The Time Al Letson Got What He Wanted

Radio producer, writer, and storytelling all-’rounder Al Letson (State of the Re:Union, Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal) recently launched a new podcast called Errthang. The show is a personal outlet for Letson’s stories and diverse passions — a venue for “errthang” he wants to do. Kicking off in style, the first episode is built around the story of how Letson’s life changed when, at 7 years old, he got what he’d long wished for: a brother — but an older brother, who brought some strong older-brothering skills to his adoptive family:

He told me to shut up. And then he said the only reason why he stayed with my family, why he’d decided to go along with the adoption, is because he wanted my bike. And then he proceeded to beat me up. Nothing major. In the master’s degree I’ve earned in beat-down victimization, this was merely just the introductory course. It gets harder from here.

It struck me that we had just adopted a pit bull. I mean, I thought about telling my parents, but then either they’d send him back, or I’d just get beat up again, and I didn’t want either one of those, so I just shut up.

The next three years, Lajuan and I got to know each other better. He established himself as the alpha male, and I was more than happy to play the background. When he was in a bad mood, he could be brutal, but most of the time he was all right as long as he had my bike – which I never got back.

Then one day my parents tell us that they are having a baby.

What? A, a ,a baby? A baby? Now, I’m ten, and in a matter of three years I went from being the only child to a middle child. Who does that happen to?

Me, obviously.

And with my folks having a baby, we were moving into a bigger house. So for weeks we packed up the house, and on the last day my parents let Lajuan and I go play one last time in the neighborhood and say goodbye to everyone. And when we got in the backyard to grab our bikes, Lajuan turned to me and said, “Listen, I want you to go down to the cul-de-sac, I want you to start a fight with Gerard, and just wait.”

A fight with Gerard? Are you crazy? Are you crazy? Now, Gerard is nineteen years old, I’m ten, and my brother is telling me to go start a fight with him.

Now, in the three years that we’ve been living in this house together, we never really went down to Gerard’s cul-de-sac – I mean, every now and then, but on a whole we stayed away from it. And now my brother is telling me to go down there and start a fight? I told him “Nooooo, not doing it,” and my brother grabbed me by the shirt, looked at me and said, “If you don’t go down there and start a fight with Gerard, I’m gonna start a fight with you.”

When my brother made a threat, he always followed through. Make no mistake: if he told me he was going to get me that night, oh, he got me. And therefore, looking at him and thinking about the damage that he could do to me for the rest of my life, and the short damage that Gerard might do to me while I was in the cul-de-sac – it was a no-brainer. I was going to the cul-de-sac.

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