A Love Song For Kimberly

In the wee hours of the morning on October 18, 1968, she was delivered by natural childbirth, a full three minutes before I. That, of course, made me her younger brother, a fact she never let me forget.

She was a beautiful baby, cherubic face and big blue eyes. Kim was the Gerber baby, and by contrast I was one of those little troll dolls with the wild hair. I came out bruised and misshapen, with club feet and one ear that sits higher than the other, and a head that will never be described as symmetrical.

I blame it on cramped confinement. Hey, when both twins weigh over seven pounds, living space is at a premium. You gotta fight for what you can get, and I took my first ass-kickings from her long before I was ever born.

My twin sister came out of the womb knowing how to fight.

 My older sisters loved her. She did what most newborns do, which was sleep 20 hours a day. She was the perfect baby to cuddle, the kind who nestles in your arms and settles in contentedly for hours, unmoving until your arm falls asleep. Then, when she'd finally wake, she'd gaze up at you trustingly, rarely crying, while you changed her diapers or gave her a bottle.

I, on the other hand, was a little different. I was a squirmer. I rarely slept for long, and I was prone to making unexpected vocalizations at the top of my lungs. Not exactly a crier, mind you, but a sudden fit of cooing and calisthenics when it's least expected can jangle your nerves as much as a crying baby. Kim was the quiet one, and I was the one that had no volume control from birth onward.

My sisters thought I was possessed.

Much is said of the supposed psychic link between twins, how alike they are in temperament and mannerisms, how even twins separated at birth and reunited many years later discover that, throughout their entire lives, their preferences and unconscious decisions mirrored one another. They drove the same types of cars. The had the same favorite colors. They married women that could be twins themselves. The gravitated to similar careers and hobbies. It's an uncanny bond.

Yeah well, maybe that shit is true for identical twins, but not fraternal ones. No two personalities could be more different, no two people less alike in temperament and mannerisms than me and my twin sister.

Still, there was something there. I remember countless times as a child when we'd break out singing the same song at the same time – a song only one of us liked. Or she'd start to speak, and I'd finish the sentence – even though the thought was completely foreign to me. But even though our personalities were so disparate, and as much as we diverged as we grew older, that link was always there. No matter what fictions you may conjure, no matter how you may veil yourself to the rest of your family, you cannot hide what you are from your twin.

There were times in my life when I treasured that. It can be fun sharing secrets no one else knows. And in other times, I wish we hadn't. The hate you direct at your twin burns you too.

**********

As is the case with most male-female sets of fraternal twins, the female is usually bigger and stronger. I weighed seven pounds, she weighed seven and change. She was always one size bigger as we grew up. When it came to wrestling matches, she always won.

She was not, however, faster. Every developmental milestone, she reached at an appropriate age, but I was months ahead of her every step of the way.

I walked unassisted at seven months. Kim didn't walk until she was well over a year old.

I was talking at a year, and speaking full sentences (at the top of my lungs, of course) by 18 months. Kim didn't talk at all until she was almost two, and she suffered from a speech impediment until we were well into grade school.

I was potty trained much earlier than she was. Then again, my parents might not have considered that a good thing the day I broke away from them and pooped in a display toilet at Sears. Kim never induced such embarrassment.

By the time we reached kindergarten, I had read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, all 26 volumes. Kim was still struggling with the Jack and Jill Reader.

When we played tag, I was the kid you wanted on your side. I could outrun anyone. Kim, on the other hand, was the ringer when we played Red Rover. You'd dare not call her over to your side, because she'd break the link of kids twice her size, and you damned sure didn't try to break any link she had made if the other side called you. After a few instances of near-decapitation, I learned to avoid my sister's part of the line when the other side called, "Red Rover, Red Rover, let Kelly come over…"

It can't have been easy for her, being my sister. Faster, far more mobile… I had my pick of any toy in the box. Kim, on the other hand, learned to latch onto what few toys she could outrace me to, and hold on to them with grim determination. I never had to fight for what I wanted.

