Saturday, May 17, 2008

(untitled 250)

My feelings on the Radiohead concert are still coming, but this is something that was weighing so powerfully on my mind that I need to write about it right now.
Here you'll see a picture of my youngest brother, Matt. (He just went to prom tonight, and he looks pretty sharp, if I do say so myself. He also snagged a smokin' hot woman to go with. Impressive.) I don't tell a lot of stories about him. He's really not the one that grabs attention in our family. I'm the oldest, my sister is the dramatic one, and Elder Carp is the showman. Matt really isn't any of those things, and while I love him dearly, the fact is that he's always sort of been pushed out of the limelight.

I feel partly responsible for this, and I've never been able to forgive myself for it.

You see, when we were all younger, we were pretty mean to him. You can chalk a lot of that up to the fact that we were immature children, but I still feel really guilty about it. We'd chastise him for not having as keenly developed a sense of humor as we had. "That's not actually funny, Matt," we'd say after he cracked a five year-old type of joke. I can imagine him telling jokes like that to win the approval of his older brothers and sister, and feeling crushed when we not only didn't give it to him, but smashed him into the dirt. This still makes me ache inside, and these are things that happened over a decade ago. One time I actually said - to his face - that he was the "worthless one" in the family. He can still remember that today, and thinking about it still hurts him. What makes me feel worse is that I have no recollection of it. Clearly I didn't think anything of it at the time.

My two brothers and I all have glasses. I got mine in ninth grade, but Elder Carp and Matt got theirs at about the same time. Elder Carp was probably nine, and Matt was probably seven. In a cosmically ironic sort of way, Matt got big, round frames that made him look like a nerd. There were kids at school who went out of their way to be cruel to him. That's typical of many people's schooling experiences - I was pushed into lockers and had breath spray sprayed into my eyes in middle school - but I have a haunting image in my mind of Matt coming home, falling into my mother's arms, and sobbing while she tenderly held him. She was always the kindest one to him - probably the only kind one of us all. You'd better believe this still gnaws at me.

Maybe this is symptomatic of my growing older, or maybe it's lingering guilt for Matt's miserable childhood, but it hurts me unbelievably to see innocence trampled upon. We have a family that lives below us with a boy aged about seven. He's bright-eyed and optimistic about life. I really like him. Sometimes I'll come home from work and see him playing with his construction worker toys or riding his bike and smile to myself. He's innocent. He's just a good kid. And yesterday I came home to see that one of his toy trucks had been run over in our driveway. I'm sure no one did it on purpose, but it made me hurt to imagine him running outside to play with his truck to find that it had been smashed. Life is cruel, but I feel like he ought to be shielded from something as sad as that. If I were to see someone picking on him, I'd probably do something irresponsible and vigilante-like. I can't stand the idea of innocence being crushed. It just makes me feel awful inside. And if I'm this way now, I can't imagine what I'll be like when I have children of my own.

The bottom line is that I try to be especially kind to people in an effort to compensate for what I've done in the past. Yes, I feel responsible that Matt had a horrid childhood. And yes, I feel like if I go out of my way to be kind, it will make up for that in a small way. It's also probably that if I do something cruel to someone else - even unintentionally - my imagination will conjure up an image of heart-wrenching misery for that person, and I won't be able to shake it. So maybe it's self-centered. Either way, I can't abide cruelty, and I'm certainly not going to add to it.

Matt, even though I'm almost positive you'll never read this, I hope you can begin to forgive me. I'm not the same as I used to be, and I hope I never am again.


Brian, Audrey, and Greta said...

I'm sure Matt would appreciate what you said. Maranda would probably tell you that she was the picked on one in our family.

lanada said...

this is sweet. and timely. because i try to compensate for past shortcomings, too. not vigilante-style, but still. we do what we can.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say that my older brothers and I were mean to a younger brother. I'd like to say that he overcame all that and became a happy, successful person with a loving family of his own.

Truth is, he became homeless for twenty years, never had a steady job for very long, and never married. At 56 he is a lonely, unhappy bachelor. Was it my fault? Not entirely, but maybe in part.

bobtheenchantedone said...

Okay, now I know someone is trying to tell me to be kinder to my little brother.

LJ said...

I teared up a little bit at this. And I don't even have a guilty conscience at this juncture.