All told, I was lucky. I could have been doubled up with one of my slob teenage sisters, but instead I slept in the bottom bunk under my brother, Russ. At 14, he was nine years older than me and the acknowledged master of all things worth knowing. All these decades later, in fact, he still claims to hold this title.
(An aside to prospective parents: a nine year gap between brothers is insanely cruel to the younger party. By the time I was big enough to fight back, he was a practicing dentist.)
I don't remember much about those years. I remember crying one time because my nose was stuffed and I couldn't breathe, and I remember Russ yelling at me to stop. I explained. He replied that it was, in fact, possible for me to breathe through my effing mouth. A life-changing revelation.
Mostly, I remember the occasional visits from Mr. Good Hand and Mr. Bad Hand.
Sometimes, a hand would appear. Hanging from the bunk above, it would watch me. Sometimes it beckoned me. If it was the entity I came to think of as Mr. Good Hand, he would perform intricate hand-shakes with me, give me five, thumb-wrestle, even give me candy. But if it was Mr. Bad Hand, run for cover. Mr. Bad Hand would give me searing Indian burns, peel my thumb back until I screamed, crack all of my knuckles at once, fling me out of bed, or worst of all, yank me airborne and wedge my tiny body in the two-inch gap between the top bunk and the wall. Sometimes I even had to wake up my brother and have him unwedge me.
The genius of Mr. Good Hand, Mr. Bad Hand was that they were utterly indistinguishable. I tried to recognize them, but there was no apparent pattern to which side of the bed they would appear on. Even the placement of the thumb seemed to change. Most insidious of all, Mr. Bad Hand sometimes pretended to be his kindly twin, only to later announce himself in a horrible and painful reveal. Beware bad hands bearing candy.
Why touch the hand at all, you ask? Why didn't I learn that my participation was central to my own torment? Because I had to know. I simply had to know which hand was watching over me. No amount of bunk wedges could dissuade this lethal curiosity.
It was good practice, as it turns out, for dating.