My oldest brother was a bully, at least in our family he was. I have no idea what he was like in school – if he had friends, if he was picked on, if he picked on other kids, if he made good grades – I don’t know any of it, most likely because of our 7-year age difference. I don’t remember him ever having any friends over at our house except for neighbor kids in our earlier years.
I do know that he loved music, and he played bass guitar for a rock band ever since he was a kid. I remember when he got his new bass amp – it was about 3 1/2 feet tall! Like a lot of boys during that time, he loved the Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Some of the kids in the neighborhood also caught the music bug and together they put a band together called “The Redcoats”. Someone had made a recording of the band when Ken was a young teenager. I heard the recording within the last 15 years. They sang with enthusiasm and were horribly out of tune. But at least it was a time that he was having fun.
There were many difficult times with Ken, as I revealed in my last blog. But one of the most damaging times with him happened when he was babysitting us and our parents were out for the night.
Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” was playing on TV. He said he was going to watch it, and we could either watch it or go to bed. Of course I wanted to stay up – that was a rare treat for me. It wasn’t long before I got to the point in the movie where it was absolutely terrifying me. I still see a clip in my mind where the birds attacked a woman – pecking her to death. It was horrifying. I quietly got up and went to my bed. I decided I would much rather go to bed than watch that. I pulled back the covers and saw a bird in my bed. I screamed and the bird disappeared. I swear that bird was as real as could be. I was too terrified to move.
All three of my siblings ran into the room to see if I was okay. I was pointing at my sheets, “A bird! A bird! There was a bird!.....” I was a babbling idiot. I was inconsolable. Ken gave me hug. It’s okay. There’s no bird there. It’s okay. I’ll stay with you. We’ll play a card game, ok?
He was so kind and loving. He got a deck of cards and climbed in bed with me. I laid propped up against my pillow and he laid down propped up on his elbow facing me. The lights were low – I just had my night light on. He told the other two to go ahead and watch the movie. He was going to stay with me.
We played a game of war and I started to calm down.
“Let’s play a different game now,” he said.
He picked a card from the deck and then asked me to. He drew a jack, and I drew a 7. “My card is higher than your card, so you have to let me touch you.” He pulled down my underwear and touched me between the legs. “Your so soft,” he cooed. I was flipping out.
“Now you pick a card.”
My card was higher than his. I was relieved.
“Now you touch me.” And he pulled down his underwear. His penis frightened me. I had never seen one so up close and personal before. I shook my head no. There was no way I was going to touch that thing.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, surprised that I wouldn’t want to. I was silent. “Okay. My turn…”
This went on for a few turns and then John or Leslie came into the room.
“What are you guys doing?”
I was so relieved someone else came into the room. I knew this couldn’t be right, what he was doing and was hopeful it would stop.
“Get out of here!” He suddenly yelled. We’re playing a game and it’s only for us.
They left immediately. We were all afraid of him.
I was so terrified. My brother used a soft, sweet voice. This was the same brother that tormented and laughed at hurting us. It felt as if he was even more dangerous now. I didn’t say a word. And I didn’t touch him. I held my breath every time he moved his hand toward me. Eventually we got interrupted a couple of more times and he quit. It took me hours to fall asleep. And when I did, I dreamed of birds attacking me.
My brother was not the first to violate me in that way. When I was 5 or younger, my dad was home with us and mom was out for the night. It was highly unusual for him to be home without her. It was the only time I remember my dad giving me a bath. My sister was in the bathroom with us. I was naked in the tub, enjoying the fact that I had a little dad time. Then he told me to stand up.
“Why?” I asked. (And I thought to myself, Mom never had me stand up in the tub. It’s going to be cold being wet and out of the water.)
“So I can wash your bottom.” He replied with a bright smile on his face.
He washed my legs and my bottom, and then he washed between my legs.
“We have to get keep this really clean,” he said while he continued to wash it.
Something wasn’t right. I trust my mom more than anyone in the world, and she never did this. I looked to my sister for guidance.
“Why?” I asked.
She smiled and said in a sing-song voice, “You’ll find out when you’re older.”
I vowed to never let my dad give me another bath. I knew it wasn’t right. God only knows what my sister went through.
By the time my brother was 14 or 15, my parents divorced, and he chose to live with my dad. At the time, Wisconsin law stated that a child at the age of 13 or older, could decide which parent to live with in the case of a divorce. I believe that separation between my mom and dad saved my life.
But even though he didn’t live in the same house with me anymore, there was one more experience with my brother, Ken that is forever etched in my mind that influenced my life in a big way. Every summer we went on a vacation a few hours north and rented a cabin on a lake. Dad would go fishing and we would spend a lot of time swimming in the lake. When my parents separated, John and I continued going up north with our dad for a week, but this only lasted 2 or 3 more years. (Leslie had also moved in with Dad by now.) It was the summer that Ken had just gotten his driver’s license.
