Despite all my rough edges, bad habits, odd angles and useless peculiarities, I’m much better off in this world for having three siblings.
All my life, I’ve had the example of my three genetic predecessors in an unkind world: Jerry, Cindy and Greg. They were first through our mother’s Ring of Fire, and the first to endure the hard landing on Planet Faulk.
Like Martian probes, they bounced around on the rocky world, set up forward bases to accommodate future settlement, found water, and erected interplanetary shithouses. Each three years apart starting 12 years before I was born, they even had the good manners to do whatever they could to rid my parents of their more horrific habits, even if our Dad proved much too much for their gradual conditioning.
Independent and strong, my oldest brother has always become good at anything he set his mind to doing. An outdoorsman, and intelligent, he’s endlessly capable, a good father, a stalwart employee and dedicated son.
Because he arrived 12 years before I did, my memories of him from childhood are scant, though one in particular stands out.
It was dark, just after dinner one night, when mother was finishing up the dishes in the kitchen. I heard a clatter, and a bang, followed by several voices shouting excitedly.
At four years old, all things were new to me, so I stumbled out of the smoke-filled living room, seeking the source of the hullabaloo: In the laundry room just off the kitchen, a monster had landed.
Vast, and still dripping wet, a flat creature with bulging eyes and wide wings dripping in blood stared straight into my soul, and found me wanting. I panicked, and turned to sprint back into the safety of our living room, when I ran right into my mother’s arms.
She wore a smile but scolded Jerry just the same:
“Get that goddamn thing out of my house,” she told my ecstatic brother, fresh off the bay, salted and bathed in gore. “It’s bleeding all over my washing machine!”
He hefted it like a bad dance partner, careened into the wall, and then the door frame, before getting it back outside. There, with some rope and a stepping stool, he managed to yard the beast off the porch roof where the slain Bat Ray swayed in bloody pirouettes in the blustering breeze.
It was awesome.
Jerry to me represented the best of what I could become — a successful man in the face of trying circumstance, one to handle the jabs and uppercuts to always keep his feet.
Later, after Dad died, he was the beacon of sanity. He’d take me along on hunting expeditions, patient with my bumbling, and do his best to offer a sound example. I’m still trying to live up to his standard.
As an adult, I’m convinced that every child needs a minimum amount of love and affection, cuddles and kind words, encouragement and distraction. If not for my sister Cindy, I may have emerged a psychopath.
With Mother working full-time all the time to support the family — Dad was unable to work for most of my life — it fell to Cindy to nurture the babe. The babe, of course, was me.
We shared a room. She hauled me around on her young hips, taught me the ways of the world as best she could, and despite her own challenges, loved and protected me from some of the family’s harsher realities.
For example, there was Rusty, the beloved family dog. A mutt with a gorgeous red coat and intelligent eyes, he was the darling of our dysfunctional family, the one unifying source of happiness in our home.
Night fishing was one of my Dad’s favorite pastimes.
We’d load up the station wagon with all our camping gear and tackle, beer and meat, then surf old logging roads back up into the mountains to some isolated spot along an anonymous river.
There we’d set up camp, the adults would drink beer, we’d build a fire, bait the hooks, drink more beer, and cast lines. Whether a fish was caught was seldom the issue — the process had become kind of a sacred rite of relaxation, one that we all anticipated because it helped keep Dad in a pleasant mood.
On one such trip, one of the last, we brought Rusty along, though he never been camping before. Unfortunately, as soon as we got camp assembled and the fire lit, the dog seemed to injure itself. Holding its left front paw to its chest, the dog wouldn’t leave the car’s shadow as it hopped around in slow circles yelping.
The adults examined the paw, and found no visible wound, yet the dog was clearly miserable.
Mom and Dad were at first content to let the dog sit overnight, figuring that whatever bothered the critter would likely work itself loose in the dark. If not, they could decide what to do the following day.
