Gary Rinsem

HELL YEAR - My Siblings

My Siblings 6th Grade 1970-71 Written 2005

A boy in grade school was defined by his bicycle. Absolute cream of the crop was a Schwinn Stingray with banana seat and tall sissy bar, sporting a small headrest. Mine was metal flake paint, but I don't recall the color. It was the only thing I owned and the center of my life. I cleaned and polished it, lubricated and adjusted beyond reason. I'd had it two years, fourth and fifth grades. There wasn't even one small scratch in the paint. It always appeared brand new. A boy didn't exist without a bicycle. Everything boys did together they did it on their bikes. Because I had a bike I began making friends at the start of fourth grade. Boys often invited me home to play after school. Without a bike there'd be no invitations. No boy would walk his bike all the way home with me. Lon, Corey, Mike and I, all on my street, became close friends. We'd meet in a front yard and talk until something interesting was suggested. All four bikes were immediately tested to their limits as we rushed off on an adventure. Each adventure was followed by another until the day was done. It was the only life available to a boy and only if he had a bicycle capable of keeping up with the pack. Several boys on our street had no bike, and no friends. Four years younger, my brother stole everything from me. Anything I was seen enjoying... disappeared. Now in second grade, he was in preschool when it began. My treasures were often found in the hands of other kids on our street. I was never able to get them back. I knew when he found my money because I'd come home to him sitting on the living room floor with a giant pile of candy. He didn't want what he stole, he only wanted to deprive me of it. I could never have anything. Whatever I got was missing within days. Constantly deprived of everything else, my little brother set his mind to the task of taking my bike from me. He didn't want it, he only wanted to take it from me. He couldn't simply steal it because it was always locked to the boat trailer in the garage. I sometimes found where he'd been trying to cut the lock with Dad's hacksaw. Years later, what he managed to do amazes me. He was only in second grade. My brother began incessantly begging our parents to give him my bicycle. Numerous times a week he stood before them, begging and crying, making all manner of claims to my bike. When I heard it I rushed to the scene and defended against his claims. It took months, but in the end he was screaming and crying, throwing temper tantrums and demanding. It didn't matter when I pointed out for the thousandth time that my bike was too big for him to ride. He was demanding that I could use our mother's bike. It didn't matter when I pointed out for the thousandth time that it was too big for me to ride. Worn down by his constant abuse, my father agreed and ordered me to teach him how to use the bike lock. I continued defending, once again pointing out what he was doing. I frantically begged, describing how he stole everything from me, pointing out that I had nothin left except my bike. Sobbing, I explained to my father what happens to a boy with no bicycle. Given control of it, my little brother was unable to push my bike down the street. It was too tall. I watched, still sobbing, as he dropped it in the front yard and went into the house. I locked it up again so it wouldn't be stolen. Hours later he was screaming that I touched his bike. He was unhappy that it hadn't been stolen. I watched as my father took tools and adjusted my bike so my brother could almost ride it. Days passed and I watched him constantly. I brought my bike home from front yards up and down our street, abandoned there to be stolen. I kept telling my parents what he was doing and they ignored me. I begged, I pleaded, I cried and I screamed, but it did no good. Within a few days my bike was gone. It began when he was in preschool. Nobody listened. They couldn't believe a kid that age was doing something so strange as stealing everything from me, only to give or throw it away. First items I proved were things I got in the mail, from cereal boxes. He stole my Woody Woodpecker doorknocker and a 25 cent check from Jimmy Durante. I loved Woody and Jimmy. I only had those items a few days each. I found I had an incredible natural ability to use a Yoyo. First time a boy let me try a yoyo I was an instant star, able to do the tricks I'd seen. For several years it was known and people constantly gave me yoyos. I never had one more than a few days until seventh grade, when a school locker provided a place where he couldn't steal it. In Mexico, as I watched, my father negotiated and bought me a watch for $3. It drove my brother crazy that he couldn't steal my watch because it was never off my arm. He was constantly touching it and even grabbing it, but he couldn't steal it. The only time I took it off was to shower. It sat on the vanity. I turned off the shower and opened the curtain. The bathroom door was wide open. He used a screwdriver to unlock the door. My watch was gone. There was an endless string of theft. What began in 1967 in third grade, didn't end until 1979 when I moved away from home. He was 16 years old and still tossing my bedroom upside-down looking for anything he could steal from me. Everything I owned was neatly stored in boxes locked in the trunk of my car. Even my favorite dress shoes. More than 50 years later there is one item that still hurts beyond all else. It was an extremely important and sentimental gift. An antique German harmonica. Given to me by a man who was a father to me in ways my own father wasn't, the harmonica was his prized possession. I can't begin to explain the significance of the gift. It came with a long explanation of numerous points surrounding the gift. Far more than just being very valuable, my second father impressed upon me the notion that I should keep it for life and always be reminded of him. He hoped it would also teach me to appreciate music. That eternal gift was gone within days. I had no hiding spot secure enough. Fifty years later as he was dying, I lied to John when he asked. I told him I still had his gift. For five decades it had never been mentioned and I suddenly knew how important it was... to a man of supreme importance to me. Back now to the summer of 1970, before starting 6th grade. Except Lon, I lost all my guy friends by the time school started. I had no bicycle so I didn't exist. There was no way to play with any of the other boys. I was isolated and alone with three friends, two girls and Lon. My best friend Lon was most often gone on adventures with bike buddies. I endlessly played the board game "Mystery Date" in two girl's bedrooms. