Growing up, my older sister could always kick my ass.
But not always as a physical ass-kicking. No, my sister could kick my ass mentally, too. She would do stuff to torture me, like take my doll and say she was gonna cut its head off unless I admitted to her I was a loser, or break something and threaten to tell our mom it was my fault unless I gave her money. So at a very young age, I was faced with having to make tough decisions: do I keep my dignity by refusing her cruel demands and risk getting my ass kicked, or do I succumb to admitting to being the loser she accused me of?
When you come to a crossroads like that, it’s the beginning of what is referred to as “character-building exercises”. It supposedly builds character when someone has overtaken you physically and mentally, making you feel like a powerless piece of shit, because there will be many instances during your lifetime where you will feel like a powerless piece of shit.
So there I’d be, held mentally and emotionally hostage, and facing a stand-off with my nemesis to see who could outlast the other. Of course my sister would always outlast me and I would have to go searching in the backyard dirt to find my doll’s head buried somewhere.
But there comes a point in time when you’re so sick of being repeatedly beaten down, that you just can’t take another loss; you refuse to. The thought of another mental beating is too much to bear, so you’re willing to take whatever is going to be dished out because you just don’t give a shit anymore
and that’s when you learn apathy.
No, courage… you learn courage.
I had reached that point, however temporarily, and summoned up the courage to do something I would never normally do: refuse to back down to my sister, show her I didn’t care what the consequences were, whatever it was she was going to do to me wasn’t going to matter, because the satisfaction of doing this far outweighed the repercussions… and I did this with a fork full of mashed potatoes.
Okay, not the most threatening of weapons, I realize… but remember, David took Goliath down with a stone.
We were sitting across from one another at the small dinner table in our equally small kitchen, and my sister and I were having a discussion about one thing or another. It was one of the rare occasions where we were getting along, just talking and eating together. I happened to look down at my plate, scooped up a pile of mashed potatoes with my fork and looked at it with curiosity, wondering exactly what would happen if I flung this forkful of mashed potatoes across the room?
But then I looked up at my sister and I thought about how funny it would be to fling them into her face instead. It was spontaneous… an “a-ha!” moment, if you will: why wouldn’t I fling them into her face instead of across the room, wouldn’t that be infinitely more entertaining and satisfying? I was armed with this forkful of mashed potatoes, aimed right at my sister’s face, and I thought about how thrilling it was to have the power! I could worry about getting my ass kicked afterwards.
My sister immediately understood what I was planning when she saw my fork, a creamy white cloud of potato resting in the curve of its tines, my fingers ready to release it like a slingshot… a devious smile on my lips. She warned me to not dare do what I was thinking of doing, otherwise, I’d be in big trouble, which made my smile grow even larger and I started snickering. I told her she had better not move, or these potatoes were going straight into her face. She warned me again, saying “You’d better not do it, or I’ll kick your ass!” but her aggressive dominance wavered… she must have realized she wasn’t in the position to make demands, and then she snickered because it was such a ludicrous position for her to be in, to have the tables turned against her.
She didn’t think I had the guts to actually do it, which made it even more satisfying. That was the first time my sister underestimated me. There would be many times in our lives she would be shocked by her underestimation of me, her little sister, the one she so cruelly dominated and mistreated. I often wondered at the way she refused to give me more credit, but she was a stubborn creature.
To know I could hold her hostage by a forkful of mashed potatoes was galvanizing. I was going to do this and I didn’t care one bit about the ass kicking. With a quick flick of my wrist, I flung the mashed potatoes from my fork straight into her face, and it landed with a soft plop squarely in the center of her forehead and stuck there. I never realized I had such good aim… it was a triumph! For a split second, she was in shock; her eyes widened and her jaw dropped open as an expression of disbelief crossed her face.
Fear mixed in with the triumph I was feeling, my heart pumping as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I prepared myself for the beating that would follow, but instead, something miraculous happened: we burst out into hysterical laughter together. All the feelings of fear and hurt and sadness I felt towards my sister melted away, and a genuine moment of camaraderie that was normally void from our lives took its place.
In one swift action I won respect from my sister and gained her friendship, however brief. In that moment I knew what it felt like to be fearless and relevant and included… and loved. It defined for me the meaning of having a relationship with a sister who could be accepting and fun, full of laughter and joy; elements that would continually be missing from our troubled relationship.