Since he was thirteen and six years my senior, he played on his knees while I was allowed to stand.
The living room was the stadium, our avocado carpet serving as the faux turf field and the fireplace mantel the glorious pay dirt of the end zone.
Clutching the football in the crook of my right elbow, I feigned left and nimbly juked right, my brother's awkward lunge embracing nothing but the stale living room air.
I slowed my sprint to a jog, confidant that he'd surrendered the touchdown to his overmatched little brother. Without audible warning, his fleshy talons hooked my shins from behind, chopping my balance and sending me airborne.
Cradling the pigskin to avoid fumbling, my face slapped the cold slate of the fireplace foreground like a seasoned spaghetti squash. A burst of crimson blinded me upon impact, the polished stone shattering my horn-rimmed glasses. I struggled to my knees, nauseous from shock and dripping thick pearls of blood onto the carpet and my favorite mustard-tinted turtleneck.
But goddammit, I had scored. Touchdown, little guy.
This tale from 1969 poked its way into my consciousness last night as my family attended my elder daughter's high school volleyball senior night. It was her final home game, prior to which she and her fellow seniors were regaled with flowers, praise and adulation from fans, teammates and families. By the end of the evening the only missing accolades were a beer-massaged calf for each player and a case of Turtlewax.
And there next to my wife and me, watching her sister...again...was my younger girl. She's been dragged to so many of these contests, someday she may pave the way for a new breed of humanoids who can sit comfortably without back support for hours on end.
Throughout these twelve years, she's packed water bottles and books, crayons and Barbies to pass the time huddling in drafty gyms and soaking on muddy soccer pitches. Through no fault of hers, she's hoisted that splintered wooden cross of being the younger sibling.
Can I relate? Why, yes I can.
As the youngest of three, I grew up sharing airtime with a brother and sister who weren't exactly excited to see my jaundiced little noggin show up in the baby carrier, the one that my dad had to dig out attic and try to bleach off the mildew spots. One boy and one girl already rounded out our Cold War family, so I'm pretty sure the bomb shelter wasn't really built with me in mind.
Nonetheless, I was allowed to stay, albeit with stipulations—I was entitled to a mere fraction of the photo ops to which my brother, a.k.a. "Prince William," or my sister, a.k.a. "Only Adorable Little Girl if the Family," were afforded. I never had the option of sleeping in the top bunk, and many of my t-shirts weren't exactly gently used. Never certain of the source of the stains, I was still confident that they contained my brother's DNA.
And of course, the youngest child gets lowest billing in all family marketing pieces. You know, like "Merry Christmas, from the Haywoods—Lionel, Peggy, Tom, Ann and...hang on...I know this...Shit...Oh, Tim, yeah, Tim."
Am I bitter? Hell, yes, but it's not all bad being the kid who comes along when his parents are so freaking worn out already, they don't care anymore. As a teenager, if my brother arrived home a minute past midnight, he'd activate an alarm which also scanned his pupils and searched his orifices.
When I reached my teenage years, I could cruise in at one-thirty, turn on the lights, build and chow down a bacon sandwich that Elvis could smell from his Graceland toilet perch.
All the while, my parents slept the sleep of the weary traveler.
So, yeah, I can understand the plight of my number two daughter. She isn't as sporty as her big sister, but few people are. In a pinch, that kid would play catch with a shovel.
But our twelve-year-old does have orchestra concerts and soccer games on the horizon.
And by God, her big sister will be attending.