The power shift was palpable that day in 1983 when my Mom and Stepdad rolled up in the family Oldsmobile, fresh from the maternity ward, my mom clutching a tiny blue package to her bosom. For nine years I had been sitting pretty as the youngest and therefor most important member of the clan, the one demanding the most love and attention, the axis around which the entire universe spun, and I was well aware that my throne was being usurped by this tiny new creature that had been brought into being by the unholy union of my parents’ naughty parts being mashed together. My world was changing all around me, and I had no idea how to cope with it. Everyone’s focus for the past several months had been on my mother, and that beach-ball belly of hers. An entire room of our house had been transformed into a bright, sweet-smelling lair for this thing my mom was now carrying in her arms. She looked so impossibly happy as she entered the house, no doubt thankful that this creature was no longer insider her, kicking and punching her body from within like some horrible parasite she’d swallowed in the Amazon that grew to impossible proportions in her belly. I was the first in the room of relatives she approached with the package, smiling, perhaps sensing my displeasure as she kissed me on the cheek.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the little alien body bundled in blue cotton she carefully lowered into my tiny, third-grader arms. “Meet your new brother,” my mother whispered, retreating a few steps to snuggle with my step-father. I shot a helpless look at the room full of relatives who stood around me staring at this mysterious pile that was now in my lap, my sister Claire dancing around the room shrieking “I’m next! I’m next!,” certain I was going to drop the little purple, puffy-eyed creature that looked more like a goblin burrito in his blanket than an actual human being. Were babies supposed to look like this? Something was definitely wrong – I was sure these people were screwing with me. I was certain at any moment my folks were going to shout “Joke’s on you, Drew! That’s a pickled monkey-baby we found in a jar in the basement. Here’s your real brother…” But, no. This was the genuine article, with blotchy skin, bulbous, Muppety eyes, and a shriveled clipped navel that looked like a zombie finger was protruding from his stomach, thwarted in mid-escape from its babybelly tomb. This little thing was my half-brother, they told me. Half-brother, half-what?
This baby was born with a mohawk, which definitely wasn’t normal. It was completely bald, save for a thick shock of red hair that ran across the top of his head. It was if some twisted scientist was cloning an army of Mr. Ts and this one had been plucked from the ooze far too early. The kid was translucent, ginger-haired, and most definitely undercooked.
I’d been waiting for days to meet the little critter in person, as my sister and I were forced to stay at home during his gooey debut. Both of us considered this a seriously raw deal – our mom and stepdad had been coaching us for months on how babies were made, in giggly pajama sessions reading from the giant pages of “Where Did I Come From?” on our mother’s bed, which had become the new bedtime story of choice. It was the brilliant tale of a happy, overweight couple who laid in bed together until the man squirted smiling white cartoon pollywogs from his penis into the woman’s vagina. Over several pages the woman’s stomach got bigger and bigger as the man paced about, until a doctor pulled a baby out of the lady’s snootch like a magician’s rabbit. “And that’s how Mommy had the two of you,” the story always ended.
The rules of the book did not apply, however, to Baby Number Three. He’d popped out of our Mom like toast. The doctor, we were told, had to drug our Mom up and cut her stomach open with a knife to pull the little guy out, leaving a long pink scar right below her navel. I was appalled. His first day of womb-freedom and the kid had already scarred my mom for life. All of the scars I’d given her up to that point had been purely psychological – because I was a gentleman, you see. The caesarian delivery just sounded too horrifying for my nine-year-old brain to picture – my mother’s stomach rising beneath the blanket, my new brother a howling demon bursting through her skin covered in goo, as doctors lunged for their knives and scalpels – nurses screeching “For God’s sake, squish it before it eats your face!”
Thankfully, none of them did. It took a few minutes of staring into this little monster’s eyes before my first warm, big-brothery feelings began to melt over me. I managed a laugh and looked up at my Mom as though she’d just handed me the present I’d always wanted. Somehow I knew I had the key to a lot of mischief in this tiny new person. He was a breathing lump of matter I could mold into anything I wanted. I could make him my accomplice in all things wicked. My own little underling. My evil minion.
We called it Matthew.