For Tenx9’s theme “Dates,” Katy Kinard told of a dates should we never have expected her family to face: court dates.
My parents had court dates. MY parents. My Leave-it-to-Beaver, church-going, conservative middle class parents had court dates… and were under investigation for child abuse.
Maybe my step-brother was wearing a whole different set of glasses than I was.
I saw sunshine and rainbows, and he was the shiny, fun unicorn that came into our lives when I was 6. He quickly became my best friend…same age as me and made me laugh and discover new adventures my entire childhood. He was always cooler than me, and I always wanted to be like him.
My sister and I never called my step-dad any other name than “Dad.” That’s who he’s been to us. My step-brother called my mother “Mom” and that was his only name for her.
And this is what I saw of our family life growing up:
I saw a dream home for kids… a cat and a dog, a backyard with a hot tub, tire swing, trampoline, volleyball net, rope swing, huge treehouse built by my step-dad, and places you could climb up to our flat roof and swing in tree branches while overlooking the neighborhood. We had a boat in the driveway that took us waterskiing and fishing. We’d play with nearby friends and explore the neighborhoods with a simple, “Gonna ride my bike! Be back later!” There was freedom, safety, the warmth of Texas weather, and comfort at home.
My mom would decorate for every holiday… different colors, different music, different treats baking in the oven. We had dinner together at night, and it didn’t even include TV for the first several years. My mom was a teacher, my dad a salesman for a lumber company. Like other families, our mom was a taxi service for our soccer games, karate practices, bowling leagues, volleyball and basketball games, track and gymnastics events.
My dad built wooden race cars with Jason for “father/son” events and took him hunting and fishing. They sat alongside us for science projects, helped us earn scout badges and encouraged us in talent shows.
Every summer, we’d take trips with my grandparents in their motorhome, traveling around the U.S…riding mules down the Grand Canyon, rafting the Colorado river, driving through the center of giant Sequoia trunks in California, boat rides to the base of Niagara Falls, dining across from Mt. Rushmore, week-long ski trips every Christmas, and Disneyworld visits…to name only a few. But what really made life fun was the background music of humorous and anecdotal conversation: constant chatter and life teaching that was comforting to me.
Maybe none of this was comforting to my step-brother.
Maybe Jason didn’t fit in a Leave-it-to-Beaver upbringing.
Most of our immediate and extended family is of one mind when it comes to “how one should live,” and there are expectations…I will say that.
There were rules. You got rewarded when you followed them, and grounded – sometimes spanked – when you didn’t. Now I was a rule-follower, and I didn’t understand being rebellious as long as life around me was comfortable, meaningful, and entertaining. Later, life became horrible and I became horrible with it. But maybe that’s what Jason felt…sprouting up between an alcoholic, jealous biological mother who pulled him toward one definition of “truth and love” – and our family who taught another.
He ultimately chose one.
Jason lied about small things or big things…it didn’t matter. It was a form of control he laughed about behind our parents’ back. He would tell me things he wouldn’t tell other people, and I felt special that I was the one he would confide in.
Jason often did the exact opposite of what he was told. If my parents reminded him to close the kitchen cabinets after putting dishes away, he would start leaving cabinets open on a regular basis. This played out situation after situation.
He was caught stealing money.
He was constantly in trouble at school, and his teachers started getting so frustrated, the school mandated daily progress reports, signed by his teachers and my parents.
My mom would often help him with homework, only for him to throw it away or turn it in too late and get a failing grade.
He did turn in 3 different papers about how great drug dealers are and how he aspires to be a crack dealer someday and make lots of money.
Jason forged signatures, confiscated report cards and notices from teachers and ripped them up before my parents checked the mail.
He started skipping school and got into drugs.
He set fire to a girl’s hair in church.
One time, his fist was back and ready to hit my mom during one of their arguments when our dad ran in and intervened.
Months later, he put my mom in a headlock and laughed for several minutes as he held her in place and threatened her.
