shared secret knowledge from the school yard. We confessed the inner workings of our contemporaries. We found each other fascinatingly alien yet somehow the same.

We fought often. My sister was twice my size for most of our childhood and her natural predispoisiton to sports gave her the advantage. She was more of a biter and a scratcher, thank God. Frequent bruises would have been to revealing. The thick red lines on my arms could be attirbuted to cats and the dog. I think our battles came from my sister's frustration with our parents. She fought with them often, making me quite terrified. I was also in awe of her bravery. Refusal to eat aspargus seemed unthinkable to me, but she would sit defiantly at her place at the table, staring at her plate for an hour rather than give in. She was a freedom fighter in our cause. She was a hero.

One Christmas our parents gave us a small, plastic Chistmas tree to put upstairs and decorate. We did so with gusto, hanging all manner of things upon its wire branches. We didn't have much money for presents to put under our tree. There really wasn't any need, since our parents would be littering the floor around the real tree downstairs with gifts. But we wanted something for each other. After some consultation we decided to wrap our rubber Mickey and Minnie up and give them to each other again. And we did just that. I still have that blue mouse, but I don't just think of my brother when I look at it anymore.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Start at the beginning. It's a very good place to start.

Walking downstairs in my parents' house is an emotional experience for me. Invariably, I flash on myself, five years old, rushing downstairs with a carefully selected group of stuffed animals wrapped in my blanket. I meet my mother in the kitchen and ask if we can play the "game" now, please.

"Yes, baby. You go set up."

I rush to the front room of our new house and spread out the blanket on the carpet by the window. The sun comes in from the front yard so brightly you have to squint your eyes. As I wait for my mother, I do just that, making the sunlight refract and shift like the the red brakelights of the cars on the highway as they fly by through the night. I wish I could make my mother see what I see then, see the sunlight through my squinted eyes. If I could do this to the light for her she would know just how amazing I really am, just as amazing as she is. We will be able to understand the secrets we've kept from each other and share them at last.

When my mother arrives she asks me what I am thinking about, looking out the window. I tell her I am not looking out the window. The first time she asked me what I was thinking I was getting a haircut. She looked up at me in the barber's chair and asked me what was wrong.
"Nothing's wrong, mom."
"You just looked so serious. What were you thinking about?"
"I wasn't thinking about anything."

But I was. I was thinking about her.

Deciding not to push her question further, my mother sits on the floor next to me and we begin divying up the animals. The stuffed rabbit, Hippity-hop, always goes to my mother. She can make his voice perfectly. Whenever she and my father go away on vacations I try to make Hippity-hop talk to me and remind me not to cry, that everything will be fine as soon as they get back. And they are coming back. I can't believe him when I know its my voice and not his voice. Not the voice my mother makes for him, gives to him.

We begin to play the "game" now. The animals move through a world on the blanket comprised of our street, the school, the foreign places my grandmother visits, space. Heaven and earth together on a square of cloth. We talk to each other through our animals, exploring this world together and inventing it at the same time. I have a similar game that I play with my grandfather when I visit him. But I always bring action figures for that game. I would never bring my grandfather a stuffed animal to give a voice.

As my mother and I play our game, I steal looks at her to gauge how much longer we have. Once breakfast comes we have to stop, she has work and I have school. But this time together feels like forever with my mother, my best friend, the only person in the world who knows something of how amazing I am. Everyone must know how incredible she is, but I am far too small to pay much attention to. But they'll see one day. And when they do my mother will say to everyone, "I knew he was amazing. I knew because he shared it with me first."

But now it's time to put away the blanket, roll up the world and everything and everyone in it. It is time for breakfast.