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  • Jess Brown

The Least Dynamic Sibling

Little Miss Dissociated w/ FEW Childhood Memories

That’s me (Jess) if boiled down to a viral meme based on the British children’s books.

My brother always called me lucky or ignorant, depending on his condition, when he was asked. We had a difficult childhood and I survived primarily by avoidance until my subconscious, Dennis Rodman boxed them out completely. ’DEFENSE’ indeed.

When my brother said, "I have PTSD," I said with an emotionless shrug, "Who doesn't?"

I read a Psychology Today article about shame and guilt of addiction and did not want to berate my best friend/brother into acknowledging his rock bottom.  I tried to lead with love and empathy. 

I failed BTW! 

I tried to begin our conversations with, "You sound like you're in pain," but not too long into them and I would sound like “you stubborn (let’s say donkey in case church folk have found my blog) you need help, please, please I’m so worried.”

Despite my altering tactics, progress was not made and by 2022 the situation was increasingly dire.

In the present, my memories with Zach are limited. No new ones are created, and the less boisterous ones are fading. He will forever be 36 years old. To others, a college frat boy whose smile made raising a little hell worth the consequences. To his son, he will forever be ‘Dad’. 

But I’m his sister.

 I saw him grow into all these identities. I was there for the ones that came first. How do you put one sibling’s whole person into a labeled box? Impossible. Siblings are the only relationships we don't choose and, if you’re lucky, they are the ones that last the longest.

I knew so many versions of him.

Like Barbie, a highly expected new edition unveiled in every season. The one I choose to cherish will be the late 80s, early 90s vintage edition of Zach in the summers of elementary school.

He never rode a roller coaster or went to sleep-away camp until almost high school. This was his preference. He would fly, as young as 7, as an unaccompanied minor departing BWI and arriving at Stapleton. Back in the halcyon days pre-9/11 when you could gate check offspring with less worry. Then, he rode shotgun in a rusted farm pickup another 85 miles to my grandparents’ farm in Northeast Colorado between Brush and Woodrow.

 Definitely, a hidden slice of prairie heaven.

 It was Colorado as few imagine it, just before the Great Plains neighbor the rocky foothills. Farmland laid out as far as far as the eye can see. While I would be at basketball camp or Camp Puh'tok on our native East Coast, Zach would ride John Deere tractors on the farm and use rock salt to churn homemade vanilla ice cream.

Double digit occupancy in duration, he would test all his local family members’ patience.

Zach would go to bed only after my Papa promised he'd wake him for the 4 am water- pump house route. He wanted to make sure if any other cousins were visiting during HIS TIME, that he rode the wonky three-wheeler first. My Papa and brother would sprint down the forest green concrete steps of the farm’s screened-in porch, grab one of the baseball caps that adorned the wall, and head out to do "chores" for the day. Zach surpassed the barn dog, Sandy, and Grandma (in that order) as my Papa's copilot. Together, they’d work from dawn until dusk. Completely at peace working on the land and in sync.

I remember the summer of 1989 (#dangitTaylorSwift)

I was 6 turning 7 and Zach was almost 5. We both had October birthdays, 11 days apart. I'm a Scorpio and he's a Libra.  That summer, both are maternal and paternal grandparents and one great-grandmother still resided in greater Brush, CO. My maternal grandparents were older and more sedate. My mom was the youngest of four and she was born as her oldest sister was pregnant. That's right, aunt and niece graduating high school together!

When we stayed with my mom’s dad and his second wife, our evenings were comprised of Wheel of Fortune and bed at 7:15 pm. As a special treat, they deviated from bed before sundown and allotted a whole Saturday for the Morgan County fair. In the morning there would be a parade where we could chase candy, followed by a sugar high, and the main event, the rodeo, that night.

I don't remember the heat. Or the cowboys in Wranglers. Or the very specific name of the tree species that dropped brown pods littering the street like locusts. I don't remember wearing long, slim fit jeans or how my fringed bangs blew in the wind, or my bony butt felt on the non-padded bleachers.

