By: Revanche

My sibling, my nightmare

October 18, 2017

Looking back at life decisions and my sibling Othalafehu’s old post about a problematic sibling surfaced on my radar recently, reminding me of a memory that struck me a few weeks ago.

I think I was 18 at the time this happened. I had been working at my post-high school job for over a year and had become one of the most reliable staff. The power of youth, by the way, is one of the few reasons I could power through my chronic pain. It’s heady stuff!

The office manager sat me down one day, asking me to weigh in on an application. This being totally out of the norm, I was puzzled. Then I was horrified. She revealed that it was my brother who had applied, and would I have a problem working with my sibling?


He was a difficult human. Older but aimless, he’d never held down a job for longer than a couple of months, None of them were glamorous enough for His Nibs, he of the mighty dreams of glory. He wanted to be the overnight success, the billionaire entrepreneur. Some of this delusion was his own making, some of it was inherited from Dad’s entrepreneurial streak. He definitely inherited the family streak of charm, that manipulative skill which let him talk his way in and right back out of trouble. That mix was toxic and part of why he got himself in deep with an MLM and took my parents in with him.

His ego was almost all there was to him. He had incredible artistic talents but they were wasted because he had zero work ethic and was a nightmare to work with. Even as a younger sibling asking for his help with homework, he would never help me in a way that was truly helpful. He always insisted on doing it entirely his way, insisting he knew best even though he’d never listened to a word of the requirements, wasting time and making more work for me every time I had the misfortune of needing his help.

Can you imagine having to work alongside someone like that? Our dynamic was worse because, as my older sibling, he naturally thought he was superior to me.

Back to the job – I had run my butt off proving myself, taking care of animals, clients, paperwork. I worked overtime every week to cover shifts, to make sure the job was done right, and to earn the money I needed to pay off our parents’ debts.

Without telling me that he was thinking of it – we lived in the same house! – he applied to my place of employment. My gag reflex almost got the better of me at the horrific suggestion that he might be brought in on an interview, on the strength of his relationship to me.

Almost dizzy with the horror of the embarrassment to come, of being painted with the same brush once his carelessness caused harm to someone once he lied one lie too many, I almost whispered that I didn’t think it would be a good idea, and to my distinct relief, the office manager closed the discussion without asking more questions.


Looking back many years later, I am the only person he even pretends to listen to. That’s not saying much. More accurately, he holds a moderate amount of fear/respect for me that he doesn’t hold for anyone else because I have always been hard on him, expected more from him, insisted that he toe the line, and never fell for his blandishments. He could manipulate anyone but me. My second-guessing brain wonders: Could I have forced him to learn to extend that respect to the workplace? Could I have set an example for him that would have changed the course of his life?

I think we all have those defining moments in our lives where one decision sent us down an entirely different path. A better path. Did I take that away from him?

I’ve done a lot of time soul-searching, wondering. It’s possible that that was the opportunity he needed. It’s barely possible I could have exerted some influence. But at what cost? Probably too high a cost.

That job provided 5 years of income – it paid for my entire college education and a huge portion of Mom and Dad’s debt. A lot happened in those five years as a result of that job. I worked and went to school full time, graduated with a four year degree without debt, made enormous inroads into our parents’ debt. It wasn’t a glamorous job, it was retail level stuff. I never made more than $10/hour there and that’s after 5 years of more than full time work. But because of that flexibility and the seniority I earned from busting my butt, they worked with my schedule so I was able to go to school.

If he had been hired and I couldn’t push him to be a better person then, going by the pattern of his sparse work history, his spiral into grandiosity might have taken the form of ghosting the job, or flubbing serious judgment calls causing harm to a person or their pet, or lying about any number of problems that his ego would have caused. Finally, if we’re being really sensible, his almost-respect was developed over many difficult and contentious years – he wouldn’t have listened to me back then.

I would have been tainted by association, so the next domino to go would have been my own reputation, called into question as the person “recommending” (or not vetoing) his hire. I would have had to find a job elsewhere, but no job in town had that same kind of flexibility and capacity for overtime hours so my schooling would have been delayed. Maybe for a year, maybe for ten, because the debt I uncovered was never going to be paid off with a $10/hour job.

If that’s how that played out, we both would have been burned by his hire and disgrace.

We recently made a $1000 mistake giving an amateur a chance to do some garage work for us but the guy was sloppy and didn’t know a quarter of what he needed to do the job. We stopped him mid-job when PiC had put in as much work as Amateur had, without getting close to a satisfactory result. It was a situation that called for micromanaging to the worst degree because nothing the guy did was close to good enough. At the very best, working with my sibling would have been like that.

Once upon a time, I felt responsible to be his keeper in some ways. I don’t feel the full weight of that responsibility anymore, but that he has never yet found a turning point is not just a tragedy of his life, it’s had enormous impact on my life as well.

My veto on his hire at our place didn’t blackball him in town. He could have worked hard at any equivalent retail job anywhere else in that town before or after that application didn’t pan out. But he didn’t.

I have some regrets about decisions I made in the past, both for taking chances, and not, and loads of relief in hindsight about choices made. I’m not sure which column this falls under, I just wish things had gone a different way.

:: Do you remember making a decision that would change your life? Did someone ever take a chance on you? How did that work out?

Edit: On a less depressing note, I also have a guest post over at Chief Mom Officer’s on being a breadwinner. Timely.

23 Responses to “My sibling, my nightmare”

  1. Sense says:

    Wow! I am so relieved you didn’t recommend him to join your obviously quite pivotal workplace.

