We belong to a club - we sisters who have survived years of humiliation at the hands of male siblings. If only there was a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous so that we could come clean about our pasts.
"My name is Cathy," I'd tearfully confess, "and I'm a tortured sister."
A sort of telepathic radar connects the reluctant members of our secret club. We recognize each other on the street, in the grocery store, at the dentist office. In that penetrating instant in which eyes lock, our souls are bared. She, too, wore her brother's soiled underwear shoved over her head. Yes, she, too, lay pinned to the floor screaming at the dangling spit waving seductively close to her face before it was sucked back up into the mouth of her wicked brother.
Tortured sisters deserve a special place in Paradise, and my own sisters and I deserve a spot far above that. We grew up with five rotten brothers. Count 'em. FIVE. Joe, Mick, Rick, Tom and Jeff.
As sister abuse goes, I'd put them pretty much at the top. The name calling was superior. Four Eyes, Moose, Stick Legs, Big Butt, Zit Face, Mommy Dearest - it was all spot on. But it was Mick who really perfected sister torture with his sheer creative genius.
I'll never forget when he kindly offered me a Fig Newton with a quarter buried inside.
Or the day he dragged my 10-year-old sister Deb, screaming and shrieking all the way, to the strange house of a neighbor we'd never met and tied her with a jump rope to the front porch. Then he rang the doorbell and ran away.
Even younger, my poor sister Mary was Mick's perpetual victim. The trouble was, she trusted Mick completely.
"How 'bout I take you out for some McDonalds?" Mick cajoled her one day with a friendly arm around her shoulder.
"Really?" Mary was delightfully unsuspecting.
Instead of McDonalds, unfortunately, Mick drove her straight to a mall department store and threw a pair of scuffed boots he'd worn for at least three months into her lap. "Take those in and get me a full refund," he demanded. Reaching across, he hurled the car door open and shoved her out. "Then I'll buy you a hamburger."
Our terrible brothers, I'm glad to report, have all grown into very nice men, thank the Lord above. We also give credit to their wives, every one as gorgeous on the inside as she is on the outside, for turning our rotten brothers into kind, civilized men who don't sneak asparagus into our milk glasses any more.
As well, our brothers survived some setbacks in life and emerged as even stronger and more compassionate men.
Joe, who sells pharmaceuticals, suffered a heart attack a while back. A single father for many years, he quit his life long habit of smoking for the sake of his kids. Shortly afterward, he met the love of his life, Stef, and is as healthy and happy as I've ever seen him.
Mick and his wife Lori took over the family travel agency, but when the internet changed the travel business forever, Mick forced himself to change along with it. And that's where his creative genius came into play. Now his agency buses kids to every school in town and offers a variety of services my dad's business never would have dreamed of 20 years ago.
At the age of 35, our brother Rick, who was unhappy with his business degree, decided to become a teacher like his wife Jan. For years, he worked all night stocking shelves at a local grocery store and attended classes all day. Watching him work so hard turned him into my hero for life.
Tom worked hard to earn his job as the beloved administrator of a nursing home doing what he does best - taking care of people. He and his wife Sheryl take care of all of us, too, generously opening their big home for almost every family gathering, spur of the moment or otherwise.
And Jeff, who was born with cerebral palsy, has conquered many demons during his difficult life, including alcoholism and substance abuse. But with an unshakeable newfound faith, he's remained sober and clean for several years and proudly lives on his own.
Many years after Mom died and my sisters and I were sure we'd endured all the brothers we could ever handle, Dad married Kris. And just like that, we had another brother. But Nolan was so young, he seemed much more like another nephew. And he was certainly never as awful as our five older brothers. He's grown now, ready to be married this summer, and he's such a good young man.
All our brothers are good men.
When we were young, there were times that my sisters and I would have been ecstatic to see our parents give all our brothers up for adoption. But we're rather fond of them now. What the heck. We're crazy about them. Even though our brothers weren't wild about our collective decision to choose prophylactic mastectomies, they nevertheless supported us completely.
"I guess now you can get the boobs you always wanted," my brother Joe joked about our reconstructive surgeries.
But he and the rest of our brothers remember all too well the pain of losing Mom. In spite of the many cracks made at our expense about our diminished chest sizes, every one of my brothers rallied behind us. They delivered food after our operations, worried about our pathology reports, and called frequently to cheer us up.
On Christmas Eve, while I was home recovering from surgery, I will never forget answering the doorbell to see my entire family, including my tall, handsome brothers, filling our front lawn to sing "Silent Night" in the frosty black stillness. My husband swears Joe was choked up, but Joe would probably deny it until the day he died.
I'm glad my brothers tortured us. By the time my sisters and I grew up, we realized Joe, Mick, Rick, Tom and Jeff had taught us some valuable life lessons - never to take ourselves too seriously and never to act like prima donnas.
And never to eat Fig Newtons without first checking for quarters.