The Regrets of a Big Brother Who Failed

Decades have gone by and we don’t speak. You don’t know why I withdrew and the thing is, I don’t think I can every tell you. I doubt you will ever find this site, or read these things. And much of what I write about you were too, too young to remember.

I was your big brother—now I’m not sure what I am. Big brothers defend their little brothers. They protect them. I couldn’t do that. I failed.

When father died I was 11. The oldest of the three of you was just 9, then 6 and the youngest, not yet one year old.

One of you once told me that I was the lucky one because I knew our father. He was the lucky one that didn’t. I know he doesn’t remember. The two of you who are older, I don’t think you remember much.

I stood in the hallway screaming at the top of my lungs demanding that Dad stop beating our mother. His response was to hit me. He was a big man—who is this just my memory tricking me? He had been a Marine, did you know that? He was a fire fighter by day, wife beater, child beater by night. Harsh? True, it is, but it also what I most remember. Those memories were beaten into me. Our father did it to me.

R., you are the second oldest. I don’t know what you remember. You slept on the bunk bed that we shared. I can’t remember if you had the bottom bed or the top. It was the corner of the room. I can’t remember what you did when the drinking and fighting began. I know I tried to cover my ears. I know I tried to hide under the bed. I know you were there, I just can’t remember how you responded. When it got bad I’d go to the hallway. I was going to stand there and do what big brothers had to do. I was going to protect you. I got bruises and welts for trying.

P, you were only six when died. Most of this is likely to be things you don’t remember. You must have heard it as a  child, but I don’t know how you remember it. And, G, you never remembered any of it. How blessed you are because of that.

R., when you and I were sent to Glenwood, to make life easier for our mother, it was my job to protect you. I made them promise we would be together. I was your brother and loved you and wanted to protect you. I figured the nightmare was over and life could be good—as long as we were together.

They forced us apart. You lived on the other side of campus. At mealtime they had you at one table across the room from me. We couldn’t sit together, we couldn’t even go to say hello to one another. We had shared a room together almost from time you were born. Now, Glenwood made sure we hardly spent minutes per day together.

We could go home on weekends but mother rarely came for us. I don’t know what she wanted from us, from him, or from her own life. I don’t know whether to despise her or feel sorry for her.

Today I stumbled across a marriage record for our father, and his first wife. I saw the date and her full time. I know about their son, Robert. I suspect none of you knew that you have another older, half-brother. I thought about him. He was at the funeral you know, but then what of that do you remember?

I felt sorry for Eunice, Dad’s first wife, and Robert. My first thought was that they lost Dad. But I think they were blessed because of it. I suspect Eunice must have known what he was like. I doubt it started when he married our Mom. Perhaps the reason they broke up was because of his abuse. 

But, Robert was only a few years old when his father married another woman, our Mom. Dad was in the Marines, he saw combat you know. I also learned something new today, that I never knew. One week after he met Mom he married her. She couldn’t have known much about the man she married. Did she know he had an ex-wife and son already? Did she know he was a drunk? Did she know he was violent? I would think not. Whatever possessed her to marry a man she only knew a few days? I’m sure she spent a lifetime regretting it. And, I have to think, she regretted us. She regretted having children she couldn’t or wouldn’t protect. And, I suspect she felt stuck in the marriage because of us. That might explain so much about her distance. I suspect I got the worst of it because I was the original ball and chain that tied her down to this man who was so cruel.

I was born only four years after Dad’s first marriage. And with him in the war, I doubt his divorce from Eunice was early in the marriage. He must have married Mom not long after the divorce with Eunice.

It was Mother’s Day when he died. G., you were just over 10 months old at the time. Aunt L had been camping that weekend when she returned home a neighbor girl ran out to tell her that our father had died. He and his father had the same name. She thought it was grandpa. When she learned it was Dad, not Grandpa, she drove and got us. I remember her putting us in the car and taking her to the home she shared with Grandma, her mother. She, of course, was our mother’s sister.

This, for me, was a good day. It was the day I thought the abuse would stop. 

I was afraid of Glenwood, but knowing that you, R, would be there made it easier. And then they took you away to other side of campus. One year later P was sent to Glenwood to join us. Once again it was to make Mom’s life easier—getting rid of us was so easy. We didn’t want it. But I don’t remember any remorse on her part. I think she saw us as obligations, not children. 

First, the bullying and violence at Glenwood was something I only thought was happening in the older “cottages,”—that is among the older boys. But I learned it was endemic on the entire campus. The whole Glenwood system was built in way to foster abuse—mostly physical, but also sexual.

Once I realized that the things that were happening to me, were campus wide experiences I knew they were happening to you. Or, at least I assume they were. 

I had failed as an older brother—twice. I couldn’t protect you from Dad and I couldn’t protect you from Glenwood.

Do you remember when a staff member, that the boys called Pooh Bear, came along? I do. He had been a former scout leader who I believe left under suspicious circumstance. He continued to have sexual relations with some of the boys from his former troop, even after he started living on campus. There was one building where numerous staff lived. He stayed there. One day I knocked on his door, thought I can’t remember why. There were muffled sounds and yells for me to wait. When the door opened he was flustered and standing there were three boys, not Glenwood boys, but scouts. They looked flustered as well. I immediately sensed what had been going on. He got rid of me very quickly.

