Editor’s Note: The following includes descriptions of domestic and physical abuse.
It started off as “simple” verbal attacks.
“You look so fat.” “You embarrass me.” “Don’t make me beat the life out of you.” “Look at you…what a disgrace.” “Get out of my sight.”
Soon after, the verbal abuse turned physical.
Music on high volume (so no one can hear my cries), shades down (so no one can see him hit me), lock the doors (so no one can help me) – ”typical steps” of logistical set up for daytime abuse. A similar approach (replace the music with a hand over the mouth) followed during the night.
No, this is not a story of domestic abuse done by a male romantic partner against his wife or girlfriend. This is a story of another kind of domestic abuse, one you rarely hear about: older sibling towards a younger one.
To backtrack a little.
I have two brothers. One is several years older (X) and one is less than two years younger than me (Y).
Since I can remember, “X” was always a volatile child. He was the loudest, the angriest, and the most demanding out of the three of us. When I was little, I do remember him being caring. Based on the stories I am told, he enjoyed “babysitting” when I was a toddler, and he had cute nicknames for me.
After some very turbulent years due to things that were out of my parents’ control, things changed. While I was always aware of his personality, opposite to my docile and quiet one, I was never before afraid that X’s anger would ever be channeled towards me or my younger sibling. Sadly, that all changed when I was 9 years old (and it lasted until I was almost 16 when I moved to the US).
What did I do to “provoke” him?
Anything and everything really…my existence alone was a “provocation.” Frequent bruises, broken shoulder, guns pointed at me, headaches would send me to the doctor’s office frequently, where I would always mumble the same words: “I fell…” and “I don’t know where I got this from.”
You would think I was the clumsiest person in the universe!
Perhaps the scariest and most embarrassing thing of all was the frequent hiding behind the house in the middle of the night, barefoot in the snow, shaking from cold and fear, just to escape him, while barely a preteen.
Actually, scratch that – even more difficult, was going to school in the morning and pretending I had a full night’s peaceful sleep at home.
At this point, you are probably wondering, “Where in this universe were your parents? How can this be?”
Believe me, I ask myself that every day, even though I technically know the answer.
My mom was always “there” and my dad was mostly absent due to the previously mentioned circumstances out of our control. My mom is a woman who has always been obsessed with “what people will say” and my dad, even when “present,” is always somehow “absent.”
To be fair, my mom always yelled at X to stop and she physically did try to restrain him, but he was stronger than her and he didn’t hesitate to hit her either. As for my dad, thanks to his absence (both physical and emotional), reacted too late and when he finally did, it had no impact.
While X would occasionally hit Y, for whatever reason, I was his “favorite” target, perhaps because, at least at the beginning, I would resist.
As years passed by, I learned to pick up different masks and techniques to cope. I signed up for any and every extracurricular activity at school so that I could spend less and less time at home. I learned to read his every move, his every look in the eye, the tone of his voice and the meaning of every word he uttered.
I adjusted my behavior accordingly. The beatings didn’t stop but I learned to “deal with it” better.
I learned to be a supreme actress, to cover my bruises (inside and out) like a “pro.”
It is hard to process and impossible to understand how your own sibling can do this to you. A million “why’s” circled in my brain over and over again. I asked myself a billion times, “what did I do wrong to ‘deserve’ this?”
Over the years, especially once I had the opportunity to remove myself physically from the situation (an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful because I am well aware that it is rare), I am still trapped, in a way, although I’ve learned a lot.
In every man, I “look” for anything that might resemble him, and it is an automatic trigger if I find it, no matter how illogical that might be sometimes.
I can’t even tell my story because I will be seen (thanks to obscene cultural and societal norms) as the “black sheep” of the family. I tell a few good friends (after years of “practicing” to tell my story without crying, and sometimes still failing) but I am still embarrassed to an extent because they all have “normal” siblings and I do not.
They have a big brother who protected them and I have one who beat me to a pulp.
I still pour buckets of tears even though I am almost 30 and he is an ocean away from me, but still, a part of me is forever scared and trapped.
My dream was to be brave enough to sit down and ask him, “why?”
A few years ago, during one of the visits “back home,” an incident triggered a huge reaction out of me. I packed my bags three days into my visit, started screaming at him and left to my uncle’s house.
While I was yelling, I thought my heart would jump out of my chest.
All I could think was, “He will just pick you up and throw you across the room (he has done it before) or worse, throw you off the balcony and take away your passport.”
(Out of fear, I did give a copy of my passport to a friend, just in case.)
However, he just stood there, sometimes staring blankly at me and other times with his head down, and not a word came out of his mouth. God, I wanted him to say something, anything, but mostly, I wanted him to say he was wrong and that he is sorry.
Those words of course never came out of his mouth.
We are barely in contact aside from occasional small talk over Skype, forced by my parents for “the sake of family relations.”
I do not hate him. I do not wish him anything bad. When he gets sick, I am fearful for his well-being. I look at his life and I feel sad for him. I simply cannot hate him. I used to pray for him all the time (I still do in a way), but to be honest, after all these years I do not know what exactly to pray for anymore.
I am telling you my story because perhaps there are others out there who went through a similar ordeal. I understand that some cannot tell their story openly because it might endanger their safety and family relations.
If you are going through this or have gone through this, I want to tell you that you are not alone and you are exceptionally strong. These are not words born out of simple platitudes.
These are words that took me years to realize – as simple as they might seem.