I was sitting up with my mom at her kitchen table. We usually start with the basics: what’s going on around northern Michigan and Illinois. By then, it’s the middle of the night. Everyone else has gone to bed. This visit started out no differently. It was maybe three or four in the morning and even the dogs had given up on us and turned in. My mom was talking about my brother David.
“He should have been a lawyer,” she said. “He would argue anything and everything.” I nodded. David loved to argue. He was passionate if not always correct. I learned a lot from arguing with my brother (mostly that it was pointless to do so). “He’d never admit he was guilty,” she added. We both remembered a time when David had decided to stick a pencil eraser up his nose. He was in Kindergarten and this seemed like a perfectly good move… until it got stuck and he couldn’t get it out. The nurse managed to pluck it out with tweezers.
“‘Well, the Tooth Fairy didn’t stick that eraser up your nose,’ said the nurse. David jumped all over that and had her arguing all about the Tooth Fairy,” said my mom. “She forgot all about the original argument over who stuck the eraser up his nose.” That was David’s favorite tactic; feint and watch your opponent over-commit.
“And the time he burned a hole in the side of the couch,” Mom said. “I knew it was him, but he would not admit to it. It just drove me crazy!”
“Oh, I burned the hole in the couch,” I said. This was back in 1988. I was a senior in high school. The light had been lying on the floor about eight inches from the side of the couch. The heat melted the artificial fabric and made a hand sized hole. I hadn’t noticed it until my mom was rearranging the furniture several months later. I didn’t realize David got into trouble about it.
I also didn’t realize my mom didn’t know I did it. She looked at me for a long moment and narrowed her eyes. And for the first time in about thirty years, I found myself grounded.