When my family was little, every Easter my grandparents would take the whole family out to dinner on Long Island. I’m the oldest of six, and growing up, going out to a restaurant with just my immediate family was pretty much a logistical impossibility. But each year it was everybody on my mom’s side, all of my aunts and uncles, all of the cousins, all of us sitting down to a ridiculously long table at the New Hyde Park Inn on Easter Sunday.
All of these annual dinners were more or less identical. It’s like, when you’re a little kid, everything feels mostly the same, you don’t feel yourself growing up, you don’t notice your brothers and sisters getting older each year. And having a holiday ritual that doesn’t change from year to year, it kind of reinforces that feeling, like you look back on all of those Easters and they all just kind of blend together into one generic Sunday memory.
But one year in particular stands out. Even though by the ninth grade I was pretty far removed from all of that Easter Bunny nonsense, my littlest sister is ten years younger than me, so I kind of had the extra several years where I had to wake up in the morning and act surprised at all of our baskets of candy.
After a traditional breakfast of Cadbury eggs and marshmallow peeps, the festive atmosphere quickly descended into chaos as my mom desperately tried to get us out the door on time for church. My grandparents’ dinner reservations were right after mass, but nobody was dressed and ready to go, so the plan was to swing by the house on the way to dinner so everybody could finish putting on their nice Easter clothes.
The car rides to and from our house were never very far away, but whenever the six of us had to pile into a single minivan, there was always enough time for everybody to get a little crazy. Depending on current alliances, my brother Brian and I might be teasing our little brother Joe, or Kevin might try to torment Joseph and Jessie. Warnings of “knock it off!” from my parents would go mostly ignored. With no way to enforce any sort of behavior behind the wheel, car trips were a free for all of yelling and laughing.
But this one year, for whatever reason, my sister Emily fell into the crosshairs of my oldest-brother mean-spirited wrath. I was actually trying to tease my younger brother Kevin, he was wearing shorts to church, and I wanted to get him crazy by commenting on how he didn’t have any hair on his legs, to make him feel like a little kid.
“Even Emily has more hair on her legs than you!” I pointed and made a face. I started my over-the-top jerk laugh and waited for Kevin to start wailing in protest, but instead Emily got really quiet and cried.
It was probably one of the first times that I actually felt bad about something that I had said. Of course the intent was to make someone else miserable, but not like this. This was beyond the normal crazy inter-sibling rivalries. My teenaged mind wasn’t really capable of processing what was appropriate and not appropriate to say in regards to your little sister, but it was obvious that I had crossed a line, and I wanted to fix it, immediately.
Usually our verbal sticks-and-stones were fairly easily remedied by a joke or an “I’m sorry” or an especially strong yelling from mom and dad, but Emily was clearly hurt here, to the point where I remember my dad giving me this look from the front seat, like, what the hell man? What did you say?
Emily wouldn’t talk to me during church, and she wouldn’t entertain my apologies on the ride home. But I had a brilliant idea. As soon as we got home, I’d help her out. “Emily,” I told her, “I can fix this. Look. I have a Mach 3 razor. Just wet your legs and shave.” And it worked. She wasn’t mad at me anymore. She took the razor and I went downstairs to see if I could get in a game of Mario Kart before my parents started corralling us back into the minivan.
Not even five minutes later, I heard a scream from upstairs. Thirty seconds after that, my mom yelled out, “Robbie! What the hell is wrong with you?” I guess my sister didn’t yet understand the whole razor thing. I don’t know. I mean, yes, looking back now I realize how stupid I was. But at the time, I really didn’t think anything would go wrong.
Not like it did. Not like the three inch gash on my sister’s shin, the one that bled all over her pastel-colored Easter dress, ten minutes before we were supposed to be sitting down at that long table with my grandparents and all of my aunts and uncles and cousins, all of us there for that Easter Sunday dinner at the New Hyde Park Inn.
I still feel bad about that one. She was fine. Like, it didn’t need stiches or anything. But yeah, it was a mess, and we were definitely late. Emily was probably a little traumatized. And my parents were pissed. Like pissed, pissed. And I totally deserved it. I couldn’t have just made anybody’s life a little easier. No, I was always finding some way to be a giant pain in the ass.