Growing up he torments you, as older brothers tend to do. He is bigger, stronger, and he feels entitled. The bullying becomes violence, and then brutality. You complain, you plead, and you ask for help from family, neighbours, friends; anyone who might listen. They ignore you – they have other things to worry about. These are, after all, different times; pain and suffering is everywhere.
The years stretch-on, and buoyed by his own strength, your brother’s cruelty escalates. Soon he goes seeking new victims, and soon he overreaches. He bumps into someone more powerful, with more resources, and with the will to stand-up to him.
Defeated, beaten and on his knees, your brother begs for forgiveness. And to your horror, he is granted it. The man that stepped-up to conquer your brother – and so freeing you from his tyranny – is also the man that picks your brother out of the dirt, pulls him back to his feet, brushes off his clothes, and treats his wounds immediately after the fight.
You are liberated, but you are angry.
Years later you are in a bar, enjoying a night out with friends, and your brother walks in, happy, confident, and the life of the party. He looks different, older, changed. He speaks in softer tones, and with different language; he seems happy.
After a few minutes, he sees you from across the room, notably lowers his tone, and smiles through calm eyes and pursed lips. Conscious of your past, and of the pain he once inflicted upon you, he is now – as he has been in previous encounters – trying to come across as respectful, humble, even meek. It’s not enough! It never has been.
Occasionally you can forget, but the trauma always bounces back, and always feels fresh. He has apologised to you more than once over the years, sitting down, listening to your grief, revisiting the past, and even once handing over money for those “lost years”.
Looking at him now, that familiar anger grows inside you, the feeling that he got off too lightly. You notice that he is wearing nicer clothes than you, his friends appear more interesting than yours, and you know already that he has a better job. Seeing him like this makes you feel small again, his strength a memory of a weakened version of yourself.
Now in a rage, you slam down your drink and walk over to confront your brother. You loudly demand another apology, and that he write you another cheque on the spot. He stares back at you sedately, and says “no”. He has reformed himself, he says, never relapsing into the aggressive man that he once was, and has prostrated himself on too many occasions; always to be asked to do so again only a few years later.
“Besides”, he continues, “what is the point in an apology if it never ‘actually’ changes anything, if it doesn’t improve things between us?”
Comfortable in your moral claim, and familiar with him yielding to your righteousness, you are taken aback by this change. You fumble over your words and what to do next. But you have made a scene, and now everyone in the bar is watching you. Feeling that you can’t back down without losing something important about yourself, without again becoming that bullied little boy, you challenge him to a fight. Surprising you again, he accepts!
Scared, but committed, you shove him. He shoves you back a little harder. You punch him, and he punches you back just a little harder. You are slowly getting beat up. A panicked realisation builds-up inside you – you are in over your head! Your brother is still bigger than you, and undeniably stronger. Sure, you can now hurt him, but not to the extent that he can hurt you. You can’t win this fight!
Through the blood and the bruises you try to keep up a confident act, but your poise is fading. It dawns on you rapidly that the only way out of this is to walk away, and to hope that you don’t look too sheepish while doing so.