Schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortune of another, or, just maybe, from the fortune he never wanted
Although he was my mortal enemy and chief bully during my formative years, my brother Steve and I reached a détente when I reached my 30s, and he saw me for the first time less as a four-eyed, fat and ugly, lazy loser and more as a hard-working, loving mother of two. By the time we’d helped our second parent die of cancer, we saw each other with something approaching respect, two good-at-heart people trying our best to make it through this perplexing world.
Growing up, Steve was a proud misogynist, calling women “Ws” for “wenches,” as in this I-swear-it’s-true command to an old girlfriend: “W, get me a beer,” in front of our family while watching football.
To my never-ending horror, she got up and got him a beer.
I still cannot hear Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” without hearing it as Steve’s frequent serenade: “You … are … so … ug … a … ly … to me. Can’t you see?” The song came out in 1974, which means it’s been playing this way in my head for over 40 years, interpreted here by a guy I paid five bucks on Fiverr to sing it:
Everyone admits Steve’s a funny guy. Living in the same small town, I would occasionally hear first- and second-hand stories of the hilarious stand-up monologues he gave to packed barrooms about how pathetic I was.
I worked as a cashier at Caldor, and one time as I stapled a customer’s receipt to his bag, he read my name tag and said, “You don’t seem that bad.” He’d heard Steve’s monologue the night before at the bar at Chuck’s Steak House.
Why Steve was obsessed with hating me I never quite understood, but I went toe-to-toe with him in profanity-laden screaming matches, his spittle flying toward me as his face reddened. When a certain vein would pop out on the right side of his forehead, I knew it was time to back off. A big bull of a man, he never struck me, but the worry of that was always lurking. I was more careful when I was home alone with him and comforted that I knew “9-1-1.”
During our bouts, I constructed lawyerly arguments against him, and I shared the psychological theories I was learning in college, like the view that his homophobia probably stemmed from latent homosexual tendencies. That vein made a quick appearance, but the phone was nearby, and I rehearsed in my head: “9-1-1, 9-1-1, 9-1-1.”
Even when not spouting off against women, homosexuals, or one of our family members, Steve was difficult to get along with. He wouldn’t cooperate for something as simple as posing for a family photo. He also scorned marriage along with any of his buddies who fell victim to it.
That makes the latest twist in our relationship the funniest of all.
Steve met a single mom in the Philippines and married her. She Facebook friended me, and I now see regular updates in my news feed from half a world away of my big brother Steve posing at an underground river, posing in Hong Kong, posing at the beach.
By all indications, his wife is a loving, family-oriented woman. I wish Steve the best and hope he has found happiness with his new family. I, too, feel the sweet stab of schadenfreude to see him posing stone-faced for those photos, part of his new married life, part of his ninth circle of Hell.