The third time I ran away from home it was because my brother's face was a bloody mess, and I'd caused it to be that way.
Some quick stats: my brother is 4 years older than me, and at the time about 100 lbs heavier than me. He also had a serious mean streak. He would use this age and weight difference to inflict all sorts of pain and humiliation upon me, as older brothers are licensed to do by the very nature of being an older brother. I have come to believe that Older Brothers are all part of an Ancient Secret Society that gather in hidden and darkened alcoves to share both new and archaic forms of torture devised expressly for application on Those Born Last. Years later I deduced that in actuality my brother was a classic self loather, taking all his pain and rage and projecting it onto something he could control: Me, his sweet, innocent, angelic little brother. Or maybe he's just jealous because I got all the looks AND the brains.
One day in 1980 he demanded I help him string an entire box of elastic bands together end to end. To what end or for what purpose I never found out, nor did I ask, I just did as I was instructed for fear an inquiry would result in a pillow being forcibly held over my face or, even less favorable, a wedgie. Once the last elastic was tied in the chain he ordered me to hold one end and not move. He then proceeded to walk backward holding the other end, stretching the elastic chain the full length of our basement until it was so taut it could stretch no further.
I squeezed my eyes shut and braced myself, sure I knew what was going to happen next, just wanting to get it over with. After a minute and I had not yet felt the expected sting of the elastic I was positive he was going to release, I slowly opened one of my eyes, only to find my brother fastening his end of the chain to the wire of his braces. "Look ma, no hands" he mouthed around the rubber construction, holding his hands out in mock supplication.
Confused, I blinked and stared down the expanse of the 20 foot long room at his pear shaped and adipose infested body, and 9 years of Indian Rug Burns and Charlie Horses welled up inside me. I looked to my left and snatched up an old metal click pen that was innocently lying on top of the fire-red-shag-carpeted wet bar, and slid it's pocket clip into the final loop of the elastic rope I was still tightly holding. I paused for a moment, watching, relishing, as the realization of what was about to happen dawned on my brother, and I smiled...and released the slender missile. All he managed was a squeaked nearly inaudible "no" before the pen made contact with his round face.
His upper lip exploded...no, erupted, like Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii. Blood splashed on the stucco ceiling, covered his face, and gushed from his ruptured lip soaking his favourite North Carolina Tar Heels tee. I saw all of this in an instant, because I was in motion at the same moment the pen was hurdling towards him. I ran past him, up the stairs, and out the back door before he hit the floor. Once outside I hopped the back fence and kept running until the feeling in my pale skinny chicken-legs graduated from rubber to Jell-o. In between gasps as I ran through the cramps and the bastard of a stitch in my side I was smiling. Davey had slain Goliath. And then reality ripped me away from my biblically inspired fantasy. David didn't have to live with Goliath's short-tempered father.
This was bad, real bad. If I went back, surely my brother would pummel me into oblivion. If I didn't he may bleed to death. I was in a pickle. I viewed running away the most prudent choice, imminently better than facing the umbrage of my father if I had killed his first born, or the combined wrath of my brother AND my father if I had only wounded.
I paid an unexpected social call to my buddy Paul and invited myself to dinner. His parents fell for my Eddie Haskell routine and graciously agreed...conditionally. First I had to obtain permission from MY parents. Goddamn them and their kindness, responsibleness, and overall sense of community! After faking a suspiciously loud, dramatic, and overlong call to my parents (which in actuality was my very confused 90 year old neighbor Mrs C), we sat down to a hearty meal of mashed potatoes smothered in pork AND beans. Hot damn things were looking up! After washing down this carb laden delicacy with a tall glass of Red Kool Aid (only pennies a glass!), I invited myself to sleep over, but it being a school night this was out of the question, the proverbial wrench in my gameplan of throwing myself at the mercy and kindness of Paul's parents and making a case for never returning home in exchange for a 10 year contract of unconditional servitude under their roof.
The lights were on on the suburban streets and I had run out of options. I headed home, slowly, deciding to plead ignorance, but knowing full well that that particular dog ain't gonna hunt. I formulated a dozen explanations and excuses, none of them good, but when I got home the house was empty. A hastily scribbled message in my mother's immaculate handwriting on an "I Hate Mondays" Garfield notepad revealed that my parents were at the hospital having my brother sewn up like a patchwork Frankenstein's monster. Small mercies.
An even more hastily added PS in my father's brutish near indecipherable chicken-scratch directed me "Don't even think about going anywhere". I tore off another piece of paper from the notepad depicting the fat orange feline stuck dangling and suspended between the arm of a chair and a table upon which rested a steaming turkey, a paw on each, and hurriedly began to transcribe my Last Will and Testament.
When my parents returned home from the hospital an hour later with my sullen brother in tow sporting four jet black stitches on and in his grossly swollen upper lip, I tried to feign slumber, a classic defense for those aged 4 to 11. Needless to say my beauty rest was not on my father's agenda at that particular juncture and I did indeed face the ire and faux leather belt of my father that night. I was also subject to the misdirected and now elevated animosity of my permanently scarred brother for the next 5 consecutive years.
To this day my brother can actually whistle with his mouth closed. So he's got that going for him.