I had never fought fair until I fell in love I had never learned to ‘fight fair’ with anyone. To disagree and be civil? It was a skill I never possessed. I was raised by a mother and an aunt, two sisters who were used to saying the blunt frank thing, as siblings will do.
Certainly I did that with my own big sister, as she did with me. We said harsh things and we did harsh things. When we were still young, maybe ten and 12 years old, she still got a kick out of knocking me down, sitting on me, then slowly releasing a long thread of saliva over my face, sucking it back up at the very last second. It was like something out of Edgar Allen Poe.
I was 12 and she was 14 that time locked herself in the bathroom with my diary, and then threatened to share my adventures with our mom.
But I gave as good as I got and took my revenge a week or so later when she was bleaching her hair on the sly. I watched for the moment when she stepped out of the bathroom for the 20 minutes it took for the bleach to work, then zipped in there myself, slammed shut the door and locked it too. I wouldn’t let her in, no matter how much she begged and pounded. It didn’t matter to me how crucial it was that she get back in to apply the neutralizer that would halt the work of all that peroxide. She went to school for a whole week with hair the color of straw – green straw, in actual fact.
But that’s how it is with siblings. There often are no rules. It isn’t until you take a vow to stick with someone through thick and thin that you start to be a little more careful.
That’s what happened to me when I met this boy. Before two months had passed we knew we were in it for keeps.
And so, slowly, we learned how to fight – ‘disagree’ is a better word – without scorching the earth all around us.
I learned to say “That’s not how I see it,” instead of “You’re crazy!”
He learned to say, “really?’ instead of “Don’t be ridiculous.”
We both learned not to give a superior smirk when the other one took a position we didn’t agree with.
We learned – slowly! – to change the subject and move to a more neutral topic. We tried not to nitpick, find fault, so that kind of case-building we all can do when we’re just so sure that the other guy is in the wrong.
And mostly we have learned to stay connected. To brush a hand across the other one’s shoulder after a disagreement. To say a decent goodbye instead of slamming the car door after one of our tiffs if they took place in the car, which they often did.
We don’t agree about everything. He thinks the sponges and the bottle brush belong in on the kitchen counter while I think they belong in the sink. He takes them out. I put them back. Neither of us ever speaks about this or criticizes the other.
It’s just too important to us to remember that we are one. Maybe it’s important for us as citizens to remember that too.