My parents tried many things…
In the early stages, they tried the old-fashioned task of sentence-writing. When he did something good or followed directions well, he would earn extra play time for video games, TV, etc. When he started deliberately disobeying, he would get NFD, or “not following directions” chores. They tried grounding. None of these methods worked, and they tried spanking. My sister recalls that he would laugh during the spankings and would often hide a thin books in his jeans.
They tried counseling. They talked about sending him to reform school but never did.
I felt caught between my brother – my constant friend – the one who showed me favor – the one who stood by me year after year – and the rest of my family, frustrated and exhausted because of him.
A month before everything hit the fan, we had walked home from school to an empty house when Jason suddenly pushed me down and pinned my arms and legs to the floor in the hallway and demanded that I do sexual things to him.
Who was this monster? I struggled to get out from under his control and started yelling at him, as I was suddenly afraid of this person I had never been afraid of. I was shocked and hurt. He was laughing and apparently got a kick out of it.
He let this go on for several minutes and finally released me. I ran to the back wall, and he ran after me and then pinned me to that wall. I angrily reminded him that he once told me he would protect me at any cost if someone tried to hurt me. To his credit, he thought about that and finally let up – and I slapped him and fled to my room, locked the door, and cried for an hour.
He ran away a month later. He told me at school that he was leaving and wouldn’t ever be back. He had tried this before, so I said, “Ok, I’ll see you tonight.”
That was 20 years ago. I haven’t heard from him since.
I have to backtrack to Jason’s biological mother: She was very jealous that Jason would my mother “Mom” and would leave threatening messages on our voicemail, would call and hang up dozens of times a day, once smashed clay pots against our house, and regularly used money to win my step-brother’s love. If he wanted Air Jordans and my parents said no, she would buy them for him. When he wanted a puppy, she presumptuously sent him home with one. When my parents got him a bike that wasn’t nice enough, she told him to leave it unchained at school – to get it stolen so she could buy a fancier bike for him – and that’s what she did.
She’d let him drink with her. She’d invite his friends over and they’d all drink and smoke pot together and have parties, and she was the cool parent. He wanted to live with her, so he ran away and told people my parents abused him.
Court dates. Investigations for child abuse (that were proved unwarranted).
Custody battles. Family counseling. That time in my life seemed to last forever.
The grief that came from his silence was deafening.
Trying to find him online over the years has proved difficult because of a famous soccer player with the same name – but finally, 4 years ago, I stumbled upon a myspace page.
I took a deep breath.
As a 30-year old woman, I would see how time had shaped him into a grown man of the same age… and I stifled a fresh sadness of having missed out on an older brother for so many years.
What I found in that profile was something I never even considered.
He was the same boy from middle school.
I scrolled through pornographic pictures of his girlfriend’s private parts, a picture of him peeing in the woods for the camera – highlight: the stream of pee, and photos of him drinking and blowing cigar smoke at the camera, eyes red and drooped and high.
He bragged on his own nickname “Jump Shot Jay” and how he was the best ever at basketball, the way you dare anyone to say otherwise. He said dismissive things about religion/authority and told people where they could shove it… and everything was still about money, and name brands… and being cool…and proving himself.
I stared hard at that myspace page that was suddenly changing my life.
I recalled how close my (incredibly loving) sister and I have gotten through the years…as she was always edged out as the “too spiritual/not cool enough” third wheel growing up. I remembered how I turned my whole life around after I hit a messy rock bottom. I fully gave my life to Jesus – and everything I had ignored back then. My parents told me a few years ago that if Jason had stayed, they would have divorced, as their marriage was hanging by a thread. And I thought about how Jason’s influence on me would have continued to this day, because I know myself well.
I will always love my step-brother.
I hate that he felt like he didn’t belong…or that he didn’t want to.
I long for him to feel peace if he doesn’t – and for peace between us.
But the irony hit me in that moment: What if the worst thing that ever happened to me… was actually…the best.