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Playing Barbie. I was always Ken, of course. It was unspoken, but understood that my parents were barely feeding the family. A new bicycle for me would cost more than a mortgage payment. It was impossible. As I lay in bed day after day with nothing to do, my father eventually understood what he had done to me. He felt terrible about it and apologized repeatedly. I spent a year in near absolute isolation, often hearing of Lon's adventures with my previous friends. I cried alone in my room night after night. It was the year of hell for me. Loneliness was broken only by the times spent with my two girl friends. We became very close in that year, but only did girl things. I guess that's not entirely true. We sometimes walked to the pharmacy and had hot fudge covered ice cream at the soda fountain. We also sat in the park together, each reading a book. One day I stood between the entrances of the grocery store and pharmacy, begging everyone for money. I quickly learned panhandling skills. I modified the air conditioning vent in my room, allowing me to hide my money in the ductwork. By the following summer I had begged $120. I constantly drooled over bikes in bike racks and used the phone to annoy the men at the Schwinn bike shop. They repeatedly described their entire inventory as I tried to pick a bike. I settled on a Schwinn Varsity with dark green metal flake paint. I paid for it with a big bag of coins. $118 including book rack and the best lock made. For 3 1/2 years my Varsity was my life. Periodically I found the hacksaw on the garage floor, but had no worries. The lock could not be cut with a hacksaw. I got a car and my bike went unused. My little brother repeated what he'd done before until I was ordered to give him the bike... that I panhandled for a year to get. He tossed it in the front yard and went into the house. He didn't want it. His only goal was to take it from me. Stolen would ensure I didn't get it back. Our next older brother (Steve) was visiting when little brother came in the house, fake crying because my bike was stolen. Steve ran to his car without explanation. He soon returned with my bike in the trunk. He'd seen and recognized the thief with it as he drove up to the house. I took my bike back and locked it to the boat trailer. That night I unleashed hours of hell upon my parents. I demanded recognition of the problem and a permanent solution. Recognition only came in the form of a question. "What do you expect us to do about it?" That was childhood with my little brother. He was considered mildly mentally retarded and went to special school. That fact was often used as justification by my mother. Excluding hell year, I simply learned to be happy with nothing. I was always amazed by the close relationships between my friends and their siblings. Another aspect to this was his instantaneous response whenever I caught him tossing my room. He closed his eyes and put his head down. His hands dropped to his sides and made two fists. His head swiveled right and left as he endlessly screamed "STOP HITTING ME STOP HITTING ME STOP HITTING ME." Usually I was in the hallway looking at a huge mess in my bedroom, with him 15 feet away. It worked. Many times our parents rushed to the scene of the screaming and yelled at me for hitting him. Nothing was ever said to him about trashing my room and stealing from me. There was usually no acknowledgement of the impossibility of me hitting him, with 15 feet between us. The first love of my life, my high school sweetheart, asked the same question every time we were near my little brother. In complete confusion she would ask "What's wrong with your brother?" Her little sister was her closest confidant. They shared everything, clothes to deep secrets, with no concern of betrayal. She couldn't understand when we were driven from the house by my little brother. He saw us kiss. As always, his eyes closed, his head aimed down and with tightly clenched fists at his sides he began screaming "I'M TELLING MOM I'M TELLING MOM I'M TELLING MOM." His screaming normally continued at least several minutes. He would meet mom in the entryway and incoherently tell her what I'd done. Often it was something as simple as eating the last of the Cheerios. I hated being home alone with him because it always involved five minutes of him following me and screaming.. I moved away from home. His thefts ended when I was 20 years old. It would all be long ago forgiven and perhaps we would have developed an adult relationship, except for one continuing problem. From a very young age he constantly told everyone that I beat him on a regular basis. Time after time I corrected his lies with the truth that he stole everything from me and used the claim of violence to distract attention from his theft. It was 2000 and I was 42 years old the last time we were at a family gathering. I spent that day defending against his lies, as I did every time I was near him. Anyone introduced to the family was repeatedly told the lie that I beat him. I was compelled to defend myself, repeatedly correcting the lies. It continued for over three decades. Not only "HELL YEAR," this is the story of my relationship with my little brother. He's never been family to me in any way. I never had a relationship with my two older brothers, mostly because they were too much older and they had each other. Brother Steve died in 2004. He spent the last few weeks of his life leaving long insane screaming messages on my answering machine. As many as 10 per day, until the machine's memory was full. For years we had a very superficial relationship. When I found he was dying I wanted desperately to have a long talk. To reminisce and say goodbye to my older brother. He would have just screamed obscenities at me. I believe he was in Hospice. Numerous messages had women's voices in the background, begging him to stop yelling, telling him he was disturbing the other patients. I got several messages from other people, all telling me I was a bad person for not talking to my dying brother. Talking to him was not an option. He blamed me for the three prior years of emotional abuse he suffered, from our mother. He repeatedly claimed on my answering machine that I destroyed the last three years of his life. My brother Bob was always a closed book. I tried often to develop a relationship with him. Nothing came from the effort. My sister was the oldest and the only family I had. I feel incredibly lucky to have had her in my early childhood. She was a fantastic sister. Without her I would have no first hand point of reference for the concept of family. (4-25-2021 NOTE: This journal is a compilation of numerous journals from several decades. Written in approximately 2005, it was the request of my third wife. Susan wanted to understand this part of my life. I find it far easier to write details like this, rather than a discussion.)