Each of us children were three years apart. Three times three. Nine years of toddles, nine years of rambunctious explorers, nine years of turning from bratty children into all knowing adolescents. The six years between my brother and I could not be bridged during that time. They might as well have been eons. His legs were long, he was fast and brave and smart, and I was sensitive and assumed the role of the pest.
I cannot remember if I wanted to piss Levi off intentionally or if my nature simply did the trick, but boy did I get under his skin. In return my brother would find creative and cruel ways to antagonize me. The worst punishment, and his default so to speak, was innately tied to my favorite family member at that time, Robin Hood. This gave the act a twisted quality that I believe Levi was keenly aware of.
Robin Hood loved to chase the tennis ball. He was agile and his domesticated tracking skills shone when he followed a bounce off backyard crabgrass. Actually Robin Hood loved to chase anything, hickory nuts in the fall, snowballs in winter, and the stream of the garden hose in summer. The tennis ball was his constant bird of prey and therefore Robin Hood’s harvested saliva could always be employed to torture me.
Levi would pin me down with one strong hand and reveal the tennis ball with his other, a full sponge of fresh, pungent slime. At this point his fun would begin as I squirmed in fear not knowing whether today I would be subject to a slow squeeze just over my head producing one long continuous drip, or the full on warm smear directly on my face.
One day I snapped and hit Levi so hard I left a red handprint on his back, like a watermark in expensive paper it raised slightly above the rest of his skin. I could not deny the act, my hand fit the print. My stuffed animal collection was taken away from me for a week. Each comrade, mostly monkeys, was placed on the rafters in our family room, in clear line of sight but far out of reach. I ached for them. My retaliation was spontaneous and sparkled. I bombed Levi’s room with fairy dust, tiny metallic flecks which stuck to his face, his books, his baseball hats and wrestling singlet. He was livid but he contained his emotions and waited to take revenge. I earned the nickname Tinkerbell.
Late one Sunday afternoon I returned to my room after a day in the backyard. The sun had fallen behind the tree line and my eyes took a moment to adjust. The scene did not unfold slowly, as in the movies, panning left to right. Rather it was one sudden flash of horror. Murder. From the top bunk of my red metal bed hung all of my stuffed animals. Each with a noose of silver duct-tape. Their necks synched in, heads flopping to the side awkwardly, mouths still smiling. I screamed. My father patiently removed the tape from their necks, careful not to pull too much hair off along with it. I waited anxiously downstairs, Robin Hood’s heavy head in my lap.
This was our routine, year in and year out, until Levi left home at seventeen to attend the United States Naval Academy. Of course Levi would not just go off to any old university. Not only his provocations against me, but everything was always extreme with him. He couldn’t simply wrestle his weight class, he had to drop 10 pounds wrestling a class below and eating only 2000 calories a day. He couldn’t just do a triathlon, he had to take part in the most dangerous one which involved a swim from Alcatraz Island through the strong tidal waters of San Francisco Bay. And upon his graduation in 2001, when I finally cared to keep my older brother around, he wouldn’t just join the Navy like most cadets, but instead he would join the Marines.