Mine by David Moore Robinson
The red block is still your favorite. Solid, rectangular, bulkier than the others, it always forms the base of your house, or possibly the roof. In time, you will grow to like the orange one with the semicircle carved into one side. But its unevenness angers you a little, and you have not yet found a way to incorporate it into your world.
You are five years old. This is one of the few intangible ideas that you can grasp entirely. You know because it was made official at an elaborate ceremony involving cake and colors and paper hats. Also, you have it from the best, indeed the only, reliable source of knowledge: mommy. What you don’t yet know, and will never fully grasp, is the way in which the events of today will change you forever.
The world you know – one of blocks and toys – is the child’s world of the concrete. This is one difference between your sister Emily, who is touching her pink ball, and your mother, who watches her. Your mother thinks of her former boss, a self-proclaimed “career woman” who had sworn off children and husbands, too. Thinks of her decision to stay at home until the kids are grown. She thinks of this big house that they could afford more easily if she were still working, and the work they could have done on the bathrooms, the wallpaper, and the stair top balcony with its horrid iron railing. Emily thinks about pinkness and roundness.
You are somewhere in between. You build with your blocks a structure that resembles the house you live and play in. You think about the blocks, think about the house.
You are five. This bit of abstract knowledge, along with things like your name and the sky, are concepts you don’t understand. You feel them, just as you feel gravity’s pull on your own body. But it would never occur to you to ask why the blocks fall to the ground when you kick them over, or why your sister does the same when you push her.
Your sister herself is another thing that you don’t understand. You understand that she eats, yells, lives in your house, and wears dresses that grandma sent. And that’s pretty much all there is to your sister. That, and her unrelenting desire for ownership. She doesn’t get the idea that not everything in the world belongs to her. She makes a habit of latching onto your toys and yelling “mine.” This habit, and your mother’s tolerance of it, is an intolerable injustice. Emily stinks – concrete fact. Emily doesn’t watch the Mighty Rangers, or when she does, she only looks at the screen for a minute or so, and then moves on – fact. Emily doesn’t deserve to grab the Mighty Ranger action figures that you were given on your birthday and call them “mine” – not a fact, not something you could name, but a feeling.
But Mommy doesn’t understand. Whenever Emily waddles over to one of your toys – your action figure or your train set or your blanket even – she grabs it and yells “mine.”
You remind her that she has her own blankie, but she persists. “Mine.”
“No it’s not!” As if the force of your voice will get her to see your logic. It’s what Mommy and Daddy do, after all. But your words carry no weight here.
She can out-scream you, and her voice arouses intervention from the next room. “Charles,” Mommy says, “can’t you share with your sister?”
“Fine!” you say, shoving it into her hands with enough force to knock her back onto the rug. Sometimes, you’ve found, this works. If she gets the toy and gets knocked over, sometimes she doesn’t want the toy anymore.
Emily goes with Mommy and you go with Daddy. This is why you know the Saturday morning sawdust scent of the hardware store, and why Emily gets all the fancy stuff. She gets dresses that are more colorful and impressive than your clothing. There was a time, just beyond the grasp of memory, when you got the stuff that everyone wanted. When the relatives visited for holidays, the beam of their attention shone hard on you, and you responded to the wants of your grandmothers with the necessary cuteness. But now Grandma and Moo “ooh” and “ahh” and chuckle over the gifts they give to Emmy, and what you get is a “bigboy” this or a “bigboy” that. You don’t feel particularly bigger, but you get different stuff. This, you can’t understand.
You tried to protest once, too. It was Easter, in the bathroom at Sears, just before the annual portrait. There you are, standing still for mommy while she adjusts your bowtie and makes sure that your white shirt doesn’t show underneath your vest. This is your Easter outfit, and as far as you can remember, it always has been.
Meanwhile, Emily clomps back and forth in front of the mirror, smiling at herself. The girl loves mirrors. As if they’re the only thing that confirms her existence. As if, without a mirror nearby, she’d disappear. She grubs the glass with her fingers, murmuring, admiring the brand new dress that she got just for this picture. “Pretty.” “Emmy pretty!” “What a… what a pretty dress!”
At this age, she can only speak in the terms in which she’s spoken to, so her thoughts are described in abbreviated statements and rhetorical questions, all given with swooping inflection.
There’s only so much of this that a guy can take. Emmy is in her own world, oblivious of the glares you fire at her, which Mommy attributes to you “fussing” over your dandified outfit.
“Iss Emmy’s dress. ‘Ssit pretty?”
“Hold still, buddy.”
“‘Ssit pretty?… Yah, iss pretty.”
“Stand up straight, or I can’t do this.”
“Honey, hold still!”
You can’t take it. “Emily gets all the good clothes!” You scream it, and a strange woman scuttles out of the bathroom.
Emily stares up with her big dumb eyes. Mommy embraces you, but her giggle doesn’t escape your notice.
“Well, Charles,” she says with sickening patience, “that’s the way it is. Girls get clothes, and boys get… other things.”
She wipes your burning runny nose, but hasn’t gotten your point. It’s not about the clothes. It’s about the agony of being a big brother: having to be the calming influence whenever Emily starts acting crazy, having to be responsible when she starts climbing the stairs again, and lately, having to endure the pinching.
At first, it was kind of cool to be the older brother. With Emily’s appearance, you were no longer called upon to recite ABC’s or count to ten for grandparents and aunts and uncles. You could just stay in the background, enjoy the freedom that you found there.
When the crowds were gone, you played the big boy’s role, protecting this tiny person who’d lie noiselessly on a blanket while Mommy ran into the kitchen for formula. And sometimes you could hold her, and she giggled when you tickled her not-too-hard, and people took pictures. As long as Emily was inert, being her brother was fun.
But you hadn’t then pictured the annoyances. First it was the screaming, then the slime all over your toys. With the standing came the reaching of your art supplies, and you’d find your pictures torn from the table and wrinkled or ripped. With the potty training (and this one she really loved, crowing “I go peepie on pottie!” to anyone who’d listen) came the accidents that left the carpet near your trains wet and smelly. Things never happen exactly the way you hope them to. At five, this is another concept that you don’t quite understand, and it really pisses you off.
It’s like the time you joined the soccer team. Daddy had showed you those videos of pro soccer players doing incredible, gravity-defying moves. You were so excited on that Saturday morning, in the t-shirt that Daddy called a jersey, but the field was so much bigger than you could’ve thought, and the ball was so much bigger, and when you kicked it, it did none of the things from the video. Daddy eventually took you home, which was all you wanted, but you could always feel the thinness of his sympathy. This was the first real failure of your life, and for years it will remain with you.
© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
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