Brother's Keeper

The night I turned into my hothead brother, if only briefly, to save his sorry ass

My little brother Andy and I

One summer, many years ago at the Jersey shore, my little brother Andy and I are asked numerous times if we are twins. Even though I am four years older than he is, we are built alike, have the same blond hair, and we even tan alike with a white stripe across our noses where we scrunch our faces in the reflected sunshine. In truth, we are such total opposites, that I spend hours reassuring myself that I must be adopted.

He is the smiling extrovert who has diarrhea of the mouth from the time he uttered his first words in complete sentences at age two. I am the often silent introvert who is sure she knows everything. He blathers his way through life, plays sports, gets into trouble. I try to follow the rules and aim for perfection to gain some control in a dysfunctional family.

By the early seventies, I no longer live at home but as a dutiful sister, one night I go to a school gym in Yeadon, Pennsylvania, which is almost in West Philly, scary territory. I plan to cheer for Andy's Police Athletic League basketball team. My mother and stepfather are in the stands, having driven Andy to the game when I arrive with my date.

My blond and blue-eyed brother is over six feet tall and slender at sixteen. While he is not talented enough to play basketball on his high school team, he loves sports. The problem is that he is a hothead. What he can't accomplish with skill, he makes up for by fouling others and shooting off his mouth trying to intimidate the other team's players.

RELATED: I Am My Mother's Daughter

During the game, I hear a group of guys talking about what a punk number 18 is. I quickly realize this is Andy's number. I continue to eavesdrop and learn that they hate his dirty playing style and in-your-face attitude, so they decide that at half time they are going to find a way to get back at him for fouling their friends. After much discussion, I hear one boy say, "Yeah, I seen him before. He drives a gold Malibu convertible. Let's trash it."

I want to choke these creeps and kick Andy's ass, simultaneously. The Malibu belongs to my mother, not my brother. It is the car she bought straight off the showroom floor so that the Chevy dealer wouldn't prosecute Andy and send him to juvie after he is caught stealing a car a couple of years earlier. This is the nicest car Mom has ever had, but it is not the candy-apple red Thunderbird that she has dreamed of owning. She has sacrificed yet again trying to save her precious son.

Without any warning or forethought, I briefly become my big-mouthed brother that night. Although I have no long range desire to "walk in his shoes" I cannot bear letting these boys damage my mother's car and hopes without a fight.

RELATED: A Period Piece

When the halftime buzzer sounds, I descend the bleacher steps and aim for the street. My heart is racing, but I remain resolute. I soon spot my mother's Malibu parked on the dark side street. Then, I see the posse of testosterone fueled teens preparing to swing bats at the car. Instantly, I go ballistic. I shriek every curse I know; I jump up and down, waving my arms and calling them cowards and pricks. "What the hell does my mother's car have to do with my brother? If you punks have a problem with him, you should deal with him. Bet you think you're all big guys with bats in your hands, don't ya?"

I grow hoarse as years of pent-up angry words continue to pour from my mouth. I am alone on an otherwise deserted street with a gaggle of angry guys. I am pissed at my brother, pissed at them and pissed at my messed-up family. By now, these guys just want me to shut up. They eventually skulk off grumbling "crazy bitch" as they go to their cars to return their bats and head back to the gym.

When I climb back into the bleachers, I am so consumed with rage over Andy's constant troublemaking, these punk kids, and my desire to make things right that I barely watch the second half of the game. I don't even know who wins. When the game ends, I walk to the gym floor, grab my brother by the shirt, and tell him through clenched teeth what I have just done to save his sorry ass.

I also tell him I will never do it again.

After I get home, I literally lose my vision. I pray that the blindness is only temporary. I know I can no longer try to fix people who cannot see the trouble they cause.

Tags: family