I was not a perfect teenager. I lied, I drank, I smoked, I had too many boyfriends and I was emotional. So emotional. Still am, only now my mum can claim a gardening emergency and hang up.
But compared to my brother? I was a saint.
Andrew was just plain bad. There's no way to sugarcoat that. He lied, drank, stole, smoked, raged, wrecked stuff - his, mine, my parents'. He took what he wanted with absolutely no guilt, no remorse, no thought whatsoever. He broke promises, windows, hockey sticks, the newly-erected rec room wall.
His was a rage-filled wake and as a family, we were often left bobbing in it, fighting to stay afloat.
As he grew taller and stronger and meaner, the battles between him and my parents grew meaner still. They tried grounding him, he ran away. Privileges? He had none. They tried therapy, doctors, specialists, pleaded with the schools to help....nothing did.
Through it all, they taught other people's children to read, to write, to laugh, to love learning. To thrive. But at home, all their natural compassion and goodness and empathy and smarts were for naught: their son was heading down a dark and dangerous path and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Well-meaning friends and family offered advice: "Nothing a few wallops won't cure," and "Give me a week with him, I'll straighten him out."
How this must have hurt them, weakened them, wore them down. Even a team of professional educators, gathered at my mother's insistence couldn't come up with anything except to spank him.
My parents refused, bearing the brunt of life with an angry, frustrated child with as much dignity as they could. I carried on, at times ignoring my brother's very existence in that snotty way of sisters. Sometimes, we would jab at one another, but that always ended in screaming and tears (me) and temper tantrums leading to property damage (Andrew).
We were a family on the edge.
Andrew turned 15. He towered over both of my parents. He was strong and he knew it. He was mean and he knew that, too. There was nothing gentle about this young warrior, not then. Not for a long, long time.
Two days before I was to return for my second year at university, things came to a head between defiant Andrew and my mum. I have no idea what set them off, but on that August morning, 1993 they argued and argued and then...he raised his fist.
My mother,barely five feet tall, stared him down until he stormed outside and then, on shaky legs, made her way to my father and the phone. She called the Children's Aid, explaining - again - that we needed help. He needed help. Could they help her?
Within an hour, a social worker arrived. By now, I was awake and uncharacteristically silent. I watched her move around the house half-bent over with grief and fear, watched my dad quietly pack a bag of Andrew's things while he sat, glaring at them both. To me, he said not a word.
He was gone - to a home somewhere - I wasn't to know where , the social worker said. No one was allowed to see or talk to him until some arrangements could be made for therapy sessions for all of us. A few days, probably. A week at most.
And then can he come home? This was me, asking. Begging, actually. Suddenly, I was not a young woman, set to return to another city to live out the next year. Instead, I was a small child, without her only sibling and I was scared to death - for him, for my parents, for me. For all of us.
We'll see, was the answer. We'll see.
I didn't see him again for four months. Six months after that, as a surprise for me, coming home for summer vacation, Andrew agreed to come home, too.
There were only two rules: no lying. No stealing.
Three days later, he stole two mountain bikes right out of someone's house, dragged them home and hid them in his tree fort. It didn't take the police long to find him- they just followed the tire tracks through the village to the bottom of my parents' driveway.
Heartbroken, I watched two police officers handcuff my baby brother and load him into the back of the car. He looked as defeated as I felt and all I could say was, "WHY?"
He didn't answer. Couldn't answer. No one could.
Almost a year passed before I saw him again.