First, he was three years older than I was. I was only seven years old.
The difference between a seven year old and a ten year old is a huge. My cousin Bobby was, I think, basically as smart as I was. But he knew a lot more, not just in terms of book learning, but also about the ways of the world and about sports. He was also bigger and stronger, but he knew details about throwing, hitting, catching, running, karate, etc. So, there was that. His dad was a psychiatrist who worked with the criminally insane. So. There’s that.
Because Bobby was older, he got to do more things. I was allowed to do things with Bobby that I was not allowed to do on my own, so when he came to town, that was something of a thrill for me. And, going to visit him was also a thrill because it was someplace exotic (Indiana or Pennsylvania) I had never seen before that had sand dunes (!) or carnivals (!) or collies (!) and Bobby’s houses invariably had more rooms than our five room house in industrialized NE Ohio. Since most people’s attitude toward the places that hold the criminally insane is “not in my backyard”, the places Bobby lived were very much out in the country which was infinitely better than being 5 feet from your neighbors. Bobby and I flew his gas-powered model airplane; we built bonfires; we played with sparklers.
So, there were reasons for me to like Bobby — a bit like an older brother, but one you only see on special occasions. That’s apt to be important in understanding how I was manipulated into doing something against my own interests and desires. As to why Bobby did these things, I don’t really know for certain. He, like me, became a psychologist and his father was a psychiatrist, so seeing how the mind works is pretty interesting. While I thought of Bobby as a kind of older brother, Bobby may well have viewed me as something like a younger brother who sometimes got more attention. We were especially rivals for the attention of our grandparents.
Whenever Bobby and I got together in our neck of the woods, Mom’s parents hosted. Two of my Mom’s brothers lived nearby and almost always attended special dinners such as hams and yams on Easter, hamburgers and hot dogs on July 4th, Turkey with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving and Christmas, etc. But, since Bobby’s dad worked and lived 3-6 hours drive away, his appearances were much rarer. When they did come visit, they typically got to stay overnight at our grandparent’s house. Because of this mere tele-inquity, Bobby’s family had an aura of specialness about them when they did deign a visit. I think that added to his caché in my mind and might also explain the gullibility I exhibited when it came to my cousin — and it went beyond merely believing something that was distorted and at least partially false; I acted on those absurd and harmful beliefs.
In one instance, Bobby and I were playing outside after a Sunday dinner. He began to tell me about a lot of things that bugged him about Granny. As he told these stories, a few of which might even have been true, he gradually encouraged me to add my experiences with Granny to the list of grievances. At first it was hard to come up with any. I loved Granny. And, she was very cool! She baked pies and always made some cinnamon roll-ups out of the dough too, made popcorn from scratch, listened to the radio with me and best of all, told me “Old Pete” stories.
But after enough probing, Bobby got hold of something when he asked “But don’t you hate it when you are eating those warm, cinnamon rollups and then they’re gone and she won’t make you just the cinnamon roll ups which are better than the stupid pie anyway, right?” That’s just what I had been thinking! Or, more accurately, it seemed to be just what I’d been thinking.
If I had been thinking at all about those cinnamon roll-ups, I can assure you that my overall feeling would have been (and still is!!) very warm and fuzzy. I loved those rollups. And, yes, I am sure that there were times when I would have enjoyed more than were left. He gradually got me to see a lot of things that could be improved about Granny. And, then, he managed to convince me that the best way to an improved Granny (which would be better for everyone) was for us to go in there right now in front of everyone in our extended family and tell her just how we felt. Bobby gave me the honor of going first. It did feel like an honor. My cousin and I were allies, by God, and we were going to set things right. And, he trusted me, his comrade in arms, to lead the charge. By the time I walked in I was angry! And, I did lead the charge! Everyone was looking at me horrified. Well. That wasn’t the plan. They were supposed to be horrified at Granny! Not us!
I looked over at Bobby. He looked horrified too! Not at Granny, but at me. Us? There was no “us.” I thought Bobby had just chickened out. I still did not realize that he had tricked me into doing it. I thought a bit less of my cousin for being a bit of a coward, but I didn’t realize that it was all a con job from beginning to end.
That wasn’t the worst part. The worst part? About he year later, he did exactly the same damned thing. This time, he made me “explode” at my Grandpa. And the worst part of these diatribes was that there always some elements of truth thrown in. Grandpa was old and he did have skinny legs and he did smoke and therefore reek of tobacco. So, not only did I have to suffer the immediate condemnation of everyone in the family. (Again!) Some of the things I said hurt these people I loved. Despite their years of accumulated wisdom, it took some time to repair those relationships. At the time, I didn’t figure out on my own, why Grandma seemed so unfriendly. My mother seemed stupefied that I hadn’t known. “Why because of all those terrible things you said to her!” I had already apologized. But was it real? Or, was it just an apology forced by my parents?
I learned to be a lot less trustful of Bobby. But, I also learned to be a bit less trustful of myself as well.
You know perhaps of various versions of the story of the “two wolves” that live within us. I have heard it variously ascribed to Native Americans of the Dakota tribe as well as the Cherokees. Basically, a grandfather, or other such wise person tells his grandson that there are two wolves inside him: a good wolf who is kind and generous and a bad wolf who is mean, spiteful and selfish. These wolves are in a constant battle with each other. The grandson asks which wolf will win and the grandfather replies “whichever one you feed.”
I learned that I have a bad wolf inside — and — that if I were not careful, someone else could call to that bad wolf, that ugly spirit inside, and arouse it to anger and then turn that wolf — not to to my bidding but to do his.
Has anyone ever awakened the bad wolf in you?