One big pride point I have with my kids is that they love board games. With as much LED illumination that bathes their baby skin in blue, it's so nice finally get back my phone and see them wanting to kill each other instead of something on Minecraft.
Even though I've warned them about Monopoly, they love the game and last weekend we took one into it's fourth hour before I begged them to stop. I was shocked at how reluctantly they folded and put away the cardboard square that was going to have us traipse around it's borders until we ran out of food. But I remember those games with my brother (either Monopoly, Risk or this homemade version of Sorry) and I going at it. It was as if Parker Brothers had come up with a cerebral way for children to get out their physical aggression.
It would all start so innocently. The clearing of the table. Making space for the mental challenge-- our mom so proud that we were inside and doing congenial things. And then, like twenty minutes later, some tiny grievance steamrolled the civility. It is small. It always starts small. It's a jagged marble rolling through your blood stream. Tiny barbs of perturbance bring up other things that you hadn't thought about until you're certain that your brother has collected twice for Passing Go. And you remember things, all those things that he's done wrong to you. "I didn't cheat!" he swears but that one time in July when he ditched you in the woods, and that other instance when he sat on you and dangled spit, well they rip right into you. It wasn't but a flesh wound then but now it's deep. All of these indiscretions add up to evidence of a cheat. They pile up at the front of your brain, pushing your pendulum from peace to war.
This happened yesterday. Otto had traded Reading Railroad to his buddy Max and, at some point, Max moved it to Quin. Paying rent to Max is one thing, but to haveto pay the maximum railroad rent to his brother, well that was a breaking point. At the time of the conflagration, I was playing this kid's game Cariboo with Eliot. The fake money hit the fan and Quin and Otto tangled in the far corner of the basement. I rose from the floor hoping my grunting father ascension would send a message. Quin saw it as a chance to be saved.
"Otto's tearing up the game because he doesn't want to pay rent!"
Quin wore his Nitro Circus baseball cap. It's way too big for him but it's got that big-brimmed look that's hot right now. It's a relic from happier times when I took the boys to the Nitro World Games last summer. There was sunshine and bicycle tricks. Today there was rain and way too much shade. We'd tried some outside games but the wind nearly took Eliot's beach ball and the emotions were too much to bear. We retreated to the basement. To togetherness. In a small space. For too long.
I asked Otto what he though he was doing. Fire poured out of him. He raged that he'd had the railroad and that Quin was cheating. Quin, who was probably innocent this time but comes with much guilt from previous gaming swindles, denied the allegations. I pulled his little brother off of him and did a welfare check on their friend, Max, who'd gotten up from the game and would have retreated further had not the concrete wall gotten in the way.
From what I could tell, the transactions had been legit. Max gave Otto St. James place and Tennessee Ave and twenty dollars (In two tens! Quin would stress) for the railroad, and then Quin traded Park Place for the railroad and some other undisclosed properties. Of course sibling crimes aren't always clear. They're not black and white. They're a genetic rainbow that leads to a pot of roiling similarities. They're an inhumane social science anchoring you to anger, grudging a decent afternoon into the murky depths of unforgettable deeds. Quin might not be guilty of insider trading, but he was one hundred percent unfit as anything but the appropriate target for Otto's frustration.
Before I get to the part where Otto lunged out of my arms and went for the kill, I'll tell you about this one time my parents woke me up and I was on top of my brother and trying to choke the life out of him. I don't know what happened. Well, I do know in some larger sense. Years of physical and psychological warfare altered me into a sleepwalking monster. I don't remember anything except for my parents, for once, actually worried about my older brother. It wasn't that they weren't concerned for him in general, as parents do, but as far as the battles between us, they were fairly certain he could handle his own. And then, for the first time in my recorded history (aside from the time I had an older kid help me tie him up in Devil's cabin--remind me to tell that one), my mother and father burst into our room concerned for the fate of their oldest son. My dad grabbed me and I came to. My hands around Peter's neck, his face bluish pale. He'd been listening to Ronnie James Dio before I burst out of the darkness and locked onto his airway.
I looked down at him and he was more shocked than frightened. His huge 80s headphones jostled into poorly placed Princess Leia buns. His teenage moment of solitude ripped open by an eleven year old in tightie whities. I was going to kill him.
It was an odd mix of bewilderment and satisfaction discovering that my dad had to save my brother from me. Even he gave me some space as I dismounted my sibling and made my way back to bed. I believe there was some post-carnage lecturing by my mother but she was like a Peanuts adult as I tried to figure out what had happened. How did I do that?
And then, yesterday, I saw it. Quin, about the physical equal of his brother, but with by far the better grasp on the mental game, showed true terror at his oncoming sibling. Otto escaped from me and dove at Quin. His extreme sports hat stark to his pale visage. Otto shrieked. A shrill warning that told the story of seven years of oppression. His battle cry propelled him into Quin's torso. And from there Otto made an odd choice for a coup de grâce. He grabbed Quin's shirt and began reeling him in. Otto, it seemed, thought of himself as a wood chipper, and he was going to swallow this board game tyrant and spit him out the other side. Quin felt the appropriate level of fear and barked at me with his desperate eyes. "Dad!" he shouted and I...well I wish could have been of more help. But I was laughing so hard. Inexplicably an insane amount of laughter boiled out of me. I held on to Otto as much as the giggle fatigue would let me. Max, still backed away from the game and stuck to the basement wall, worked on a smile as he wondered exactly what was so funny. One adult among four kids and that one adult was losing, helplessly tickle struck in the melee between his own sons.
I really don't know what happened. Otto turned into a wood chipper right after I gave him an ultimatum: either get back in the game and play it through, or cut your losses and go find a book to read. As our middle child went full-on Taz, I was emptied of any cerebral solution. Goddamn siblings. All too often they fly so low that their isn't much an evolved mind can do for them. And that's when I started laughing. I could barely contain the 50 pounds of second-grader that tore into Quin. Quin kind of started laughing, too. But more in the way when you want something not to be true, like really bad news and you hope the bearer is just kidding. "You're laughing at this, dad?" he seemed to ask with his own reticent chuckles. I laughed so hard I was functionless, other than to repeatedly giggle shout "Otto...Otto...Otto...really? Otto?"
I managed to wrestle him to the floor. A demon enraged. Lava everywhere. The older brother freed himself from his little brother's grasp on his shirt--from his little brother's hands around his neck. Fifty years of junior frustration rolled onto the floor as I pulled Otto away from his panic-stricken elder. Fifty years our combined age, we middle children bruised by so many injustices. Often self-assailed in our own unwillingness to let go. But I'm pretty sure one day he'll get to laugh about it.