Memo, Tebo, and Julie eventually became my best friends. Sure, I had actual, tangible friends – I wasn’t really a loner at school or in other social situations, but at home, I definitely was.
Between my mother’s understandable desire for “adult time” and my brother’s obvious disdain for his younger sister’s presence, Memo, Tebo, and Julie were really my only choice. Of course, there was also Barbie and Ken. The thing about Barbie, though, was that I had nothing in common with her, nor did I ever have some warped sense of “I need to look like her.” My mother was very good at making me feel good about my external beauty, as well as my internal, but even when the world and my peers were telling me there was something wrong with me, some sort of flaw or imperfection unfit for a fashion magazine or even a third grade yearbook photo, my mother was there assuring me otherwise. She was instilling the confidence I’d need to navigate a society that constantly tells an impressionable young woman what she should strive to attain in terms of outward beauty. Most of the time, these impositions are unrealistic.
In the third grade, the teacher placed our yearbook photos face up on our desks as I had gotten up to grab my belongings at the coat rack. As I spun around to return to my desk, a crowd of students had gathered around my desk, their stubby, little eight-year-old fingers pointing down at what was obviously my yearbook photo, their childish snickers audible from across the room. I reluctantly approached to see what the fuss was and there I was – buck-toothed and shut-eyed, smiling from ear to ear against a wicker backdrop, resembling a beaver more than ever before – the rodent my brother had likened me to at every chance he got.
The hot tears instantly reared their wet, ugly heads in the corners of my eyes as I pushed my way through the mean-spirited crowd, quickly flipping the photo over, and becoming angry with the teacher for placing them face up. My third-grade self needed someone to be angry with and I’d found the culprit as fast as the camera had found my Bugs Bunny smile.
My brother spent much of my single digit youth reminding me of the animal I most closely resembled and attempting to break me down. He was admittedly jealous of me his entire life and his deliberate insults were most likely a product of this complex emotion. At such an early age, though, I couldn’t piece those correlations together quite yet, so my brother’s affection and approval was continually sought even after he would chuck a basketball at my chest so hard, it would knock the wind out of me. His cute friend scolding him for throwing it so aggressively was a nice solace in a moment of such direct disapproval from someone I desperately looked up to.
It took me exactly thirty-two years to fully realize that behavior is more telling in matters of family than blood. And for thirty-two years, my brother’s behavior has told me that he doesn’t want me to be a part of his life. Perhaps the ultimate telling of this revelation was this past Christmas, my thirty-second birthday, when he failed to wish me a happy birthday. I was in Peru, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt as I’ve done so many times in the past, and thought I’d surely come home to a greeting card. I didn’t. My first thought was that for thirty-one years, he was always the first one to wish me a “Happy Birthday” in my immediate family. My second thought was that I should have realized the first time he called me beaver he wasn’t someone I should be looking up to.