But my sister always did.

When we were toddlers, my mother heard a bloodcurdling screech from the living room and rushed into the room to catch me trying to bite my sister. She spanked my bottom soundly, and scolded me for doing such a mean thing. It wasn't until bath time that she discovered the livid bite marks on me that Kim had inflicted before she walked into the room.

It was a pattern to be repeated for the next fifteen years. I'd finally snap after weathering hours of torment, and Mom would walk into the room just in time to catch me retaliating.

“Oh, so you two wanna fight, huh?” she’d muse. “Well, I’ve got the cure for fighting. When you get done, you won’t wanna fight any more, believe you me!”

She’d then proceed to the hedge and gather three diabolical switches, test them for proper flexibility and tensile strength, and then hand one to each of us.

“Go ahead and fight,” she’d exhort us. “Work out all that aggression. And if you don’t fight, you get a whipping from me.”

Great, Mom, let's give the evil twin a weapon. Good parenting move.

I’d spend the next five minutes getting lashed by not one, but two psychotic females.

The only time Kim ever got a spanking for biting, she didn't have it coming. When we were still toddlers, Mom caught her holding me down, teeth bared over my back. Mom snatched her up and spanked her soundly before she could inflict the bite. Kim was indignant, insisting that she was not trying to bite me.

It was 1971, and The Youngbloods' "Smile On Your Brother, Everybody Get Together" was still popular on the radio. And that's all she was doing, smiling on her brother.

Me, Kim, and Paxton Quiggly, Jr., one of the best dogs EVAR.

 

Still as much as we fought, we looked out for each other. Or, more properly, she looked out for me. Beating my ass was her personal prerogative, but she'd suffer no one else to even try. For my part, I never had to defend Kim from anyone else. She was the toughest kid on the block anyway.

My mother bred and raised poodles when we were kids. Growing up, it always seemed we had a litter scampering around the house, and our brood bitch, Tiffany, liked to make her nest in the bathroom laundry hamper. So, until the puppies were weaned, Mom kept the laundry elsewhere, and Tiffany nursed her puppies in peace. It was understood by all the children that the puppies weren't to be disturbed, and that doing so could make them sick, not to mention result in punishment for the recalcitrant puppy-snuggler.

Well, when I say understood, I mean understood by all the older kids. Kim and I didn't count. After all, only one of us could walk and the other couldn't do much more than crawl. What harm could we do?

Turns out, quite a lot. Separately, we were just a pair of twenty pound toddlers, but together, we were a formidable forty-pound octopus that could, and did, get into most anything.

So when we decided that the puppies needed a bath, we brought them into the bathtub with us. And when we were through bathing, the most logical means of rinsing off the soap was, naturally, the toilet. So, eleven toy poodle puppies with their eyes barely open got a warm bath, followed by a communal swirlie in the toilet. The only thing that kept most of them from drowning was the volume of stuff we threw in there with them. Between the combs, hairbrushes, bath toys, dog toys and this funny big rubber bag with a long hose on it that Mom insisted we never play with, all but two of the puppies managed to find enough flotsam or jetsam to cling to keep from getting flushed.

Mmmm, corduroy. Helen Keller's favorite color.

When we were kids, no more than five or so, my parents went out of town for a week, leaving us in the care of our 18-year old sister. Sheri, like most 18-year-olds, was so self-absorbed that I doubt she even realized we were there. She spent the entire week with the phone surgically grafted to her ear while Kim and I were left to our own devices.

Normally, that would have been fine with us, but at some point, a five-year-old has to eat, and it became obvious to us that we'd starve before our sister would ever notice. Surely, our parents would come home to find our decomposing corpses on the floor in front of the refrigerator, with Sheri locked in her bedroom, still on the phone and idly wondering what that stench was.

