As the oldest of six, one of my favorite pastimes growing up was tormenting my younger brothers and sisters. Obviously I can’t get away with any of this stuff as an adult. Not as much anyway. It’s one thing for a bunch of little kids to run around the house screaming and crying, but when I try pulling any of these stunts now, things can get heated, nothing ever ends well.
But I was just thinking about this one incident, I was maybe twelve or thirteen, there was nothing going on at home and so, bored out of my mind, I focused all of my attention toward my little sister Emily. For something like five years straight, she would watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on VHS, over and over again, to the point where one of the tapes actually had to be replaced due to excessive playback.
So I started teasing Emily. Over what? I have no idea. It was the kind of incessant poking and prodding that, regardless of how patient a little kid might try to be, I was more patient, I’d sit there all afternoon, repeating word for word the lines from the movie, but in a really annoying voice. Or even worse, I’d start reciting the dialogue thirty seconds or so before it played on TV. Like I said, this movie pretty much ran nonstop on our TV, so like it or not, I have the entire film committed to memory.
It didn’t take long. Emily started fighting back, “Stop it Robbie, sto-op it!” which was all I needed to let me know that it was working, that maybe things might escalate to the point where my mom would get so annoyed with all of our fighting that she’d turn the TV off completely, uninterested in hearing anybody’s arguments as to who started what.
But what happened next, I couldn’t have anticipated, a gift from the heavens bestowed upon me through the desperate whines of my sister. She blurted out, “Leave me alone!” Only, the way she said it, she must have misspoken somewhat, because it didn’t come out like, “Leave me alone,” it sounded as if she said, “Sleeve me alone!”
You might think that a minor mispronunciation isn’t really anything to laugh about, let alone something to use as the basis for a never ending series of taunts, but in my family, even the slightest slipup was considered fair game for a merciless assault.
So now I had an entirely new avenue of attack, and just in time too, because I would have eventually grown pretty bored of just repeating Beauty and the Beast. But now, sleeve me alone, this new material was enough to sustain me for a whole day, weeks even. I mean, I’m still talking about it, so it never really wore out, not like the tape on that busted VHS Beauty and the Beast. Seriously, how do you watch a movie that many times?
It wasn’t long before I recruited the rest of my brothers and sisters, a very are team-up, the setting aside of our individual differences to make life acutely miserable for just one. Thanks to our collaborate taunting, pretty soon Emily was reduced to tears, curled up in the fetal position on the living room floor, while the five of us marched around her in a circle, chanting in unison, “Sleeve me alone! Sleeve me alone!”
Like I said, it stayed fresh for a good while. It’s not even totally out of the question for a sleeve me alone chant to start up today, we’ll all be hanging out at our parents’ house, there will be a lull in whatever conversation we’re having, and someone might bring it up, totally unprompted, “Sleeve me alone!” and we’ll all start chanting.
Actually, I started this whole piece out flooded by the comforting nostalgia of childhood memories, but now that I’ve typed this whole thing out, now that I’ve read it back to myself, this is actually all pretty mean stuff. Jesus, what was wrong with me that I found such delight in making my younger sister so miserable? Why does that memory still make me feel kind of happy? Am I like a sociopath or something?