The Brother

‘C’mon, if ya push i’ doon the stairs, yu’ll be able ta see all the wee men inside.’ This little piece of manipulative drama was going to define my relationship with my big brother for the rest of our lives. It was a formative moment, too. It marked me as a gullible dupe. The scenario was to be repeated throughout my life. Different actors, different products sold to me, only my capacity to be taken in remained unchanged.I was five and he was six. Christmas morning 1968 and a kind person had bought us each big 2012-06-11-tonkahandsome, chunky Tonka trucks. Mine was a tipper with a red cab and had a clever latch and lever that raised a big yellow dump bed. I was so looking forward to taking it out to the back garden where I would load it with earth and stones and haul them over to the castle I was building by the fence. Jeremy got an elaborate, red painted fire engine. It had ladders and pumped water from smartly wound, white pressure hoses. Being Jeremy, he thought it would be a great idea to push his fabulous new toy down the stairs. Of course it was smashed to smithereens by the time it hit the floor. The loss of his fire truck was bad, but seeing me joyfully playing with my fully intact tipper truck only served to rub salt in the wound. He had an intuitive grasp of the manipulative arts, even at that age. He was also keenly aware that I was a credulous little twit. Playing on this weakness and my childish curiosity, he told me that if I pushed my truck down the stairs I would see all the amazing bits inside it. I wanted to see the amazing bits. ‘Are there wee men in there that drive it?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and y’ll be able tae see them when it hits the bottom,’ he enthused. So I knelt beside my freckly, red haired brother on the top landing and pushed. Much later my brother became a fundamentalist Christian evangelical preacher. The skills that he developed at that moment on the landing, getting the credulous to kneel and to believe that magic can result from broken things, served him well.

In an ironic twist of fate, with the collapse of his preaching career, he ended up driving trucks in America, and spent ten lonely and often frustrating years in the cab of a freightliner. His radio tuned to the more extreme end of the talk radio spectrum. I found it impossible to have a conversation with him during that period. He was channeling Rush Limbaugh.

A diet of hate and fear is profoundly unwholesome. For every waking moment to be filled with a noxious stream of paranoia undermines vitality, it drains the spirit. It was his pain, that legacy of bereavement and his inability to articulate his grief that drew him to this procession of apocalyptic venom-spitting evangelical radio preachers.

It was only after he sold the truck and began working with a crew of supportive, nurturing friends that this hyper-stimulated state engendered by a toxic mix of isolation and pain began to dissipate. He sent me a letter on yellow legal stock apologising for preaching when we should have been talking.

My arrogance was such that I, by way of response, left a message with a relative who frequently talks with him requesting that he download Skype. I considered snail mail too quaint, too outdated for a busy, published author of my standing.

It was nigh on eight years since I ejected religious superstition from my life. I left it behind me on the cerebral scrapheap, that towering monument to the unattainable. I now found comfort in the solidly anchored rationalism of Dawkins and inspiration in Bentham and Mill’s coldly reasoned Utilitarianism. The smug pleasure of my victory over the irrationality of the Christian extremists was bolstered that night by a marathon session immersed in Hitchin’s debates on YouTube.

The sense of consternation that engulfed me as I stared at the broken bits of my wonderful tipper truck scattered on the doormat at the foot of the stairs darkened my life. It was a bitter lesson. It marked the end of that phase of childhood innocence. Wariness flooded in to take its place. This was the paradigm shift that nudged the child over the cosseted threshold of toddlerhood into a harsher world where the things you love can be broken, a world where pain and loss are inevitable.

Sometimes a person experiences an event that alienates him from his fellows, that leaves him feeling untethered and insecure. In his efforts to rebalance, he will do everything in his power to level the field, consequences notwithstanding.

 

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