Pooh Bear, whose real name I have either forgotten, or blocked out, took over the ROTC program. That was mandatory for all of us. He created a rank previously not used at the school, that of quartermaster. In each house, or unit, he would appoint one boy as quartermaster. If he fancied you, you were in, and if he didn’t you were out. He made me quartermaster, but not just me, R, you were put in that position as well. I think P was also. 

Given how he treated me I could only assume that he did the same to the two of you. I have not yet talked about what he did, and I will leave that now. I simply am not ready to go into detail.

But after my experiences with him—one of which left me in tears—I had to assume that all his quartermasters had received the same treatment. I had failed you both a second again. I couldn’t protect you from our father. I couldn’t protect you from the bullying and hitting that went on at Glenwood. And I couldn’t protect you from Pooh Bear. I know Pooh Bear was not alone among the staff there, I know of the others. We were their type: blond haired and blue eyed. There were at least four such male staff members well know to all the boys on campus—how could the school have been ignorant?

I once went to the chaplain to try and talk about this sort of thing. I brought up one incident, which was relatively minor. It was to see if I could talk to him. But he brushed it off and basically made it clear that no one liked “tattle tales” and that I grow up. I never told him the rest. He wasn’t interested. I don’t know if he realized how bad things were, but his lack of interest allowed them to continue. That was the only time I talked about it during those years.

Mom got sick. She wouldn’t tell us much. I think it was lung cancer. She thought she was going to die. So she married again. I don’t think it was for love—did she ever marry for love? Al was a race car driver at some time, previously married and I think he had seven kids of his own—all of them had names starting with the initial K: there was Kandy, Kevin, Kary, and more I can’t remember. I think Mom’s idea was to marry someone in case she died.

She didn’t die, at least not then. And not long after she was released from the hospital Al disappeared from her life. I wanted him as a father. He was a nice man. But she fought with him, a lot. I got mad one day and screamed at her for it. Even though I knew it was a lie I told her she had done the same thing with our Dad. I didn’t acknowledge what he did to her. I always regretted that.

Glenwood wasn’t keen on high school students. Only a few stayed on campus and they attended the local public high school. They were the top of the totem poll. They could do almost anything they wanted. I know one of them was caught in a basement shower screwing one of the younger boys. I think it was in Spaulding (or Spalding) residence. He wasn’t relieved of authority over the boys. All I know was the campus was awash with the story and he seemed a bit embarrassed at being caught, but he remained an ROTC officer with power over the boys. Even when Pooh Bear was eventually caught he was just quietly asked to leave campus—as far as I know nothing every happened to him.

I had graduate grade school and was now in high school. Mom had briefly remarried and the Glenwood years were over. But, I felt as I had betrayed you. I had been so separated from you all at Glenwood I felt as if I had stopped knowing you. And I felt guilty. I should have protected you and I didn’t. I realize now that I couldn’t.

There was so little I could do. Back then, this sort of abuse was routinely hidden out of view. Both the physical and the abuse of children was just not talked about.

I came home feeling distant from you. I wanted to apologize for failing you. And I couldn’t. So, I hid away from you staying in my room reading. I never became the brother I should have been. Being with you only reminded me how I, the older brother, couldn’t stop the physical abuse, or any sexual abuse you may have experienced.

Now, so much time has gone by I can’t come back. I left home while in college and never returned. I called Mom all the time. In my entire life she never called me. I moved to the city and might see you at Christmas but then moved out of the area and was thousands of miles away. None of you called me, and I couldn’t call you. I didn’t want to discuss what happened. I thought I could just sweep all that away and start over.

I followed you as much as I could on the internet. I know I have nephews and nieces, who I have never known. I wish I knew what they looked like. I had some email correspondence with G, but then his email changed and I was never given a new one. Our Aunt tells me she never hears from you either and doesn’t know where you are. If I tried hard enough I could reach you. But I wont.

I won’t because if I did I’d have to explain my absence for some many years. To do that I would have to tell you painful things which you probably don’t remember. Maybe the stuff at Glenwood is something you remember. Or maybe you escaped Pooh Bear’s advances—I didn’t. But I’ve always assumed you did. And maybe you did, but it was something you have put out of mind. I don’t know.

To explain my absence I’d have to tell you about Dad’s beatings. You probably don’t remember any of that, or very little of it. I’d have to tell you that chances are good you suffered the same physical abuse, and worse, at Glenwood. These are memories you may not have. And to give them to you would be too cruel. If you have forgotten them, perhaps it is to your benefit. I can’t forget them. And for you to understand my absence you would have to understand those memories. And I don’t want you to live with them

I have often felt empty without you as my brothers. Knowing about nephews and nieces, even seeing a small unclear photo of one of them today has been feeling depressed and lonely.

I hope you have wonderful, happy lives. I really do. If you do, my reappearance in your life, would only give you sad memories, if not traumatic ones. You would ask me why I have never contacted you. And I don’t know how to answer that without given you painful thoughts. So, I’m not planning on contacting you. I wish you all had more public information on the internet so I can see my family. When our Aunt is gone, I’ll only have you guys. But you were taken from me decades ago by our father, by Glenwood and by the guilt I lived with because I failed at being the big brother you needed. I’m so sorry about that.  

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