Cindy, though, eight-months pregnant and full of manic empathy, would have none of it. She and her partner scooped the dog up and drove it three hours back to our house, where Cindy insisted on carrying the wounded animal up the porch steps and into the house, a scene I’ve mentioned in a previous column.
From what I understand, she made it a little bed, knelt there for a bit offering comfort, then left the dog with a bowl of food and a night’s worth of kisses.
When we arrived home the next morning, we unlocked the front door and had barely pushed it open when Rusty burst through, sprinting tight circles between our legs and licking feet like they were meat popsicles.
Rusty, we later determined, had the strange habit of favoring his right front paw whenever we lit a campfire. With such a canine phobia the likes of which we’d never seen, the dog never did have much use for camping.
Out of all my siblings, Greg had the biggest impact — he was only six years my senior, and therefore loomed large in my adolescent life.
He dug The Beatles, so I dug The Beatles. He was in a band, so I wanted a band. He played sports, so I played sports.
Monkey see, monkey do. I’d get into his stuff, break whatever delicate was laying around, then hide the evidence and blame it on the dog.
He is and was another kind soul, and even took me along sometimes when he’d hang out with his friends.
Stranger yet, when given the cause to break every bone in my body, he lovingly refrained.
He was on the phone with his girlfriend one summer afternoon, arguing, when I burst into our shared bedroom. Fresh out of the bathtub, I was dripping wet and told Greg to please leave the room so I could get dressed.
Bashful and already insecure, the idea of stripping down in front of anyone scared the hell out of me, and we’d agreed to give each other space in times like this.
I said as much, and he waved his hands at me dismissively. Affronted, I tossed my dirty T-shirt at him, trying to get his attention.
It worked. Angry now, likely redirecting frustration with his girlfriend, he sprang to his feet and attacked me with light but still stinging slaps about my arms, shoulders, and legs. The towel about my waist fell off, and he continued his assault despite my obvious discomfort.
He was angry, but mostly kidding around. The slaps didn’t hurt me. Being naked hurt. Being helpless to fend off humiliation hurt. Life, at that point, hurt. Rage suddenly blurred my vision, and I grabbed for something, anything handy, to demonstrate the unholy power of my wrath.
The telephone receiver, with girlfriend still attached, ended up in my hand. A product of the early 1980s, this was no light plastic neon kid’s phone, but an old school hard plastic club heavy enough to leave dents in drywall.
Violated and enraged, I swung the receiver around as hard as I could, leveraging most of my considerable bulk, until it collided with his face in a splash of skin and blood.
Funny what you remember about these things.
I recall Greg’s eyes went wide, and he stood over me as the blood began to run down his face. I remember the receiver hitting the floor, and Greg’s girlfriend bellowing from its small speaker, “What the hell was that?”
Mostly, I remember my brother choosing in that moment not to reciprocate. Flushed with rage, he stood up straight and glared down at me, the skin of my arms and legs red from his slaps.
Wordlessly, he snarled even while taking a step backwards. Somewhere deep inside, he knew that if he reacted the way he wanted to, a bad situation would become suddenly much worse.
Quivering, he turned, and took several stiff-legged steps toward the bedroom door. Throwing it open, he shouted for our mother, anxious to stop the bleeding and receive some maternal comfort and possibly parental justice.
Decades later, with a family of my own, I honestly never thought to have four kids. At first, one seemed enough, and then later, we chose to have two because it seemed symmetrical, and babies are damn cute.
We eventually went for a third because we desperately wanted to have a girl, and the fourth made her own way into the world without any conscious decision on our part.
But now that we have the brood, and the kids often run together in a loud pack of flailing arms and skinned knees, their ratty hair tangled, their relationships still being defined, I’m grateful that circumstance has brought these children to me, and to each other.
No one will ever know you as well as your brothers and sisters. At your best and worst, they’ve seen it all and have come to accept it, and you, regardless.
And if nothing else, their antics make for good stories later on.
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at email@example.com.