Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Child's Shame

When I was walking down the path from school one day in the fifth grade with my brothers and sisters my mom met us as we crossed the creek into the field. She had my little nephew by the hand and her eyes were filled with tears. "Jim's dead" she told us simply. Jim was my brother-in-law, and father to the two year old child whose hand she held. After the initial shock I felt a weight of guilt fall on me, because I knew I was the one responsible for his death.

A couple of years previously (not sure exactly because events from that early get jumbled in my mind) my younger sister and I had been staying the night with my older sister and her husband, Jim. We didn't get to stay away from home often at that age so it was exciting for us and we ran and did all the things kids do at that age. At one point my younger sister got on the couch and started jumping up and down. I was laughing at her until Jim pulled her off and spanked her. I was angry at him because we were rarely spanked at home. The threat from our dad was enough to keep us in line, and for him to spank her really outraged me and I left their house and made a wish that he would die.... my six or seven year old mind quick to call up the most severe punishment for some reason. A couple years later I would get my wish.

I found out a lot about my brother-in-law after he died. I guess it took such a tragedy to jar my young brain into thinking about something other than playing because I had never really known him before, except that he was short, gruff, and for some reason my sister and my parents liked him a lot, as did my next older brother. What I found was that he had almost an impish sense of humor and a lot of what I took to be gruffness was his way of joking around. He had gotten expelled from school one time and during his expulsion rode with a truck driver. From then on he knew that's what he wanted to do, so he worked as a trucker from then on, owning his own truck, which he named after my sister, before he died. He and my sister bought a house just down the road from where he worked, and he taught his son how to signal for a trucker to blow his horn, and every time he went past his son would be outside and he'd honk at him.
All these things that I found out made me feel even more guilty because he wasn't really a monster, he was someone that everyone who knew him liked him. And I had wished him dead.

Even at that age I knew it wasn't really my fault that he died. The steep grade of that Maryland highway and possibly defective brakes had ended his life, but the shame of those thoughts followed me for many years after. Maybe it was a life lesson for me, because I have never since wished death to anyone. That feeling of guilt is not something I want to revisit.


Blogger Michelle's Spell said...


I know what you mean -- sometimes people seem one way and then you really get to know and like them. I think every child wishes someone dead at some point and probably feels horrible guilt. I'm with you now about not wishing anyone anything except far away from me when they seem really awful.

6:41 PM  

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