    I’m positive that you’ve done everything you could for him and to remain loving while (after many hard lessons) making sure that you and yours are protected. I highly doubt that a retail-level job would have turned his life and entire personality around…it would have just been one more thing he obtained easily or was fixed because of your hard work.

    p.s. Though you clearly carry a little bit of guilt and/or regret in association with this memory, I’m so glad this isn’t a NEW story, but an old one!

    • Revanche says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence. I know I was quite flawed in those early years trying to do everything so occasionally introspection makes me wonder if I really did the best thing.

  2. By the sound of it, I don’t think it would have made any difference and I’m glad you chose to deal with your own money self-preservation in a moment you really needed it. Put your mask on first and all that.

  3. Listen to the part of your brain telling you it wouldn’t have helped him and it would have hurt you. It’s correct. You made the right decision, which is pretty impressive given that you were only 18 and too young to have been blamed for making the wrong decision had you made it instead.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted…Random comment on a small-penis-man #notallsmallpenismen from like 6 years agoMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Thanks – I’ve always felt old so I don’t often give myself the benefit of the doubt on having the life experience to make good choices.

  4. You were honest and should feel no guilt being so. If he had not been family, there’s NO WAY you would have recommended him. People will make their mistakes and your brother can choose whether or not to listen to your reason, but that doesn’t make your arguments or feelings less valid.

    • Revanche says:

      That’s very true. If he was just a friend, well, he wouldn’t have even been that! So I most definitely wouldn’t have recommended him as a non family member.

  5. OthalaFehu says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. If you don’t mind I will link it to my sister-n-law story.

    Also, I always thought it was ‘tow the line’ but you are totally right and i learned something new today.

  6. {hyperventilate} This post actually triggered a real-life stress attack on my end.

    Listen to yourself. Even today you write, “It’s barely possible I could have exerted some influence.”

    No. No it’s not. It’s not barely possible; it’s not remotely possible; it’s not possible at all. You couldn’t have taken responsibility for the guy then any more than the older & wiser you can take responsibility for him today.

    Luckily, at 18 you had more common sense than most of us had at that age. Thank god you managed to choke out a mild demurral to this bat-brained idea.

    “He definitely inherited the family streak of charm, that manipulative skill which let him talk his way in and right back out of trouble.” That describes a classic sociopath. And also:

    This is not your fault. It’s not your parents’ fault. The guy was probably born this way. No amount of tough love or anything else would change what he is.

    Do not blame yourself for any aspect of the man’s life. Do not imagine you could have changed him. Stop agonizing, if you can bring yourself to do that. You didn’t do this, and you could not then and can not now do anything about it.

  7. “I have some regrets about decisions I made in the past.” Fair enough, but this should NOT be one of them. Your brother needed more of this kind of reality check in his younger years. That might have provided a turning point for him – not another opportunity to charm, manipulate, lie, and to undermine his sister in the process. You made the right choice at 18. And if you could only do it in a whisper, so be it. Today, I hope you would speak it loudly and clearly – to him as well as to your employer.
    Prudence Debtfree recently posted…September 2017: PF Mistakes & The Battle vs. Shame/JudgmentMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      To him, thankfully I never had an issue speaking loud and clear, but I wasn’t enough of a check on him, clearly 🙁

  8. That’s a tough call, but you made the right decision. He could get a similar job elsewhere. There was no need for you to vouch for him. Hopefully, he’s doing better in life now.

  9. […] A Gai Shan Life – My Sibling, My Nightmare […]

  10. Quest says:

    You did the best you could at the time with the information you had! We can always second guess ourselves but honestly I think you did the right thing regarding your sibling. You based your decision on your sibling’s lack of work ethic and dishonest, manipulative character. There is no knowing whether or not he would’ve suddenly changed and become a different person but in my lengthy experience, ‘a leopard doesn’t change its spots’.

    I had the same situation here with 2 of my kids. Cat, the pot smoker, and Ria the cancer research scientist. Cat wanted Ria to provide a work reference some time ago so that she could get a job at the same place and Ria told me that she was going to refuse to help Cat. I started to get angry but, after listening to Ria’s point of view, I understood that I needed to butt out and let Ria make the decision. To this day, Ria knows that she did the right thing to save her reputation. Cat would’ve destroyed it without a doubt and Ria works way to hard to let that happen.

    Don’t be hard on yourself. Your brother is a grown man. Let him live his life and you live yours with your own family. We all make choices and then we have to live with them and your bro is no different.

    • Revanche says:

      Thanks for sharing – we have a lot of similar experiences and it helps to talk it out with people who know what I’m talking about. I spend most of my time trying to help people and sometimes choosing not to intervene on their behalf is the right thing to do.

  11. Suzie says:

    I have been clean and sober over 30 years. In the early years of my being in recovery I learned (and it has held true all these years) I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it. It strikes me as a bit of ego on your part to think that you could have “cured” your brother. (Sorry, bit harsh on my part but still true.) We ALL have choices in life, it is best in the long run if we learn to accept the consequences of our OWN choices. You can try to help someone but ultimately it comes down to the choices they make for themselves. I think you ultimately made the right choice back then for both him and you.

    • Revanche says:

      I don’t think it’s harsh – I couldn’t have gotten as far as I have in the wreckage of that life without a bit of ego or confidence that I had the power to change things. I just had too much naivete in thinking (or just hoping) that I could help someone who wasn’t ready to admit they had a problem.

  12. […] over at A Gai Shan Life shared her relative problem in ‘My sibling, my nightmare‘, go check it […]

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