The “mean jokes” we wish we could take back

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Do you ever look back on how you treated your siblings and wish you would have had the wisdom to be nicer and more empathetic?

Most of you first-born readers nodding along?

Thought so.

But whether you’ve been the tormentor or the victim, this short story is for you.

The little brother

I was not great to my brother growing up.

Mostly in an, ‘I’m bigger than you so I’m gunna go ahead and sit in shotgun even though you called it fair and square’ kind of way. But occasionally, I’ll come across a memory in which I am shocked at my heartlessness.

Because I mean, look at him. Could you ever be mean to that goofy goober?

I wasn’t always mean, though.

Home videos document us playing together, helping him on his rocking horse, and when he wanted to go up the slippery slide backwards, I took one for the team, rammed my head into is diaper, and pushed him all the way to the top.

I started out as a pretty damn good older sister. But I got exponentially worse as I entered my tweenage years.

The first memory of my transition from a loving big sister to a heartless tormentor is one that breaks my heart, even now.

Maybe you have a similar memory.

The big, bad sister

We’d moved to a new neighborhood and were playing by ourselves at the park behind our house. I don’t remember what we were playing, but I remember I kept making fun of him for doing it wrong. I was incessant and cruel, and I wasn’t going to stop until I got a reaction.

Eventually, my little brother who was wise in the way only children can be wise, stopped playing and said:

“We used to play together and joke together. They were fun jokes. But now all you make are mean jokes and they hurt my feelings. Why do you keep making mean jokes?”

He wasn’t crying, but sorrow and confusion were engraved deep in his little second grade face. His eyes pleaded with me to go back to the innocent and big sister I used to be, to stop making these mean jokes, and go back to the big sister I used to be who protected his feelings, not hurt them.

But I was already too calloused to let my guard down. I looked right back in his eyes and pretended I didn’t know what he meant by “mean jokes.” I’ve always made these jokes. He’s too sensitive and is going to need to buck up and find a way through it if he’s going to make it anywhere in life (a lesson I was taught way too early and was now teaching my little brother at an even younger age).

When he mustered up the courage to try and explain his point, I raised my voice and tore him down until he was completely deflated.

I remember feeling twistedly triumphant as I watched him sulk back to the house, alone.

The moment you can relate to

Since then, my brother and I have had our ups and downs as most siblings do. And now a days they are mostly ups. But memories like this make me wish I would have been wiser, had more empathy, and helped him cling to his childhood innocence even as mine was being striped away.

This moment may not seem like a big deal to you as it’s a short memory only my brother and I experienced. But in a way, it is a moment the whole human race can relate to; when a child transitions from being a receiver of life’s pain to being a messenger of life’s pain.

We make this transition as a defense mechanism and some of us have more severe transitions than others, but it does happen. And it sucks.

The pain, darkness, and messiness of life often results in people doing weird things to other people and other people doing weird things to us. All we can do is acknowledge what we’ve done and what’s been done to us, and go be better people because of it.

It is never too late to untwist what has been twisted.

A message for you

To the part of you who is the receiver of life’s pain, I want to say I am sorry. You deserved better than how you were treated. Go now, and be better.

To the part of you who is the messenger of life’s pain, I want to say I forgive you. You are better than how you treated them. Go now, and be better.

 

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