Best Gift

When we were small children, I always felt as if my brother and I banded together to protect each other from the world in which we lived.  I know I felt very protective of him.  He was younger, was a picky eater, so was very scrawny, and he had pneumonia many times before he was 5 or 6, nearly dying a time or two.  For this reason, he was coddled by everyone in the family.  But that wasn’t why I watched over him, nor did it have anything to do with why we were so close.  It was us against reality…a reality that wasn’t pleasant. 
We banded together to create an alternate world in which to live.   And because we were fairly intelligent and wildly imaginative kids, we created quite a few different realities in which to retreat.
When we were small, from the time I was 4 until I turned 9, we lived in a tiny 8 by 24 foot trailer.  We shared a bedroom that consisted of bunk beds (I had the top bunk) a small strip of floor and a cabinet built out from the wall at the foot of the beds.  There was a teeny window by the head of the beds and I could see out of it when  sitting on my pillow.  To have room to play, we made use of the floor under my brother’s lower bunk.
At some point, my father built a small “lean to” onto the trailer, giving us some much needed space.  The bunk beds were dismantled and placed in the new addition.  The old bedroom became our playroom.  During this time when we shared a bedroom, we would talk to each other about the kingdom we had in the clouds.  We visualized our kingdoms in intricate detail and talked about what we would do when we got there…which could only happen as we slept.  When we slept, we believed we left the world where we existed during the day and went to our palaces at night.  In our palaces, there was plenty of room.  The walls were thick and kept the cold away.  They were finely furnished, safe, secure, beautiful.  In our bedroom, the ugly linoleum that my father bought for a bargain because it was damaged with big orange stains, rolled at the edges and barely covered the concrete pad where our trailer sat.  The windows weren’t finished, so the cold air blew in during the winter, causing the panes to ice over with  frost that was patterned with swirls and paisley ferns.  But in our mansions, fireplaces provided warmth, the wind never penetrated, no matter how harshly it howled outside, and the cold didn’t seep in beneath the walls.  We were toasty, secure and all of our needs were met.  The beds were big and soft and warm.  We never had to curl into a ball to try to heat up the sheets with our body.  No, our palaces were beautiful and wonderful and cozy.  We shared stories about our adventures there, never tiring of telling each other how wonderful our “other” world was.
One of the first games we invented was called “Whit-Boing.”  We would be us, interacting, playing, until one of us would say these  words.  And when we uttered those words we became someone else entirely.  I remember having a pair of yellow ochre opaque tights that I would put on my head, securing each leg with a rubber band as if they were pigtails.  And I would become Hailey Mills.  We became anyone we wanted to be…just like that!  Magic!  Sometimes we became real people we liked and sometimes we became people we made up.  But we could be anyone and instantly escape from our sad existence whenever we wanted by speaking our code words that allowed someone else entirely to take our place as we became them.
Board games were too simple.  So we created our own.  Vastly complex and detailed, we made them with paper and cardboard, agreeing on the rules and objective of the game.  We also created new worlds with Lincoln Logs.  Oh, there was no limit to our imagination!  We were spies with bags full of secret papers, maps and pictures of the enemies we were eluding as we plotted to save the world.  We were army soldiers fighting to right wrongs.  We used short lengths of pipe for guns and hid under bushes, evading capture by running from shadow to shadow, tree trunk to tree trunk. 
My parents would take my brother trick-or-treating, but didn’t always take me.  He would give me half of his candy.  Because even then, he could sense something wasn’t right.  He was tender-hearted. As much as I looked out for him during my parent’s violent fights, protecting him from their ugly words and physical blows, he looked out for me, trying to make up for something neither of us understood or could explain. 
When I was 9, we moved into the house our father built and we each had a bedroom.  But we still made adventures and visited different dimensions.  And we still made our own games.  Now we had Lego to play with and we used it to make vastly complicated places where we lived.  We invented different realities, weaving highly developed and complicated stories around our creations.  We went for bike rides in the summer and would be gone all day, exploring new roads outside the small town where we grew up.  We were best friends.  Looking out for each other.  Until I left home at 17.  Then he went to college.  I lived 3 hours away, so we rarely saw each other.  And we grew apart.
We still don’t see each other very often.  But we reconnected during the fall of 2010 and are building a new relationship.  I spent this Christmas with my brother and his wife and I have to say, it was hard to leave.  I felt the old camaraderie.  The love.  I’m proud of him.  Of the man he has become.  He’s a good person; one who still has a tender heart.  He amazes me…how much he can do and how much he knows.  But I caught a glimpse of the little boy he was in the man he is today and I was glad that little child survived.  We lived through a lot together.  He didn’t experience the abuse I did, but he still lived in that toxic environment.  We helped each other escape.  Gave each other a reprieve.  Made a place where we were safe and where love abounded.
One of the gifts my brother gave me this Christmas deeply touched my heart.  It wasn’t expensive.  In fact, it was super-cheap.  But it came from that tender place in his heart and it penetrated to mine, breaking through all the layers of protection I have wrapped around myself.  He gave me his love…in a little bitty box that contained a bracelet.  And it is the best gift I have ever received.
 Best Gift 12-25-2013



I hope your Christmas was filled with love that came from the heart. And that touched you deeply.

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