In my family, 'put-down' humor was all the rage, and my older brother, Chuck, was the king. I was usually the target and brunt end of his jokes. Therefore, according to everyone else, he was hysterically funny.
This day was slightly different. In the summer of 1968, Chuck was 16 years old, I was 14, and Jeff was 8. The three of us were sitting in the living room watching television. Chuck went off in one of his wise-cracking spells. This time, instead of it being directed towards me, our younger brother, Jeff, was the one getting razzed. I laughed for two reasons:
1.) I wasn't the one getting picked on, for once, and
2.) He was outrageous!
The boys had a dart board in the bedroom they shared. Jeff went down the hall to their room. He came back holding some darts, and saying that one of us were going to get it. Standing at the edge of the hallway, next to the television, he had such a hateful, creepy look in his eyes. I was sitting in the chair closest to the television, next to the front picture window. Chuck was sitting on the couch back near the kitchen door.
Jeff's threat didn't even faze Chuck. It only made him carry on more with his crazy nonsense. At this point, what Chuck was doing wasn't funny. It was beyond funny, and I couldn't stop laughing!
In a split-second, the dart was thrown in my direction. I screamed and managed to scoot my body to the left of the chair in just enough time to dodge it. Chuck let out a gasp of shock. We were both shocked. Jeff stood there, very still. He was rather satisfied with what he'd just done ... a very powerful, sadistic little bastard. No fear. No apology.
Our mother ran from her bedroom at the other end of the hallway to where Jeff was standing. We were staring at the dart that was stuck in the wooden part of the lower right side of the chair, where my knee was resting, just a few seconds before. I studied Mom's face to see what her reaction would be to such a violent act, committed by her favorite child.
She started slapping and punching Jeff. The words that came out of her mouth were, "You put a hole in my new chair! We haven't even had this furniture for two weeks, and you had to ruin it!" Jeff was flinching and holding his hands up to his face to protect himself from her punches. He whimpered, "I didn't mean to hurt the chair!"
I looked over my right shoulder to Chuck, sitting on the couch with his mouth hanging open in disbelief. He said, "Hey! What about Kath?" It sounded like Chuck was laughing because what was going on seemed like one of his sick jokes. He wasn't laughing because he thought it was funny. It was a laugh of disgust. Hearing that strange sound validated what I was feeling, but I stayed quiet. I didn't know how to react.
I tried to pull the dart out of the wood, but it was stuck in the wood too deep to be pulled out easily. I gently wiggled it to loosen it enough to get it out of the chair. Mom said, "Stop doing that! Don't make the hole any worse than it already is!"
Chuck pointed out that the dart could have gone through my leg. He said, "If the dart went into the wood that deep, just think what would've happened to her!" I was the only person in the room listening to him, but I didn't respond.
Mom carefully removed the dart, and ran her finger over the hole to assess the damage of the wood. She said, "I'll put a little wood filler in the hole, and sand it. I can stain it to match the wood enough so that it wouldn't be so noticeable, I guess. But I shouldn't have to! My new things should stay new! You kids are old enough to know how to behave!"
My focus was on Chuck. His disgust made me realize that he cared about me. From then on, his jokes toward me didn't seem so cruel. I knew that whatever silly stuff he said or did whenever he joked around with me was just that -- silly jokes!
We never told our father about it when he came home from work that night. It was one of those things we never spoke of again ... until April 2002. Chuck and his wife, Cathy were staying in a hotel in Times Square on a business trip, and I went there to spend the day with them.
We were talking about things we had to live through when we were kids. One of us started out with, "I was just thinking about this the other day. Do you remember the time when ... and started telling Cathy the story of how Jeff threw a dart at me and how our mother slapped him for putting a hole in the chair. Yes, it was real. It was not just my imagination.