Essay of the Week: My Sister, Too

By Benjamin Flanagan

The 13-year-old me didn’t understand rape. When I blocked a shot on the basketball court, my buddies would joke, “You just raped him.” Today I wonder how my buddies could have ever thought it was possible for a girl to enjoy being raped or something she used to gain attention–thanks, in part, to an episode of Glee.

Glee possessed something for everyone in my family–entertaining story lines for Mom, cute girls for me, and music for Susan, my younger sister. The show was no longer family fun after an episode when a cheerleader, Santana, shared the story of her rape. During the first commercial, Susan announced that she had been raped repeatedly by one of our babysitters’ teenage sons.

My mom started crying and holding my sister. I didn’t understand why she cried so much. It’s over, we can call the police and he can be put in jail. Mom acted like someone died. Susan’s not even crying so obviously it’s not a big deal, right? Did it even happen? I asked myself these questions as I got up, hugged my mom, and went to bed. Maybe my sister just wanted attention. Maybe it didn’t happen. Could it be that bad even if it did? I am ashamed of my ignorance at that time.

Mom, a single mother who worked crazy hours, often left us with a babysitter. Our big reward for being the first to finish homework was permission to watch television. Whenever Susan won and the babysitter wasn’t looking, I would snatch the remote from Susan’s hand. She would come at me full force: hitting, kicking, and biting. I was always bigger and stronger, which is why I enjoyed those fights–considered them harmless and playful.

I now became Susan’s protector. She became self destructive and my new responsibility was coming home early to hide all the knives. A year later, I lived on my own because Susan was in the psych ward and Mom moved to a hotel next door to a hospital in Westchester. Gone was conventional big brother fighting with his sister over who walks the dog. The household needed me to really grow up.

My new role influenced me on the basketball court–and off. Half time in the locker room of my first game on varsity: Nick and Osay–the two highest scorers– resemble two heavyweight boxers at weigh-in, trying to intimidate each other. We’re losing big time. Nick(6 ‘5) was red with frustration. He shoves Osay (6’3). Just as Osay was going to retaliate with a right hook, I jumped in between them. Me–the youngest and skinniest on the team– in between my heroes. I emerged from that locker room as a leader of the team and, to think, it all began with an episode of Glee.

I now watched my sister re-live the pain over and over through days of questioning by the DA. I wanted the rapist to go to jail to provide closure for my sister and family. After my sister’s rapist confessed, he never saw a day of jail– he pleaded insanity. Mom acted like she expected this to happen. Why? If you admit to a crime, shouldn’t you go to jail? I was crushed.

As a young man of color, I was prone to worrying about avoiding conflict with police officers and gang members–not rapists. Now as the brother of a rape victim, I see the impact of the brutal crime on a family and an individual. Emotions often drained my family, making normal family dinner impossible. I was the lone man of the household–never being able to understand the thoughts going through my sister’s head but trying to be there anyway. I could never ask for guidance on how to deal with the situation –I simply learned on the fly. The 13-year-old me would not have been the guy–the steady calm amongst the chaos.

Benjamin Flanagan, a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, is a freshman at University at Albany, SUNY.

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