an emotion that might have been fear and uncertainty registered in those frosty green eyes, as the golden child flashed first from me to my mom, in a wordless plea for help.
i already knew the answer to my question, even before it sprang from my lips, but i was goading her. i wanted her to have to put out into the open the true ugliness of what had been one of her sharp toothed, condescending jibes, as usual concealed behind an ambiguous statement. the golden child was a master of teasing and of sarcasm and of back handed compliments. she was at her best while pealing off the skin, layer by layer, of a victim chosen for his or her general un-coolness in front of an audience that was as hungry to be considered one of her retinue and therefore spared the hot seat in the next performance as it was thirsty for blood.
this was near the beginning of my eighteenth year. time has caused the rest of the conversation, whatever context led up to her remark, to slip away from me. but i do remember her words of a moment before i issued my challenge. she'd said: "i like almost everyone in our family." and clearly she hadn't expected to have to qualify this implied insult. why would i want her to state any more explicitly the fact that i was her favorite scapegoat?
"you" she admitted, eventually, with an uncomfortable hesitation in her voice. it wasn't that so much that she cared about hurting my feelings, but i'd spoiled her joke.
the anger rose through my veins to concentrate in a burning pressure beneath my skull at my forehead. we, my mother and sisters and i, were on one of our five mile, calorie burning walks that was meant to balance out some of the weight we all packed on every time the golden child came home from college for a vacation. her homecoming was excuse to celebrate with gelato and tiramisu and frapuccinos, and since baking was one of her main hobbies cookies and muffins and pancakes and carbohydrates in general were in abundance for the week or fifteen days or two months that she again slept in the room we once used to share. so my mom and sisters and i put on our tennis shoes set out into the desolate heat of our neighborhood. we'd barely scaled our extremely steep driveway, which made it nearly impossible for pizza delivery men to ever find our address, when something inside me prompted me to pick a fight.
i regretted my hasty actions almost as soon as they were executed, and even as i was stalking away from my family i was searching in my mind for a way to backpedal. i really did want to go on the walk with my mom and sisters. exercise was one of the few things that brought me a modicum of pride in myself. but it was too late to turn back.
"go to your room and stare there. you're grounded." if i'd thought the emotion that bubbled up from my molten core was powerful, i was made painfully aware that i was my anger was the wrath of a mouse while my mom possessed the capacity to unleash a lion's rage. her voice splintered into high pitched fragments, like it only did when someone had committed a truly grievous crime. my self righteousness evaporated, leaving behind a shuddering, whimpering little girl.
similarly to my judgement that associating with my dad was not a good political move, as a young child i never wanted to be like my eldest sister, and made little attempt to develop any kind of a relationship with her. she came to be associate in my mind with everything i shouldn't be in order to gain favor with my mom; she was always softly rounded rather than hard and toned. during the day, she grazed steadily on dry cereal poured into the red and white disposable cups i later learned were intended by god to be used for beer pong. she was "boy crazy" and actually let her crushes know of her feelings for them, something considered weak and pathetic in my household because it gave them the upper hand that should have naturally been hers as the female in the equation. my eldest sister actually passed up trips to the mall, which amounted to sacrilege as far as i was concerned, and during her difficult teenage years the golden child frequently drew snide comparisons between her and a grizzly bear. it wasn't until i began to separate myself from the moral code of my family of origin that i realized our shared underdog status might actually serve as a basis for a potential friendship between myself and this sister.
while i don't think i really ever looked up to my eldest sister, i definitely earnestly desired to be her friend during my senior year of high school. we texted back and forth a lot at this time, and i shared with her parts of myself that i knew weren't safe to disclose to my immediate family in general. i hoped that with each secret i confided in her, a bond would grow between us, because she'd have to understand that i was trusting her and relying on her to keep me safe. my mom would have disowned me immediately if she'd heard from my sister that i was struggling at this point in my life with my sexual identity.
what i didn't take into account was the extent of my sister's denial. for a while, we were closer than i'd ever really been to any of my siblings before, not that this is saying much. but when i texted her about the party on prom night the morning after it happened, with the usual caveat "don't tell me" she couldn't keep the secret for me. i should have felt it coming because she was always pleading the fifth rather than sharing her own experiences; she didn't want to encourage me to become immoral like she was, or corrupt me by confessing to me any of her own exploits. the phone call she made to my mother that morning nipped our young friendship in the bud.
i still feel sad and guilty when i wonder if my little sister felt as betrayed as i did, finding out that i'd placed my trust where it didn't belong, when she confided in me as the one person she thought wouldn't tell anybody about the sexual advances our brother made on her, and i failed to keep my mouth shut like she begged me to do.