“Hey! Wanna play a fun game?” my older brother grinned and snapped his gum, a bright pink blur flashing between his grimy teeth. “Like, super cool fun?”
“Well–no. Duh.” I stuck my chin out. I was an awkward seven year old girl with pigtails and tortoise shell eyeglasses; a jumble of spindly arms and legs. “I’m busy,” I sniffed and continued to comb Cowgirl Barbie’s horse’s mane with a tiny purple brush.
“Aw! C’mon! It’s called Rocket Launcher!” he pleaded. “You’re gonna looooooove it!” he sang with an ominous high-pitched voice.
Why did that suspicious tone suggest otherwise?
I stood up, smoothing my red polyester pants and straightening my glasses. “Okay,” I shrugged. “I guess.”
Little did I know, “Rocket Launcher” did not involve a rocket. But there would be plenty of launching.
It was the late 1970s, and I was growing up with five brothers. This particular lazy Saturday afternoon, two of them and I clambered up the rickety steps to the attic; the shadowy place where ghosts, dusty boxes of 45s and my great-grandmother’s ratty fox stole lived.
“Okay, I’m gonna be here…” my older brother laid down on the attic floor and raised his legs up, pulling his knees to his chest.
“And you are gonna sit on his feet,” my younger brother giggled, a little too maniacally for my taste. “And then we’re gonna launch you! It’s just like you’re flying! It’s so cool!”
“Yeah, yeah. Very cool.” Both my brothers nodded and grinned.
Maybe I wanted to impress them. Or maybe it was the tempting “very cool” description. I’m not sure why I did it. Or how I managed to be launched into the air only to come crashing down 15 feet away onto a box of baseball cards. Or how I didn’t notice the dozens of rusty nails protruding from the old rotting beams in the attic’s roof, mere inches away from impaling me during the launch. But I did it anyway. Every man (or tomboy) for him/herself.
Back then my life was filled with wrestling matches on the front lawn, BB guns and tree climbing. Often there were more wild adventures such as throwing a four foot steel rod inbetween the spokes of my brother’s Schwinn to see what would happen. Our father was less than thrilled when my younger brother limped into the kitchen, trailing blood from the perfectly round hole in his foot where the steel rod had once been.
I survived a rough and tumble existence, even joined in most of the time. We all had our share of scratches, bumps and bruises. Over the years, three of my brothers had stitches, one a concussion and one suffered a BB pellet to the corner of his eye in an unfortunate ricochet accident. Usually if we were injured, we’d slap a band-aid on it, suck it up and move on. My father was big on the washcloth cure. As long as we could put a damp washcloth to the wound, we’d be just fine. There were the occasional tears and mostly they were mine; crying behind my closed bedroom door, drowning myself into my plush purple pillows, clutching my Laura Ingalls doll for dear life.
My brothers did show their love and affection for me from time to time. Mostly with headlocks, noogies, and relentless teasing. I can still hear their haunting voices taunting me from the past even now: “Darla and Shaun Cassidy! Sittin’ in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” Sometimes I’ll have flashbacks of the Barbie Massacre. I woke up and shuffled into the bathroom one morning only to find a few of their perfectly coiffed heads floating in the murky toilet.
Still, as tough as I tried to be for them, as much as I attempted to shield my tears behind closed Shaun Cassidy postered doors, there was always that small soft trusting spot buried deep down inside. Where my lip-gloss and rainbow ribbon barrette true sweet self longed to bloom.
Which is why I believed them when they offered to apologize for the Rocket Launch Mishap by whipping up my favorite “Triple Thick Chocolate Shake”. They had renamed it the “Triple Thick Surprise Shake”. I was surprised they could be so considerate and eagerly gulped it down, still wallowing in my trusting nature. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom of the glass and tasted the ketchup, Tabasco sauce and pepper combination that I realized my brothers were merely boys after all.
Today, I am still that trusting sensitive little girl. Add to that my ability to be tough on the outside and I can endure most anything. I survived five brothers. I will always stand up for the underdog, having been one most of my childhood. I will speak out without hesitation if I sense any injustice. No one can push me around. My headlock technique is top-notch and I’m not afraid to use it. Besides, now I am a little wiser. I refuse any chocolate shakes with the word “surprise” attached to them and never ever do I say, “Okay, I guess,” if someone suggests I be launched.
Thank you, dear brothers. You’ve taught me well.