So we learned to cook. I knew how to read the directions on a can of Campbell's soup, and Kim was strong enough to work the manual can opener, so we subsisted on a diet of vegetable beef soup, hardboiled eggs, and Kool Aid. Our parents came home to find Kim on her hands and knees on the floor in front of the stove, me standing on her back taking a saucepan full of hardboiled eggs off the burner.

For the life of me, I can't understand why they seemed more horrified than proud of our teamwork, a mystery only matched by how Sheri managed to survive their wrath.

My parents separated briefly when I was a kid. During that time, my mother took Kim and I to Oklahama to visit our aunt. On the long drive from Oklahoma City, Kim and I got bored with our coloring books, so we made a a sign that said "HELP, WE"RE BEING KIDNAPPED,"  and held it up to passing motorists. When stopped for gas just across the Oklahoma/Texas line, the station attendant stared suspiciously at our car, furtively picked up the phone, and dailed a number. It took him forever to fill our tank, check the oil and tire pressure, and clean the windshield. Heck, he may have even checked the belts and hoses, radiator level and washer fluid, too, while he stalled for time.

Before my Mom could pull back onto the highway, two Oklahoma DPS troopers roared up, and ordered her from the car at gunpoint. One trooper pulled us out of the car and sat us on the trunk while the other trooper questioned Mom some distance away. Judging from the death glares Mom was giving us, we both knew we were in hot water, so when the other trooper came over to us and said, "Son, this woman swears she is your mother, and all this is a big mistake," we said the only thing we could under the circumstances:

"Officer, I've never seen that woman before in my life. Please don't send us away with her, she'll kill us."

I wasn't exaggerating much, either. On the scale of Epic Syllable Whippings, that one went all the way to eleven.

**********

I made straight A's on my report card. Kim struggled for C's. I was the kid teachers bragged about. Kim was, well… the sister of that kid the treachers always bragged about.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Dickens, used to tell all the new teachers of the little boy who'd read Louis L'Amour novels during naptime, rolling her eyes in faux exasperation, but it was clear she thought I was a rock star. All the teachers thought I was a rock star. Kim was the child you had to put in time out, because she'd bloodied another kid's nose when he tried to take her crayons.

In the fourth grade, the state put us through standardized tests to determine our reading comprehension level. Kim tested right where she ought to be – at fourth grade.

Except, nobody paid much attention to that, because her twin brother maxed out the test, with the reading level of a college junior.

In high school, I was the popular kid, the class clown liked by everyone. Kim was the street-tough hood feared by everyone. She was however, the undisputed Queen of the Smoking Area.

From the beginning, my sister was damned with the shame of low expectations. Nobody required much of her, and she was perceptive enough to be insulted by it. And she was happy to oblige them. If nothing was expected of her, nothing was what she'd give them.

Because fuck them, that's why. That was my sister.

My parents used to reward us for good grades; five dollars for every A on our report cards. After our school system switched from grades every nine weeks to grades every six weeks, it got rather expensive, and the reward dropped to three dollars. Later, it dropped to one dollar.

But after the fourth grade and that reading test, the rewards stopped coming altogether. Instead, they'd reward my sister for B's and C's; five dollars for an B, three dollars for a C. I got nothing at all.

I was outraged. My sister was the dummy, and here she was being rewarded for it, when I was clearly the better student. My mother tried to explain that I didn't need the incentive, but they felt that Kim did. It was a parenting failure that would have a ripple effect on me and my family for the rest of my life.

I don't mean to say that I divorced myself from my family in general and my twin sister in particular just because she got paid for mediocre grades while I got stiffed for excellent ones. It was more than that. But that event sowed the seeds in my mind that, in my family, mediocrity was the norm, and failure carried no shame.

And I'd be damned if I was going to settle for mediocre. Let the rest of the Grayson family be a bunch of fucking failures if they wanted to, but I was getting the hell out.

**********

Our fights were epic, if one-sided beatdowns can be considered epic. I was the good son who adhered to his parents' admonition that Boys Do Not Hit Girls. It was understood from childhood that men do not pick on the weak. Women were weaker than men, and for that reason, we should protect them and never, ever raise our hands to them.

