My brother was the star, the favourite, the embattled hero who made it. Born with an immature stomach valve, he cried solidly for the first year and a half of his life. At three years old he walked to the shops with his sister (5) and came back with the correct change.
“The correct change, just imagine it,” said my ma. “And all that way.”
It was quite a way for a three-year old kid. You had to cross Forest Drive (the busiest road in Pinelands), pass the tennis courts and go round the municipal hall which was used as a nursery school before you got to Central Square. The Beehive was at the corner and the Blue Haze cafe was in the middle. This walking back with the correct change seems to sum up my brother’s innate ability. Having been short-changed at the start of his life with an immature stomach valve, he made sure that people wouldn’t do him down again. He was not one to lose the fight. Plucky little chinaman, said our mom.
He’s also a lefty, another disadvantage that he’s risen above. Lefties apparently have life tougher than us righties do. Sinister comes from the Latin word for left-handed. Scissors, golf clubs, even writing-desks are all designed for right-handed people. You don’t need to be Einstein to tell that right is right and left is, well, what’s left over. In strict Islamic societies you’re supposed to eat with your right hand and wipe your bum with your left. Lefties apparently also live on average five years less than righties. I don’t know where I read that but I’ve been struck with guilt ever since. The thought that my brother, whom I both admire and dislike could possibly be cheated again in the final years of his life makes me feel guilty. As if I’d somehow wished this calamity on him in all those moments when he called me horrible names (oily, boom, smell, noxious odour) or set his dog on me (“Hunt and kill, Dougal. Kill him!”) or teased me until I lost my temper.
I think he enjoyed seeing how easily he could make me lose it. “Low frustration tolerance” as it’s called now was the bane of my life for quite a while. I once got so mad with him that I chased him around the putt-putt course at Three Anchor Bay holding a putter over my head and with a murderous expression on my face. I knew that I wouldn’t actually hit him but I wanted to make him believe that I was crazy enough to do it. I wanted to see him suffer for a change. I would seethe with frustrated rage that I couldn’t beat him at one single thing. Not only was he my mom’s favourite but he was better at everything else too. Putt-putt, tennis, cricket, chess, hockey, academics, board games, middle-distance running, you name it.
My brother was my closest friend and my greatest enemy. My hero, my rival. One day when I was about 10 years old we’d just played our favourite board game, Formula One. As far as board games went in those days it was pretty cool with cards with gauges on them for tyre wear and brake wear and a steering wheel with a speedometer. The little plastic cars in different colours and the racetrack which snaked around the bedroom floor like a big jigsaw puzzle. He must have won every single game we played. I kept on thinking that if I just tried a little bit harder that I would beat him but I don’t remember ever winning. If I did beat him at anything then he would just ignore me so it would be a hollow victory. That day I really believed that I would finally triumph. My patience was going to pay off and I would be on a par, even for a few moments, with my older boet.
On the final lap he snuck passed me and then proceeded to do his usual gloating routine which involved reminding me that I was a loser. I was gutted and sat out on the carport roof next to the garage for ages while I seethed with the injustice of it all and tried to find a vent for my unexpressed anger. I was close to tears but I calmed down eventually and got some perspective. I realised that the less you care about something, the less it hurts you. That day I learned detachment as a defence mechanism. If you don’t try so hard or care so much then it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose.
“It’s just a game,” goes the saying. But when your sense of self is a bit dented from the start, losing is a continual reminder that you’re not quite good enough. Losing to my brother didn’t make me a lesser person even though it felt that way. From that day on I didn’t care so much about Formula One. We probably played the game a few more times after that but the excitement was gone for me. To this day I don’t really like the sport of motor racing. My brother still watches Formula One and I guess he cares about Hamilton versus Raikonnen, Ferrari versus McClaren. I don’t really see the point. You’re racing around burning up precious fuel, risking your life and for what? So you can say that you’re faster to the finish line?
It’s obviously more than that. Just like running is a chance to be the best you can be, to improve yourself physically and mentally, driving is a way of enhancing your reflexes, your coordination and your ability to cope and compete in pressure situations. But not for me. I’ll leave the fast driving to my older, more successful brother. I’m the guy driving in the slow lane in my Toyota Tazz, listening to Bob Dylan or U2 and analysing the psychological significance of road rage (narcissism) or the significance of driving in dreams. But part of me still yearns to be behind the steering wheel of a red Ferrari, accelerating through the turns, powering up the hills and feeling the glow and the thrill of victory.