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Youngest of six

As the youngest of six, I always felt submerged under the ebb and flow of my older siblings activities. My senses were overwhelmed by their blasting and blaring; I could not think, and because I could not think, therefore, I wasn’t. That’s how it felt, anyway.

I became the kind and giving one. Also, the silent one. They told me I was at first “cute,” then “handsome,” but I never knew what to do with that. Girls pursued me, and I couldn’t respond, so rather than have them witness my inability to respond, I avoided them.

Oh, eventually I got over some of my inabilities. The others, my siblings, grew up and moved away, some of them far away. I stayed, and learned how to love the difficult but interesting parents that the others had feared, mocked, blamed. I was the only one of the six to become interested in family genealogy. Every relative I was told about by my parents or discovered on my own, in present-day reality or in history, I treasured.

Yes, I came off as sentimental, unmanly, unambitious. This led to feelings of being submerged within the small social groups I managed to become part of: bicycling enthusiasts, railroad trivia buffs. I continued with the kindness, the giving. It was all I had.

Then I received the first of several inheritances from relatives whom no one else had bothered to contact or care about. I had not asked for this, nor expected it. Three-hundred thousand dollars in a bank account, in my name. I had a friend who helped me choose some investments. I submerged my naive ideas about stocks, bonds, and other such things and took his advice. I began to receive dividend checks. Then another relative died, leaving me a house in another state. I had it renovated and was able to rent it to a young couple. I kept in touch with them. They named their baby after me. By the time they were ready to move on, that house had doubled in value.

Women began pursuing me again. This time I was ready. I was nearly 50. My parents had died. I was still living in their house, submerged in their memories and possessions. I chose Andrea, who tried, in her way, to pull me away from that. We began to travel together a bit. I received yet another inheritance from a cousin who’d died in Afghanistan; not money, but a collection of journals about his war experiences. Andrea and I worked diligently for a year, turning her writings into a book, which sold rather well. There was interest expressed by a movie company.

Yet I still felt submerged. Inundated by the very existence of others. If Andrea had not been a gentle, quiet soul, I would have not been able to live with her. But she was gentle and quiet, kind and giving. Did she suffer from the same sense of submersion? We began to talk about this. She was a middle child, always trying to pacify both older and younger.

I had no conscious recollection of wanting to compete with or sabotage any of my siblings. But now, on the rare occasions when I did see them, I’d start quiet arguments over details, or question their interests. I was told I’d developed a superior attitude, but I did not feel superior. I felt instead that I was starting to breathe after decades of being smothered. I was new to having opinions; new to expressing them.

Andrea remained quiet. She seemed happy to make up for my demeanor by catering to, flattering, and fawning over my siblings, especially my recently divorced brother Frank. When would this facade wear down? I cautioned her, but she protested that she really cared for them, all of them. Andrea and I were partners, lovers, but we were not married. I finally suggested marriage. That’s when she told me that she’d fallen in love with my brother.

Submerged again, I struggled. Something in me wanted to shrink back, as before. To let others take the stage, have their way. My old habits threatened to return like a tidal wave. I thought perhaps I should want to fight for Andrea, but I did not know how. I just wanted her to be happy. Or most of my psyche did. The other, more primal and newly-unsubmerged part of my psyche wanted to kill them both. So I did.

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