I almost killed my brother. I would very much like to postscript that statement by saying “once,” but that would be a lie.
I have three brothers, all younger than me. My brother, David, is two years younger than me, my brother Ben, six, and my brother Ethan, nine. Ben was never harmed or ever in any danger—at least from me. Ethan I almost killed several times with malice aforethought, but he was a fast runner and that’s another story for another day. David, on the other hand, never gave me any reasons to kill him, yet I almost did several times for no other reason than that he liked to hang around with his older brother and see what adventures his twisted, creative mind would take the two of us on today.
We all do dumb things, at least that’s what I keep telling myself, and what better way to test new ideas than on a willing partner, right? I remember exactly when it all started too. I was four or so and David was about two. We were spending our days in a large daycare facility in South Carolina that housed kids of all ages and sizes. It had a large yard fenced in with chain-link and perhaps even guard towers in the corners, I’m not sure. Anyway, there was an older boy who lived on one of the properties next to the yard and he had a BB gun. Bullfrogs the size of small dinner plates roamed the woods beyond the fence and since they just sat there and let you shoot them, he did, bringing his kills to fence that separated his world from ours to be counted.
This fascinates me on every level. Frogs are definitely cool, really big frogs are even cooler, guns are cooler still, and killing really big frogs with a BB gun is the coolest thing ever. Eventually the cool factor would lead several of us into escaping from the yard to explore the wonders of the woods beyond by climbing that chain fence, but not yet. Not today.
At some point, I ask this boy, whose name I’ve since forgotten, to give me some BBs. Since he is a nice, Southern boy, he does. I pocket the handful he pours into my palm and when we get home, I drop them in David’s ear. I want to see what will happen, and he lies on the floor with his head on a pillow and lets me. Problem is, they don’t come back out. Mom can’t get them out either, and she’s a registered nurse, so we make the trip to the doctor’s office where the doctor removes them with a metal thing with loop on the end. David is never in any danger this time, but like a criminal practicing on the little Mom and Pop convenience stores in preparation for the big heist, I’m building up to it.
When I am eight or so, I get my own BB gun. Since there are no frogs to shoot in Pennsylvania, I shoot David. But not with BBs. I don’t want to hurt him, so I shoot him with balls of tin foil. He lets me. One time. Probably because I tell him it won’t hurt. It does, worse than a BB in fact, and makes a bloody and bruised mess. Fortunately, I miss his face. I seem to also recall shooting him with a “dart” I made out a sewing pin and tin foil, but I’m not sure. I hope I didn’t.
We move again, and this time, to a small house that backs up to a high school where we go to ride our bikes, hang out with all the neighborhood kids, and, later, smoke cigars and chew Red Man. On one occasion we are playing with some cousins of ours who are visiting when a power line snaps a few yards away.
It drops to the ground with a crack and hisses and sputters as it thrashes around on the ground in its final throes of a death it fights tooth and nail against with a white rain of sparks. We stand there, openmouthed, and stare as it finally dies and a small fire starts around its corpse.
“We should put that out.”
“Go smother it with your coat.”
David walks toward the fire, stops, cuts a wide circle around it, and keeps walking.
“Where you going?”
“Home to tell Mom.”
He was always the smarter of us two. But I’m not done yet trying to electrocute him. In a later phase of mine where I take everything apart I can get my hands on just so I can create my own personal Frankenstein, I once hand him 120 volts, disguised as some cool thing I’d just made. He’s got a strong heart because neither the figurative nor the literal shock damaged more than his pride. I’m ashamed to say, I did this more than once.
We move again, and, being older now, I discard electricity having discovered the coolness that is fire, firearms, and explosives. At this point our father is completely disabled, and he and my mother are gone a lot over the summer on road trips to the VA Hospital. I found out somewhere, somehow, that rubbing alcohol is flammable, and show David my flaming blue hand as it burns in the dark.
“Cool, let me try.”
I douse his hand in alcohol, lite it, and we stand there in the dark of out bedroom we share, twisting and turning our hands in the blue light until it gets too hot and we slap the flames out against our thighs.
“Let’s do your whole arm.”
He lets me. This is really cool too until he tries to slap it out and his pants catch on fire. I have to help him put that out. After discovering that he isn’t really hurt, we count ourselves lucky and move on to lighting the walls and other inanimate objects that don’t mind pain.
David later discovers a large sinkhole in the cornfield behind our house. It is a good five feet deep and shaped like a bottle, with a small entrance that bellies out into a pretty large room. I say entrance because it officially becomes one when I make David climb in it to see if it makes a good hideout. I help him climb out, and we decided that it might not be such a good hideout after all. Too dirty.
But by far the most stupid thing I ever did while David was with me was putting a fire cracker in a glass baby food jar.
I thought it would be cool. The jar is made of thick glass, and it is just a little firecracker after all. The kind of ones I’m told you can even hold in your fingers when the go off and won’t hurt you, though I never have the nerve to make David try it. I figure it will just disappear in the jar with a little flash, a soundless puff of smoke, and that would be that. I was wrong.
With David right behind me we walk out to the driveway and set the jar up on the concrete porch—at eye level. I figure, after thinking this through, that I’ll hook the quick burning fuse of the firecracker on the lip of the jar, light it, flip it in with my finger, screw the lid on quick, and stand back and watch. With David standing at my shoulder, I do just that. I lite it, flip it in, screw the lid on, and before I can move my hands, it goes off.
I felt as if I’d just slapped my hands against a brick wall as hard as I could. I jerked them back from the jar that had disappeared from the neck down and looked at my palms which stung for a second, then went numb. I watched one of them slowly spring a leak as blood began to ooze, then pour, from several deep puncture wounds in the hand that had held the jar.
“OK; that was dumb.”
“You okay?” asks David.
I play it cool. “Yeah.”
Balling my hand into a fist to keep it hidden, I walk back into the house to clean it and inspect the damage. I still shudder thinking about what could have happened if I didn’t still have my hands wrapped around that jar when it exploded. Never again would David be able to see the next cool idea I cooked up. Like the time I fill an upside-down garbage can with hairspray and lite it, or the time I shoot a Saturn Missile (a brick of 25, large, whistling, screaming, exploding, bottle rockets in a square launch tube) parallel down the street, or the time I put an M-80 in the recovery chamber of a model rocket, or the time I set up a firing range in the upstairs bathroom complete with a shotgun, a hi-powered rifle, and a handgun, or…