You know those big, dysfunctional but lovable white families you used to see in television and film? They were all about siblings being super shitty to each other. Yet when one member of the family was threatened, the family closed ranks and fended off the attacker.
I grew up in a huge, white, broken, dysfunctional family.
I thought those stories were bullshit.
When someone in our family had a train wreck of a relationship, my full siblings and I would kick back with popcorn and armchair quarterback:
“HA! What did she expect? I mean, he used her to cheat on his fiancée. She had to know that was coming around.”
“Seriously, a criminal record, and an illegitimate kid already? You don’t even get warning signs that good for a fallen overpass!”
“Can you really be shocked when your ex at an intelligence agency tracks you down? Shoulda used a little intelligence of your own, dude.”
Because we grew up in competition for scraps of parental attention, we didn’t close ranks. No, we secretly rooted for each other to screw up so we could win (or just enjoy someone else’s life devolving into a soap opera).
We mellowed as our half-siblings grew up decades later, though. Our mom had died, and our father had run off to the mountains of Utah with Wife #Whatever. We were much kinder to our baby siblings than we were to each other. I took them all to Disneyland. Big Brother let them tour his submarines. Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister even helped Baby Brother find a decent girlfriend.
When Baby Brother told me he was flying from NYC to LA for a conference, we worked it out so he’d arrive early and spend a few days with us. Our house is small, but we had a guest room.
And then my visiting in-laws decided to skip Vegas. Their visit would now overlap Baby Brother’s. Baby Brother said no problem, he’d sleep on the couch. I rejoiced. My Chinese-American in-laws had spent weeks criticizing everything from my dogs to my desserts. They’d cracked my windshield and nearly burned down my house, all without a single apology.
Now, though, after weeks of being outnumbered and on the defensive, white reinforcements were coming. And not just any reinforcements — it was the sweeter, less judgmental branch of the cavalry. Here was my chance for a real-life, feel-good, family movie. Finally.
When I picked Baby Brother up at LAX, he was all smiles and hugs. “Is this your new car? It’s nice!”
“You mean it was nice,” I corrected him, pointing at the new crack in the windshield. “Until my in-laws insisted on going to a Tribal Gaming Casino today, during rush hour. A truck kicked up a rock.” I sighed heavily and awaited an outpouring of sympathy.
Sympathy was forthcoming – for my in-laws. “That’s awful! Because, you know, you gotta gamble! I mean, I was ready to bail out of the plane when I saw the lights of Las Vegas. Hey, how far away is this Indian gaming place?”
“Really far,” I told him. “And we have a ton of people coming tomorrow.” I wondered if I had misjudged my reinforcements.
I dismissed this idea when we got home. Baby Brother was all boyish enthusiasm the second we walked into the backyard. “This is awesome! It’s a totally private courtyard! Are those real grapefruits? A peach tree? An orange tree? This is great!”
The air was as thick with compliments as it was with orange blossoms. I didn’t realize how stingy my in-laws were with their praise until Baby Brother showered it upon my domicile.
He loved the dogs, too – even the one that loved him too much. When Woofie humped his leg, Baby Brother merely laughed and cheered him on.
Jay and Sunny greeted Baby Brother with big smiles — never mind that when they last saw him at our wedding, he was thoroughly drunk or hung over. My guests spent the rest of the evening chatting about the joys of gambling.
As I made up Baby Brother’s bed on the couch, he said, “You know, your in-laws are nothing like your emails! I think they’re great!”
“I think you got free drinks on the plane.”
“I think you might be right. Which way is the bathroom?”
I gave Baby Brother directions. An hour later, I showed him the way again. And once more in the middle of the night. Even though our house is less than 1200 square feet, Baby Brother could not find his way to the bathroom.
The cavalry had arrived, indeed. Drunk.
The cavalry slept until midmorning, when I began baking the last bunch of desserts. Baby Brother decided leftover cheesecake frosting would be great for breakfast. Sunny and Jay join him at the kitchen table. Baby Brother entertained my in-laws while I worked. I was pleased.
Until he disappeared to take a shower.
“Such a gentleman,” Sunny gushed. “Your brother is very smart, and very nice.”
Jay nodded. “Not mean like you.”
I turned on the Kitchen Aid. “Sorry, can’t hear you!” But Jay’s indictment echoed in my ears as I creamed butter and sugar. I had waited on my in-laws hand and foot for weeks, and all they did was complain. Yet in less than twelve hours, they put my Baby Brother up on a pedestal.
Time to knock him down. Strictly in the name of justice, of course. I shut off the Kitchen Aid, musing aloud, “Yeah, the cops in New Orleans definitely thought he was a gentleman when they stuck him in their Paddy Wagon last year.”
“No!” exclaimed Sunny.
As I said, our house was small. Sunny was loud. Baby Brother stuck his head out of the bathroom. “You just had to tell them that story, didn’t you?”
“What was the charge?” I asked sweetly. “Obstruction of justice?”
“Oh, please, they couldn’t get me for that,” Baby Brother scoffed. “Drunk and disorderly.” Baby Brother spun a sob story about how he was just watching a fight when the evil police in New Orleans picked on poor little him. As soon as Sunny finished lapping it up, he disappeared back into the bathroom.
“See?!” Sunny said. “Your brother would never start a fight. He is gentle, and sweet.”
“He’s a lot wilder than you think. Ask him to show you his pierced tongue.”
“What?! No! I don’t believe it. How can he eat?”
After a flurry of Cantonese, even Jay shook his head. I crowed silently. Ha! Baby Brother was off his thoroughly undeserved pedestal.
Baby Brother finished his shower, returning to the kitchen – and intense scrutiny.
“What’s up?” he asked. “Are there beaters to be licked yet?”
“Show me your tongue,” Sunny demanded.
Without hesitation, Baby Brother stuck out his tongue.
THE STUD WAS GONE.
Sunny shot me an accusatory look. “I don’t see any pierced tongue!”
Baby Brother grinned and said, “No, no pierced tongue. Is that what Autumn told you?” He shook his head. “Sometimes she makes up stories. You gotta watch her.” Turning his back to Sunny, Baby Brother had the audacity to stick his stud-less tongue out at me.
I sputtered, “But – you – ugh!” before giving up. I had been outflanked. There was no point in protest.
Sunny and Jay soon left the kitchen, mumbling to each other in Cantonese. Undoubtedly their conversation consisted of phrases such as “Are her delusions common?” and “Is it congenital?”
As I scooped cookie batter on baking sheets, Baby Brother helped himself to a beater. He cheerfully copped to the fate of his tongue stud. “I was watching TV and eating Cheetos, and the stud was kinda hollow like a Cheeto and I didn’t even notice, but I must’ve eaten it, too. Then I was just too lazy to replace it, ya know?”
“And you couldn’t just SAY that?! Now my in-laws think I’m insane.”
“Hahahaha, yeah, they do, it’s hilarious. Hey, can I lick the sides?” He reached for the bowl.
I snatched it away with a, “Hell, no.” I gave the mixing bowl to Woofie.
As my father-in-law says, I’m mean.
Must be genetic.