I remember rodeo clowns.

A troop of six barrel-of -monkeys statured adult men whose sole purpose was to entertain the crowd. If the bull wouldn't run out of his chute, the clowns would come to the rescue in their VW bug. I remember the unfortunate barrel racers all garnered unimpressive performances. As the crowd grew restless, yearning for a show, in swooped these grown adults with white painted faces, citrus noses and curly wigs.

The part of their routine I remember most accurately was after sunset. A jalopy of a spray-painted Volkswagen entered the arena like Herbie the Lovebug. It drove fast, spraying up stadium dirt while pushing the limits of tilt and overcorrection as it wildly turned.

The sounds of exhaust that weren't on par with such a little car and circus music filled the amphitheater. All the children void of preteen embarrassment were front stage, against the gates and on their feet.

This was the peak of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fandom. Even though the clowns dressed in mismatched polka dotted rompers, they all had TMNT nicknames. There was Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, April O'Neil. When people screamed. "Splinter!", the VW beetle would backfire with a spark and a huge poof of gray smoke followed by the loud kick of an engine filled with diesel when it should have been unleaded.

BANG. Explosion.

The rodeo clowns’ storyline began at intermission when the hard-core rodeo people departed for refreshments by grabbing funnel cakes and foot longs. While the crowd in the stadium seemed capacity depleted, the scattering of kids made up for them in spirit. As the grandstands emptied, my brother grabbed my hand. "Come on Jess," he ordered, and ran me down the flight of bleachers as close as one could get and put sizeable distance between us and our not very mobile older adults, who waved cautiously from above.

The actress portraying April O'Neil primarily served as emcee and narrated skits. In first scence, the ninja turtle friends were sitting around a barrel dinner table sharing a pizza when (insert pregnant pause) the compelled audience would call "Splinter." The VW came flying out and spun figure eights, all while sputtering impressively. The skit continued and like Pavlov's dog, the kids in the stands yelled, "Splinter!" over and over, eliciting sparks until, finally, the car exploded.  The laughter similarly burst out of the audience.

The almost 5-year-old, sun-kissed Zach with the golden blonde hair and cheek dimples couldn't catch his breath, he thought this was so outrageous.

He used his backhand to hit me in the chest, "Jess, watch this, watch this Jess." His little hand batting me in the gnat-like younger sibling way. Despite his excitement, he knew to wait for his moment. As soon as the crowd went from laughter to silent expectation of what was to come next, Zach climbed onto the top of that metal gate and belted, "Splinter!"

The clowns giggled and looked astonished but agreed to give the imp the desire he demanded.

BANG, explosion, as the crowd chuckled.

What the clowns didn’t realize, is that an excited Zach would be absolutely relentless.

"Splinter!" he shouted.

BANG, explosion. The crowd’s chuckles were quieter this time.


BANG, explosion, but now the laughter had become rife with nervous energy.

I stood aghast, being a rule follower who would never willingly disappoint an adult. Zach remained defiant from his perch on the gate.

Clown version of April O’Neil jogged over and sized us up. Every joke has a time, place and duration and this was only foreshadowing of how far Zach could take an incident.

"Parents, has someone lost this naughty duo? Please make your way down to gate 1 before I send him to clown college."

That only fueled Zach. It sped up the hilarity. The clown leaned down away from the bullhorn and said, "Alright kid, you've had your scram!"

My grandparents slowly limped down the bleachers with our windbreakers in tow and stern, disappointed faces. Before they could scoop us up and herd us away, Zach hollered one last, "Splinter!"

BANG, explosion!

That was Zach. He didn't care who was watching; He wanted the spotlight and shone as his most authentic self under it. It’s probably why he couldn't let a joke die. He would drag it on for an insanely long time, worse than any dad joke.

No one ever taught us the laughter could stop.

Discussion Questions:

(1) Who are the most charismatic people in your life? Have you asked them about their mental health directly?

(2) Who are the people struggling in your life? Have you shown them lately that they MATTER?


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