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Picture Perfect. Shiny Family

Karen is from Connecticut. She has a degree in education. She loves game shows, animals, the beach, and her family.


Picture Perfect. Shiny Family

Picture Perfect. Shiny Family

When we were kids and we would fight, my mother would tell me and my brother, “Be nice to each other. You’re the only sibling each of you has.” It didn’t make sense then, but I understand it more now. Friends are great and all, but a sibling relationship has a whole added layer of complexity. Family is forever. A sibling is in the fox hole with you. I’ve seen this bedside at the hospital and with counselors at hospice. A friend goes on spring break with you. A sibling is with you at probate court. It’s a pretty important relationship to maintain. If I’m mad at a friend it usually means I let a call go to voicemail or leave a text unanswered until I get over it. It’s harder to ignore tension within a family unit.

When my mother was pregnant with me my brother proclaimed that he would accept only a little brother for his sibling. He didn’t get what he wanted. I don’t know if it’s still something he’s smarting about, but I doubt it. Family lore has it that the first time he was left alone with me, within days of my birth, while my mother walked into the kitchen, he put a pillow over my face as a solution to the crying problem. This wouldn’t be the only time he tried to suffocate me. As for me though, as soon as I could walk I’d follow him around like a puppy dog. He went to school; I wanted to go to school. He went sledding; I wanted to go sledding.

Our fights as children would generally take the form of him beating the crap out of me, tormenting me with something I was afraid of, or teasing me about something I was self-conscious about. He punted my cat down the stairs, trapped me in a dryer, put ice cubes down my back and mustard in my macaroni and cheese. No one knows how to antagonize you like your sibling. He threw me into a pool on a family vacation in Florida because I was going too slow because I didn’t know how to swim well. I had to be scooped off the bottom of the pool. He would trap me and sit on me like my claustrophobia was a party trick. No one knows how to just almost kill you, but not, like your sibling.

My brother and I were nothing alike growing up. He had no fear from day one. Jumping off furniture and splitting his head, requiring stitches. I was petrified to ride my first bicycle without training wheels. Tom wanted to go on every crazy amusement park ride, while I screamed and cried at the sight of an animatronic ET doll. Tom was rebellious. I was an honor roll student. We definitely followed different paths, but the thing about those differences is that they tend to fade with age. We both return home to weekend dinners. We have family beach days. We operate as a unit.

Sometimes when my mind wanders to dark places, and think about how my parents really got the shit end of the stick when it comes to us kids, and I don’t mean childhood squabbles. My brother suffered with substance abuse, and I dealt with anorexia. These are not easy things for a parent to see a child go through. My brother has been sober for over a decade now. I see an incredible strength in that. The troublemaker of my childhood has helped countless others in their sobriety. The ups and downs, and troublesome memories don’t go away though. Recovery is never an easy journey, and it never affects just one person.

While I was still in Girl Scouts, ready to graduate to chapter books, my brother was sneaking beers and smoking pot. These mini-rebellions don’t lead to drug and alcohol abuse for the most part, but Tom has a way of being all in on everything he does. When he got a DUI he spent the night in jail and walked home to put off telling our parents. The night his girlfriend got picked up for a DUI he screamed and yelled at the cops and jumped on the cop car, leaving my father to intervene and drive him to the police station. This behavior devolved into drinking alone to combat depression, and taking pills to stay awake and then get to sleep.

He had us scared when he had a seizure when he was on vacation. I don’t know what they thought they were going to find, but he was taken to the hospital and had a spinal tap. I don’t know how many benzos it takes to get there, and I don’t want to. There were tough times, but they were all part of a journey, a part that’s behind us. Each one is a lesson in the making, and something someone else can learn from.

My eating disorder mirrored Tom’s substance abuse issues in ways that aren’t easy to see. They served to help cope with chaos and to quiet anxious and/or depressed minds. Tom saw me slowly decline much in the same way that I saw him decline. When Tom went into detox I started researching statistics, trying to figure out our chances of getting out of this. Recovery gets a lot of press, but the opposite side of that is the isolated, suffering addict; one who may die from an overdose, a liver problem, or a freak accident while under the influence. He defied whatever ghastly statistics I was trying to bathe myself in, and that’s a success for our whole family, because we are a unit.

When Tom got sober it pushed for to me dig out of my own slow suicide attempt of starving myself. His detox and subsequent dive into the world of sobriety acted as a catalyst for me. Tom spoke up, and showed me that I didn’t have to remain behind the bars I built around myself. He’s still telling me what to do and what’s right for me. He isn’t batting a hundred though, and I’m sure he knows that too, but that won’t stop him.

We’ve seen each other's hardest and haven’t run away. I was struggling in Los Angeles when I needed my brother. Well on the way to living a stereotype, I had found an alcoholic to hitch myself to. I was not well emotionally or physically. I was trying to convince a college counselor to let me graduate early, and I was really considering telling her my father was about to die. He wasn’t, and I didn’t. I did form an exit strategy to launch at the first possible moment though. I told LA and my ex-boyfriend that this was it. I was done being taken advantage of. My brother flew to Los Angeles from New York. We backed up my meager belongings, a repeating theme in my life story, and we drove cross country. This adventure is more daunting and less adventurous than it sounds, but he was there for me for three thousand miles. And a couple years later he was there for me when he drove me to inpatient treatment. We were there for each other when we lost our first friend to an overdose, and then for the ones that came later. He doesn’t always lean on me as much as I lean on him, but what’s a big brother for, and maybe it’s just karma for the childhood torment.

And maybe he feels like he has the right to offer me all that unsolicited advice, because the sibling bond means that if I fuck up he will be affected in some way, whether it’s an ache in his heart at seeing me in pain or something much worse. We’ve stood by each other when it wasn’t easy, and there really isn’t any keeping score in that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Karen Michelle C