“Put the red dress on her and I’ll put the purple on mine,” I demanded bossily.
“No! My playmate protested, Mine is wearing the green one.”
“No, red,” I argued.
“Green,” she snapped back.
I grabbed for her doll, “She’s wearing red!” She pulled it back. “No she’s not.”
Determined, she wouldn’t agree with me, I punched her hard in her stomach. She started to cry. Dennis bounced up like Spalding on a basketball and within a second he had hold of my arm, and commenced to spanking my but. His expression stern, his eyes intense, “You don’t do that, Vickie.” My playmate and I were both crying now.
This was the first day we moved in with the Farrington’s, who became our legal guardians over the next seven years while our mother was ill. Our brother’s Marcus and Ralph had both been dropped off earlier that day with the Wallace family. It had been decided by the adults that Dennis and I should be placed together him being nine years older than me that way he could protect me if it became necessary. This was the second foster home we’d lived in, the first time I was eighteen months of age, and at that time all of us had been placed together in one home, with the Mosely’s.
Dennis was fifteen, and from the height I stood he was a man. At six foot, two he commanded attention his posture erect but his long muscular legs, made him appear taller, athletic, he was quick on his feet. Outwardly, he appeared confident and self-assured he walked with his chest out, shoulders back, and his head held high, later he told me that he was shy. Over the past year, he had grown serious and contemplative. Before we left the Moseley’s he had converted from our parents casual baptist faith and become a devout catholic, crossing his heart upon passing any church. Lately, his handsome face seemed to always look as if he were trying to solve some complex equation.
That was the first of many lessons I would learn from my eldest brother whom I adored, although that particular one would take more time, because at five I thought, “my will be done.” It took me awhile to learn that I couldn’t have my way, or impose my will on another. It was Dennis who just the year before had taught my brothers a work ethic hustling peanuts and throwing papers. I emulated my three brothers each older than me, each different in their way. It was from my brother Marcus that I’d learned that assertive aggression in the first place, and I immitated Ralph’s oxymoron of “innocent mischeif,” and hadn’t Dennis taught me the Lord’s Prayer by heart upon our knees each night before bed!
The hierarchy of our family unit had changed since our parents separation and Dennis had taken on the responsibility of being the man of the house then when Mother became ill again Dennis was catapulted prematurely into manhood. I relish yet the years we were all together as a family, they taught me the value of sharing, and cohesion. My brothers were my heart.
Dennis’s countenance would sometimes wax sad, and I would gaze up into his eyes trying to penetrate the source, but he would catch me glaring, smile muss my hair, and call me, “Vickem’s” his name for me. I was never able to penetrate the source of his sadness, but to see him smile was infectious. He had a great sense of humour and loved a good laugh. There always seemed to be two of him, like synchronous swimmers, of the same mind. He could be talking in a serious conversation with an adult, looking them squarely in the face as stoic as a board but let them turn away for a fraction of a second, and he’d look over at me, make a face, chuckle, and send me into peals of laughter then turn back and resume his coversation as stoic as before. It was as if he were two ambiguous people living life in symmetry with each other.
He was very attractive and so popular as a teen that I could hardly believe he was shy. Everytime the phone rang it was for him. He participated in track and field had many female admirers and sweethearts. He would spend and hour primping in front of the mirror either combing his afro or smoothing out his Superfly hairstyle, in the days of zoot suits and platform shoes. He loved muscle cars that he called his junks. One of his first cars an orange Volkswagen he always kept shiny with his name displayed proudly in calligraphic lettering on the door. Man! Did he drive fast! I loved it! We would take these California freeways up and down like a rollercoaster what a thrill for a young heart.
I remember the day that I figured it all out. I thought I was so clever as I pieced together a puzzle begun years before I was born. I ran to Dennis to share expecting encouragement from him in my six year old psyche.
“Dennis,” I said, catching my breath, “I figured it out, you are my step brother huh? Because you have a different father than we do?”
Dennis looked me directly in my eyes . His expression had changed from expectant to sad, his eyes misted over and his face the color of finished oak turned red.
“No, I am your brother,” He said. “I’m not your step anything , do you understand? ” My heart melted and spilled into the pit of my stomach to see him wax so sad, and at once I did understand.
Hilliard Dennis Roebuck was born prior to his parents marriage on June 1, 1953 he met his biological father James Roebuck for the first time of his cognizant memory in 1982 when Dennis visited Washington D.C. as an adult with one child at the time of his own. He never seen him again. On July, 24 2010 my brother died a month after his 57th birthday. I regret that I thought I’d have another chance to show my appreciation, I told him before he died that I loved him, but neglected to show him just how much and now I don’t think I’ll ever solve the mystery that was my brother.