When I was 2 years old…
– I walk into the room and see my brother (I call him Koko) at his desk, with his back facing me, working away on his homework.
I sneak up towards him with a malicious glee on my face, and with a quick gesture, I snatched his workbook away from him and ran out giggling with excitement as I waved his workbook high like a victory flag.
“SHEI LI! COME BACK WITH MY BOOK!”
He gets up after me, and I squeal louder with laughter as I run towards the living room.
“Koko is not playing with you. I need to finish my homework – GIVE IT BACK!”
I turn towards him, still with a playful smile on my face. I notice that he isn’t smiling, and as he approaches me, he rudely snatches his book out from my toddler hands. He points a warning finger at me, “Don’t disturb me again!”
Tears start to well up in my eyes … and I soon begin to cry out loud.
Unaffected by my tears, he begins to walk back to his room.
A split second later, Mummy rushes over to cuddle me while loudly scolding my brother for making me cry. Papa comes out of his room and he doesn’t look too pleased at this commotion. He starts yelling at my brother too. I feel smug. Hah – take that for making me cry.
But that pride doesn’t last long… Papa continues to yell at koko in a tone that’s very, very rude. I stop crying as I observe from the living room as Papa goes into Koko’s room. Papa raises his hand on Koko a few times – I squirm at the sight. Koko just sits there and lets Papa hit him.
Oh crap, what have I done …
Mummy goes to Koko’s rescue and pulls Papa away. Fortunately, he relents and leaves the room.
I can see Mummy consoling Koko. I walk into the room slowly, afraid of how Koko will react at the sight of me – the troublemaker. I feel sheepish for my actions. I hide behind Mummy with my head low. I cannot face him. –
I am retelling a memory which I played out in my mind when my mum shared it a few years ago. When I first heard it, I was devastated. I silently wished that my 2 year old self was intuitive enough to apologise with a hug to mend my brother’s hurt at that point in time.
In case you’re wondering if my brother hates me, the definate answer is “no”. In fact, I was (am) very loved by my brothers. I have two older brothers. The eldest is 13 years older and the second is 11 years older. Yes, huge gap. I was told there was a miscarriage before me, but that didn’t stop them as my mum had always wanted a girl.
The story above is about my second brother. Growing up, I remember being confused as to how I should address them. I call them both Koko (a Hokkien spin of the word “gor gor” in Cantonese or “ge ge” in Chinese which means ‘big brother’). I attempted, by tweaking the pronunciation of the title once – Koko for my eldest and KorKor for the second, to make it easier to address the right brother as I never found it natural to call my family members by their names, but that didn’t work out so well. It wasn’t an issue though, because my brothers were rarely in the same house together.
My eldest brother, let’s call him J, was sent abroad to study in London from the age of 12. My second brother, B, was not as privileged. J only came back once a year and those were the times which I vaguely remember of the three of us playing together. I was the pampered princess and they were my protective knights. Because of our huge age gaps, I could get away with being michievous most of the time. Unlike most cases where the youngest was often bullied by the older siblings, I remember having a fantastic time bullying THEM instead. Okay, I admit it- I was a spoilt princess.
I’ve always felt a large disparity in the way my dad treated my second vs my eldest brother. Since J was in London most of the time, B got most of my dad’s wrath. His (Dad’s) patience for B was zero. He would get angry at the tiniest things B did. B was punished for things he didn’t do. He would call B names, shout profanities at B, hit B on the head, etc.
“Why does Papa hate Ko so much?” I asked my mum one day.
“I don’t know, but I guess it has to do with the birthmark across his face. He has this slightly discoloured patch on his left temple to his top left cheek, like a panda’s black eye, but not entirely black – more like a shadow. It’s not very obvious unless you really look at him.”
I never noticed this birthmark, to be honest, until I studied pictures of him. It’s really not that visible as he grew older, but perhaps it was very visible when he was a baby.
Nevertheless, my dad sort of took that as a sign of bad omen to the family hence he didn’t treat B very well. He nicknamed B as “the unlucky son” and would put him down with words like “stupid” and “useless”. Because of this too, he decided to send B to a public Chinese school cause he didn’t want to spend too much on B.
J, on the other hand, received private school education and was then sent to London. Now my family was not rich – we were just average (because of my dad’s gambling problems). But J was very fortunate because my uncle’s sons were sent there to study so they wanted J to be an accompaniment, hence his education fees were generously subsidised. Also, I know from looking at our old picture books that J had huge birthday celebrations when he was growing up, but I never found any photos of similar celebrations for B. My heart aches for B every time I think about this obvious double standards, and sometimes I can’t help but to wonder if B harboured any negative feelings towards J…
My mum said that my dad used to hit B more than he would hit her but after B ran away (when I was quite young but I don’t recall at what age specifically), there was no one else to “absorb” the beatings… so she became the next target/victim.
B had his flaws, but it was definitely caused by the lack of parental love and attention. As my mum had to give little me most of her attention, naturally B was neglected. Coupled with my dad’s verbal and physical abuse, B grew up to be a troubled teenager. He didn’t do well at school – he was caught for truancy many times. He would deliberately disobey my parents’ orders. He was caught stealing money from our grandparents’ house.
Despite these flaws, B continued to be a loving brother to me. He would help look after me and clean up after me. He was patient with me, and loved taking me out to play in the garden. He would let me draw and colour in his textbooks (which I later found out he got scoldings for). I used to sit in his lap as he does his homeworks too (on the days when he actually did homework, that is)!
The day B ran away from home was a little blurry to me as I think I was probably fast asleep when it happened, but my mum filled me in on some of the details. My dad came home drunk (as usual) and he was mad at something B did. He then started hitting B and it quickly got out of hand. At one point, he … dunked B’s head into a toilet bowl. Yes. That happened…
My mum was there but she was unable to do anything as my dad was obviously stronger than she was, and she claimed that she had to protect me. So she told B to run out of the house, flag a taxi down and go to my maternal grandma’s place for the night. Thankfully, he did.
That was the last time he set foot back to the house. He stayed with my grandparents for a while but eventually they had a fallout with him because they caught him stealing money (again). So he ran away from there too, but reappeared a few years later when I was 8 y.o, around Mother’s Day. He disappeared from our radar again after that.
My mum never stopped blaming herself for what happened to him that night he ran away from the house. She claimed that he must have been mad at her for not protecting him as a mother should… but she had her obligations to protect her youngest child (me) as well back then.
It’s a surprise my brother doesn’t hate my guts. To be honest, if I were him, I would have hated me. I do know that he certainly never forgave my dad for what was done to him, and that he disowned my dad that very day forward.
I am filled with regret over my childish actions whenever I think back of the tough situations I’ve put my brothers in. Words cannot even express how sorry I feel for the amount of scoldings (and physical abuse) which I’ve caused upon my brothers – especially B.
B suffered more than I ever did, and I think it was very brave of him. More on B in my upcoming posts, but for now I just want to express my gratitude for having loving brothers like J and B. I’m really fortunate that both of them love me like how any big brother should love their little sister. I was their princess baby sister and they were my knights in shiny armour, always protective over and patient with me – I’d like to think that I still am and will always be their baby sister! I love them very much! : ,)
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
I Corinthians 13:13