Meinhard and I were very close. We shared a bedroom until I was eighteen and left to join the army, and I never would have had it any other way. To this day, I'm more comfortable when there's someone to schmooze with until I fall asleep.
We were also super competitive the way brothers often are — always trying to outdo each other and win the favor of our dad, who, of course, was a competitive athlete himself. He'd set up races for us and say,
"Now let's see who's really the best." We were bigger than most of the other boys, but since I was a year younger, Meinhard usually won these head-to-head competitions.
I was always on the lookout for ways to gain the advantage. Meinhard's weak spot was fear of the dark. When he was ten, he finished elementary school in our village and graduated to the Hauptschule, which was over the ridge in Graz. To get there involved taking public transportation, and the bus stop was about a twenty-minute walk from our house. The problem for Meinhard was that school activities usually ran until well after sunset on the short winter days, so he had to make his way home after dark. He was too scared to do this alone, so it became my job to go to the bus stop and pick him up.
In fact I was scared too, going out in the dark alone at age nine. There were no streetlamps, and Thal was pitch black at night. The roads and paths were lined with pine forests like the ones in Grimm's fairy tales, so dense it was dark even in daytime. Of course we'd been raised on those horrible stories, which I would never read to my kids but which were part of the culture. There was always some witch or wolf or monster waiting to hurt the child. Having a policeman as a father also fed our fears. Sometimes he'd take us on foot patrol, and he'd announce he was looking for this or that criminal or killer. We'd come up to a hay barn standing by itself in a field, and he'd make us stand and wait while he pulled out his gun and checked inside. Or word would get around that he and his men had caught some thief, and we would run down to the station to look at the guy sitting there, handcuffed to a chair.
Reaching the bus stop was not a simple matter of following a road. The footpath wound past the castle ruins and downhill along the edge of the woods. One night I was walking on that path, keeping a close eye for threats in the trees, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a man was in front of me on the path. There was just enough moonlight to make out his shape and his two eyes shining. I screamed and stood frozen — it turned out to be just one of the local farmworkers headed the other way, but if it had been a goblin, it would have gotten me for sure.
I fought back my fear mainly because I had to prove that I was stronger. It was extremely important to show my parents "I am brave, he's not, even though he's a year and fourteen days older than me."
This determination paid off. For the trouble of picking up Meinhard, my father gave me five schillings a week. My mother took advantage of my fearlessness to send me to buy the vegetables each week at the farmers' market, which involved trekking through a different dark forest. This chore earned five schillings as well, money I happily spent on ice cream or my stamp collection.
The downside, however, was that my parents grew more protective of Meinhard and gave less attention to me. During the school holidays that summer of 1956, they sent me to work on my godmother's farm, but they kept my brother at home. I enjoyed the physical labor but felt left out when I got home and discovered they'd taken Meinhard on an excursion to Vienna without me.
Gradually our paths diverged. While I would be reading the newspaper's sports pages and memorizing athletes' names, Meinhard developed a passion for reading Der Spiegel, the German equivalent of Time magazine — in our family, that was a first. He made it his thing to learn the name and population of every world capital and the name and length of every significant river in the world. He memorized the periodic table and chemical formulas. He was a fanatic about facts and would challenge our father constantly to test what he knew.
At the same time, Meinhard developed an aversion to physical work. He didn't like to get his hands dirty. He started wearing white shirts to school every day. My mother went along with it but complained to me, "I thought I had my hands full washing your father's white shirts. Now he starts with his white shirts." Before long, it became the family prediction that Meinhard would be a white-collar worker, possibly an engineer, while I would be blue-collar, since I didn't mind getting my hands dirty at all. "Do you want to be a mechanic?" my parents would say. "How about a furniture maker?" Or they thought I might become a cop like my dad.
I had other ideas. Somehow the thought took shape in my mind that America was where I belonged. Nothing more concrete than that. Just . . . America.
From Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Copyright 2012 Fitness Publications, Inc. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.