Ken asked if he could take the car for a ride. My dad gave him the keys and Ken asked us if we’d like to go with him. What? He was inviting us? I couldn’t believe it. He rarely included us in his life. We were all excited to go. My sister sat in the front seat and John and I were in the back. It was a novel adventure – being in the car without an adult. Wow! Ken can drive! This is so cool!
It was a warm summer day and Ken closed all of the windows. Then he lit up a joint, took a toke and passed it to Leslie. The smoke started filling up the car. John and I glanced at each other with fear in our eyes. We knew this was illegal activity. I felt like I was going to be sick. Then Ken and Leslie thought it would be funny to see us stoned. By now I was 9 years old and John had just turned 11. Ken and Leslie tried to coerce John into taking it, but he strongly and successfully refused. Then they started working on me. They were determined. “Just try it. It’s good. You’ll like it. C’mon…” They began talking to me like I was their friend. They acted like they really liked me and wanted me to share something special with them. I started sensing that they were going to make it their mission to get me to take at least one hit. They wouldn’t let up. I started to panic.
This wasn’t the first time I was in this situation. It was just like the time Dad made me take a draw from a cigarette. Ken and Leslie had started smoking around the age of 12. I guess they stole his cigarettes. I don’t know how they kept getting them to continue their habit, but Dad decided he wanted to teach my brother John and I a lesson. He was sitting at the kitchen table one night, smoking and told John to take a puff. He refused. Somehow he got out of the kitchen and quickly disappeared. Then Dad looked at me and I became his next target.
“Go ahead, Julie. I want you to take a puff.” He handed me the lit cigarette.
“Why? I asked. I’m never going to smoke. I see what it does to you.”
“That’s what Ken and Leslie used to say and they’re smoking now. I really want you to take a puff from this so you can see how horrible it is.”
“If it’s so bad, why do you smoke?”
“It’s a terrible habit,” he replied. “Don’t ever start. You need to do as I say, and not as I do. You have to take a puff of this cigarette, so you know what I’m talking about. Do it!”
I felt really threatened and unsafe. I also thought if I didn’t do it now and get it over with, he would never leave me alone. He had a way of psychologically badgering until you finally succumbed. (That’s how my mom said he got her to divorce him. He kept her up for 3 nights straight.)
I agreed to take the cigarette – I was 7 or 8 years old. I took a drag on it, and felt nothing. “This isn’t anything,” I thought. “I don’t know what the big deal is, but I’m glad it’s over.”
“No, no, no!” he said. “See, it’s a good thing you’re doing this now with me, because that’s how they started. They barely inhaled it, and they thought it was harmless. You have to take a big breath in when you smoke. I want you to feel what it’s really like to have it go into your lungs. Now do it again, but take a big inhale this time.”
I took the cigarette and breathed in hard. I started choking and coughing. He laughed.
“Yeah that’s it! See? It’s horrible right?” and he continued to laugh, thinking it was a great lesson.
But I didn’t stop coughing. I coughed until I felt like I was turning blue. I couldn’t get a breath. It was horrible feeling. I coughed for 5 minutes while he sat there and laughed at me. I actually felt hatred for my dad in that moment. What a horrible thing to do to a child. (By the way, it didn’t work. I tried a cigarette again when I was 20 years old, but chose to not continue to smoke it.)
When I was in the car with my brother and sister smoking the pot, I felt that memory come up again, and knew I was in trouble. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of it. I wondered if it would be possible to jump out of the car while it was moving. But then I wouldn’t even know where I was or how to get back to the cabin. Once again, I became silent. I pressed myself up against the door and window as hard as I could to hold myself together. John sized up the situation, and scooted close to me in the back seat. He put his arms around me, and whispered in my ear, “You never ever have to do drugs. No one can ever make you. You never have to say yes. Ever. Okay?” I shook my head with a slight yes to show him I understood, and he continued to hold me. He told them to leave me alone and take us back to the cabin. By the time we were dropped off, the car was filled with smoke and I had a horrible headache. That was when I promised myself I would never do drugs. And I never did. (Due to the reputation of my siblings, I got many offers to do drugs. And everyone that offered was kind when I said no, and never pressured me. But I was incredibly confident that I would never give in, thanks to my brother, John.)
Ken's life was another reason for my faith and longing to be with God. I had nowhere else to turn but to Him. Ken had so much great potential, but for reasons unknown, was unable to rise above. I'll tell you the rest of Ken's story in my next blog.