Except that, Kim was never weak, and she adhered to the motto, "Hit first, and hit dirty." I took enough shots in the balls that it truly is a wonder that I was ever able to father a child. From the latter years of elementary school on, beatings were a daily occurrence. Gone was any sense of the bond between twins. She was an angry kid, and I was a convenient punching bag.

I took them for years, at first because I wasn't physically capable of whipping her, and for several years, simply because I still had qualms about hitting a girl. The epiphany came in junior high school, when we were playing Smear The Queer during recess.

(Yes, I know it's hurtful and insensitive, but kids are often hurtful and insensitive. We grow out of it.)

Anyhow, during this game of Kill The Man With The Ball, my sister was the only girl playing. She was playing far too rough for the boys present, and since she was my sister, I was elected to tell her to leave.

She beat me silly, to the point that the principal felt it best that I go home for the rest of the day and physically recuperate.

I took a lot of ribbing for that beatdown, until the day a month later when she administered a comparable whipping to Brian Puckett. In eighth grade, Bryan Puckett was 6'2" and 235 pounds, but that wasn't big enough. Apparently, Brian's parents had also taught him that Men Do Not Hit Women, and he paid the price for his chivalry.

That beating at least got me entrance into a fraternity of otherwise strapping young men who had gotten their asses soundly whipped by Kimberly Ann Grayson, but it also cemented my sister's reputation as Badass, First Class.

And then it hit me: she was more than my match, and not fighting back just invited more aggression. I'd long since become bigger, stronger and faster than she was. What I wasn't, was meaner, and if I wanted to discourage future beatings, I was going to have to be as ruthless as she was.

So I learned to fight back, and I modified my personal ethos: A man does not instigate violence against a woman, and he walks away from it if he can… but if flight is not an option, then he shows her that attacking a man is a man-sized job. Women need not apply.

And while this thought was germinating in my head, I started to watch how my sister fought. It occurred to me that those right haymakers that started in the vicinity of her left knee might be countered somehow.

Like, maybe… by ducking.

And when those knuckles whistled past my head, there would be a moment to get in three, maybe four quick blows of my own.

Or one really good one.

And that when I got in a few of those blows, her rage would just bubble over, and if I kept my head, I could just pick her apart while she flailed at me.

Sure enough, it worked. And on a March day in 1981, with a school bus full of kids (and, truth be told, the bus driver and several teachers) cheering me on, I finally got the better of my sister. She never landed a punch, and I discovered that I had more than enough strength in my arms and shoulders to drop her like a bag of wet cement. After the third or fourth time, she couldn't get up, and I delivered a kick just to make sure.

I left her there, bleeding and broken on the sidewalk, with all the kids jeering at her and calling her names, and told the teachers to call my parents to come bring her home, because I was taking the bus.

She never beat me up again. Somehow, victory didn't feel as good as I'd expected.

**********

It wasn't until I was grown that I ever wondered what had made my sister so angry. She was always a tough and stubborn kid, but shortly after we were ten, something changed in her that I was able to understand only in retrospect. It seemed that overnight, she became this sullen and withdrawn kid, one who would lash out with frightening violence at the slightest provocation. My sister was bitter and angry, and…

… no, angry doesn't even begin to describe it. Angry is what you get when someone cuts you off in traffic. Angry is what happens when the kid at the drive-through screws up your order, and you don't discover the error until you're ten miles down the road.

What my sister had was a seething hatred for everyone around her. None of us were spared. Most of the time, it lay just below the surface, but it was always there, ugly and feral. I tried my best to avoid fighting with her, because I feared that I'd have to kill her to keep her off of me.

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" isn't much of a fight strategy when the other guy is swinging a machete at your head.

But it wasn't until I was grown that the truth came out. Kim had been molested, systematically and repeatedly, for years. And if she told, her abuser told her that he'd kill my older sister, and my parents, and make her watch before he killed her.

