My middle brother looked like a young Tom-Cruise from Risky Business or for a later generation a young Scott Wolf (from Party of Five fame). Black hair, hazel eyes, charming, bright. Girls were pulled into his tractor beam like a mosquito following the blue light. He was athletic, funny, charismatic. In the eyes of an obese child, who happened to be his younger brother, he was a rock star.
Now when you are an outcast or unattractive, it might be easier to have an unattractive, or at least bland older sibling. It makes it easier if their popularity stock is not so high. Unfortunately, for me my middle brother was a blinding beacon of popularity. Akin to a solar eclipse, his wattage was so bright you could be blinded if you looked him straight into the eye.
We shared a bedroom together from when I was 5-10 years old. Our room was filled with 80’s Heavy Metal band posters and NFL pennants. It must have been hard for him to have to share a room in his high school years. Anecdotally, I would accidentally catch him making out with girls in the room or he would lock me out of the room when he was “doing homework” with them. I would hear him on the phone talk talking all night to various girls. He was such a charmer. Listening to him really helped “my game” later in life.
My brother was a living animated version of the 80’s My Buddy doll. (“My buddy…and me!” as the jingle goes.) We played video games together, threw the Nerf football around, and played basketball in the driveway. When I was young we would play tackle football in the den. His friends and he would get on their knees, give me the ball and try to have me reach the other side of the room to score. They enjoyed getting bulled over by an obese child with the momentum of freight train.
Publicly there were perks being the younger brother of a cool kid. He was 6 years older than I. Kids bullied me very little in the early elementary school years since my brother was in junior high there. They knew better. His junior high school girls would give me pinches on the cheek remarking “You are such a cute little kid!” I nearly peed in my pants…
It got even better in my middle elementary school years. We would go to the neighborhood pool, the amusement park, and the mall together. I was just his cute, chubby fat side-kick. He was a star soccer player. In both his club and high school team, he excelled. So much so that his high school team won the state championship. I served as the trusty sidekick and mascot. Bringing water, retrieving errantly-kicked balls, kicking the ball around during halftime. I felt I was part of the team. It was a great experience.
When my parents would travel out of the country, my brother would host raucous parties at the house. I would serve as the “Keg Master” serving beer to his friends. I marveled at the revelry, fights, clever drinking games and inevitable drama that enveloped all parties. (Sadly, this was the closest I got to high school parties since I never went to one when I was in high school.) Having a popular older brother gave me access into a world of coolness that I never would have been allowed to enter.
And then something changed. He left to college when I was 12-years-old. At that junior high age, the cliques have already developed. My weight was burgeoning at the time and thus concomitantly the taunting. I looked at these bullies. They were mostly the popular kids. I then looked at my brother, who too was popular. I despised these kids for ridiculing me and as an extension I began to hate all popular kids. Even the ones who were not directly mean.
I rationalized that they were privileged, ungrateful brats who got their whole life served on a silver platter. They were born with good looks and, such as the Indian caste system, they were exalted and placed on a higher caste than we outcasts and plebes. But really, of course, like all nerds and freaks, we were just all jealous of them. We, too, yearned to the be in the “Pantheon of coolness,” but we knew we would never reach that apex. This desire is reflected in a panoply of coming-of-age movies like Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Can’t Hardly Wait.
In high school, as the torment got really bad my relationship with my middle brother changed. He epitomized everything that I disliked about popular kids. Unfortunately, it was not his fault. At that point, he joined a fraternity at college. My parents and I would visit him and upon entering the frat house, it reminded me that my tormentors would likely become frat boys just like my brother. I marveled how it was just a never-ending cycle of popular kids becoming frat or sorority co-eds who would later get nice jobs and houses and then breed future popular kids. It was the popular kid solidarity bloc I mentioned in The Swimming Pool and The Summer Camp.
After losing my weight, the dynamic didn’t change much. I remember being approached at my college by the most prestigious fraternity to ask me to rush. At that time, I balked and said “No.” I was myopic. I thought “How could I join the group which epitomizes everything I can’t stand?” The elitism, the hard-core drinking, the partying etc. My non-accepted friends and I would parrot the often-quoted line “Why should I join a frat? Why should I have to pay for my friends? People should like you for who you are. How shallow!” This of course was all a front. We all wanted to be in the group but either never had the moxy or opportunity to forge our way in. And it was myopic, for the Greek system opens up a network of future business associates you will value in your adulthood. My blubber blinded me to this notion. I foolishly remained isolated in my righteous principle.
The irony is that I did fit into this fraternity perfectly. I was handsome, boasted the pedigree of a world-famous doctor and well-known respected brother but internally I felt I didn’t fit in. I was still an obese child in the skinnier body. Like I mentioned in the Invisible Student, I didn’t have the wherewithal to see myself the way others viewed me. And just like switching my major out of Pre-Med, seen in The Cancer Hospital, and with future work occupations this proved to be injurious and self-sabotaging to my life.
I don’t recall my brother ever taunting me about my weight. Ever….He was a supportive, caring older brother that took me under his wing. He didn’t have to be caring. He could have not involved me in his forays with his popular friends. He could have been ashamed of me and locked me up in the metaphorical tower. But he didn’t.
Time is the healer of all wounds. As with the emotional eating abating, so did any resentment toward my brother. It was unfair of me to project my distaste of the popular bullies onto him. He is a normal, hard-working, caring husband and father. And a great brother…
A. Gregory Luna (Call me Gregory)
(I would appreciate your comments below.)