Virtue & Mischief: What’s going on?


A short time ago I was scrolling through some old pictures I had taken and posted on Facebook. I came across one of a piece of plain white paper with some printing on it. I clicked on it and blew it up sufficiently to read its crude, spelling-challenged message. It was a note Abby had written several years ago and placed next to Luke’s bed while he was sleeping.

Before divulging its contents, let me provide a brief backstory. According to my Facebook post, on the eve of Abby’s drafting the crude note I had caught Luke calling someone a “butthole.” It was almost certainly Abby. I reprimanded him, stating (among other things) that he didn’t have “license” to call anyone such a vulgar name, etc., etc., etc.

Back to the note, which was titled “Butthole Lisens” (spelling has never been Abby’s strong suit). “I afishally grant” Luke Swensen this “lisens,” to call other people a butthole—“exept Abby Swensen and her friends.” And, in order to provide the document all due respectability and binding status: “Sined: Abby Swensen.” I can’t remember why this would have been relevant to that little dust-up, but she also drew a picture of a girl (herself?) with a wart on her nose.

Aside from its amusing and nostalgic element, I bring up Abby’s missive and its origin because it reminds me that the friction between these two siblings has a long and rich history. For years Luke worshipped Abby and her opinions and would do anything she wanted him to. She was the Queen Bee and he was her willing lackey. I remember thinking I would be glad when he finally developed a spine and told her to fly a kite. Oh, was I naïve and stupid. I pine for the halcyon days when he was her happy minion!

I can’t remember exactly when it happened precisely, but I think it was about 6 or 7 years ago. Luke would have been approximately 7, Abby roughly 10. One of my first memories of their rivalry’s early manifestations occurred when I walked in the house from work. I entered the kitchen, set down my keys, wallet, and cell phone, and turned to get a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. As I opened the refrigerator door I heard Abby screech in pain from the adjoining play room. She came sprinting toward me, her right hand pressing the lower portion of her back. She was wincing and softly sobbing.

“DAD!! Do something! Luke just hit me—for no reason!” she squealed.

Luke entered at this point, a look of absolute determination and righteousness on his face.

“That’s not true! That’s not true!” he exclaimed. “I had a reason.”

And so it has gone for the past several years. Provocations, counter-measures, raised voices, arguments, cease-fires, broken cease-fires, skirmishes of every conceivable sort. Just when one of them relents, softens, forgives, the other just caaaaaaaaan’t resist that last little zinger—the bon mot that splashes gasoline on a withering flame, reigniting it and scorching everything in its path. So silly and illogical are some of their fights that an onlooker could be forgiven for thinking they actually enjoy the fireworks they create and sustain.

But something alarming is going on at the moment. As I write this it has been 72 hours since they last raised their voices at each other. Three earth revolutions since they called each other a

name or questioned the other’s appearance, intelligence, social standing, or body odor. What’s even more ominous is that—GULP—I’ve heard them (a) talking in mature, calm tones toward the other; (b) playing games with each other; (c) and—mon dieu!!—laughing together.

What does this bizarre behavior mean? Is it a portent, to borrow from Ghostbusters, of fire and brimstone raining from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness? Earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, human sacrifice? DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER???

As I put Daniel to bed last night, I commented on this odd and troubling state of affairs. Daniel, it should be noted, is autistic but he is not stupid. He has deftly steered clear of all their contretemps over the years, opting wisely instead to find his own space and to make peace whenever it’s within his power.

“Daniel,” I whispered to him, “Abby and Luke aren’t arguing like normal. I’m a little concerned. What do you think is going on? Is this a set up or something?”

“A set up? No, dad, I don’t think so. I think they’re finally growing into humans is all.”

Maybe. But if I see the Greenville Creek start to boil, well….

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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