And once he knew he had her cowed, he ratcheted up the psychological torment, and convinced her that telling our parents wouldn't do any good, because they already knew. In fact, her whole family knew, and they didn't care. Of course, none of us knew, but that doesn't matter when you're a ten-year-old girl clinging desperately to sanity, and the only lifeline you can see is the one extended by your abuser.

To this day, I carry the shame of not putting a bullet in that twisted fucker's head and leaving his balls in his mouth. Not only did he steal my sister's innocence, but he stole my sister from me.

The one thing that kept me from doing so was the knowledge that killing him would only compound the hurt, and bring pain to others in our family. Perhaps that is what stayed my father's hand, as well. For that reason, I will not utter his name, but he knows what he did, and he knows that his punishment awaits.

If not in this life, then in Hell.

So by the time I finally had the answer, it was too late to do much of anything about it. Too late to feel much of anything about it, really. I was a grown man, and had long since mentally and emotionally divorced myself from my family.

That was a survival mechanism my sister never had.

And so, even though I finally knew why my sister would provoke my mother until I'd have to step between them to keep Mom from killing her, and why my father always seemed to take her side when we fought, and why Kim always seemed to get a pass for every insult and hurt she inflicted, the endless parade of shiftless characters she shacked up with, all the drugs they ignored and the jail time they pretended never happened…

… I was too distant to really care. Family news for me was just another Jerry Springer episode, and I'd long since changed the channel.

**********

I'd hear snippets of family news from time to time, always from third parties who were surprised that I even had a sister. I knew she'd been busted for drug possession. I got updates from the sheriff's deputies who worked the jail, and they looked out for her because she was Kelly's sister. I told them to never let her know that I knew she was in jail, much less that they even knew we were related.

I knew she had lost custody of her son. Chase is the spitting image of his mother, only with a dash of his uncle's sense of humor. He's sixteen now, almost a man himself. I haven't seen him since he was six.

I'd see Kim at holiday gatherings, and I'd put an interested mask on my face while everyone caught me up on family gossip, all the while mentally counting the minutes until I could leave. On one Christmas gathering, I took her boyfriend outside and told him I'd throw him off the balcony head first if he showed up staggering drunk at a family gathering ever again. Kim blamed me when he didn't come back inside.

The last time I talked to her for any length was almost ten years ago, after Mom died. Dad had fled to Oklahoma to live with my Uncle Sonny, while Kim allowed our half-brother, the son of our biological father, to live in the apartment behind Dad's house.

My father's house.

I couldn't believe the insult, and that fact that my father stood for it was all the proof I ever needed that he had become an old man. He was beaten, and he couldn't fight any more. All he could do was flee, and let the rest of them fight over what he had left. All he asked was that I find Kim, and retrieve his guns.

I found out Kim had pawned all of Daddy's guns, and I forced her to cough up the pawn tickets. She lied to me, and told me Daddy had given her his blessing, and when I called her on it, she defended herself by saying she'd do whatever it took to feed her son.

"So you'll fucking steal from your own family, rather than ask me for help?" I asked. "Do you really think I'd let my nephew starve? I'd have given you money, and never expected it back."

"I don't take charity!" she shot back.

"Riiiiiight. You're too proud to take a handout, but not too proud to steal your father's most prized possessions."

"He is not my father!" she spat. "Bob Magee is my father."

"Bob Magee is the guy who fucked another man's wife thirty-odd years ago. Norman Grayson is the man who raised you, fed you, clothed you, and took your side when you tried to drive the rest of us insane. Norman Grayson is your father, and you owe him better than this."

"Fuck you! Go to hell!"

"You know, you've been carrying that hatred since we were kids. I never knew what happened, and it hurt me too. Dad didn't know, either. But that was twenty years ago, Kim. It's time to let it go, and stop letting it dictate who you are."

"Fuck you, I AM over it! I'm WAY over it!

I won't repeat the rest of what she said, but it was obvious that the pain was still there, and still raw after all this time.

So I wiped the spittle from my face, told her sarcastically, "Yeah, anyone can see you're just the fuckin' picture of mental health," and drove away.

Because that's the kind of loving and supportive brother that I am.

**********

She finally kicked her drug habit, with addiction and drug abuse counseling from a faith-based charity called Rays of Sonshine. Their rehab center was located right across the street from AMR headquarters in Monroe, and I'd see my sister two or three times a week. Mostly we ignored each other, but after a few months, she'd wave whenever she saw me. I'd just pretend I hadn't seen her.

"You know that woman?" my partners would ask me curiously. "She seems to know you."

"Probably a case of mistaken identity," was all I'd reply. They got the message not to pry further.

When KatyBeth was born, I brought Dad in to see her. My brother Terry was out of touch, the only contact we'd had a broken, sobbing message I left on his answering machine in the hours before she was born. He didn't call back until a week later. The rest of my family was not invited. KatyBeth has never even met her Aunt Kim.

**********

Kim, with just a few of the people whose lives she touched.

Whatever you may say about faith, whether you believe or not believe in God, whether you believe in Him as a being, or attribute the good works of religion to the social support system of a network of believers, God healed my sister. Whether He did it in an act of grace, or the simple act of believing is what turned the tide for her, and the teachings of Christ to serve others is what finally helped her to see beyond her own pain, rather than some magical healing touch…

… it doesn't matter. Faith healed her pain when her family could not. She believed God was responsible, and she was paying Him back by serving others.

She lived in virtual poverty in an orphanage in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa. She had no possessions other than a few personal effects, her only income a $200 monthly stipend from a charitable sponsor.

In recent months, she reached out to me through Facebook, and I accepted her friend request. We still didn't talk much, but I'll confess to stalking her page, and from the photos of her there, my sister seemed happier than she had been since we were kids. And just as clearly, she was loved.

My sister was not lonely in the end. It was about damned time.

I've joked for years that if I died tomorrow, that I'd be in the ground for three days before my family knew about it… and that was just the way I liked it. I have a miracle daughter, and even though Mary and I are no longer married, we still care about each other. I've got a beautiful girlfriend who loves me despite my flaws, and God knows I have plenty of them. I've got friends that are closer than any blood relative, and even though we may be separated by thousands of miles, all I need do is pick up the phone and they'll be here, no questions asked.

My only regret is that I never got to know the person my sister became, and most of my memories are of the person she no longer was.

I'm still not close with my family, and I likely never will be. I love them all, but I love them best at arm's distance, because the joy of hearing their good tidings is not worth all the family drama that comes with it. Now, with all the correspondence over the past week, I've heard enough family news to last another lifetime, and precious little of it welcome. I can't avoid it, though. Plans have to be made, social obligations have to be met.

It's said that funerals are for the living, and of that I have no doubt. I'd much rather skip out on the memorial service, although undoubtedly that would just confirm their opinion that I am still the arrogant asshole brother that thinks he's better than the rest of them.

And you know, maybe that's a valid opinion. I don't much care one way or the other. I just know that I don't want to be there, and that  that I don't need their presence to say goodbye to my sister, and I don't need to hear some preacher say the words to know that she is with God. 

I was at work when I got the news last Sunday. Perversely enough, my ex read it on my older sister's Facebook page, and called to see if I was okay. That was the first I'd heard of it.

"Yeah, I'll be all right," I told her, and I went to work that night as usual. And all night long, all I could think was, "She can't be dead, because I didn't feel a thing. We're twins. We're supposed to sense things like that."

Looks like that emotional distance thing has its price.

I've waited a week to feel something, and only now do the tears come as I type this. And I hope the rest of my family forgives me, but  I'm going to go down to the beach at Cameron in the morning, and watch the sun rise, and say goodbye to my sister alone. And I'm going to pray that she knew I loved her, and that I was proud of who she had become. Somehow, I suspect she does.

Twins know these things.