When it came to fighting styles, my sister and I were not well-matched.
When we were very young, (I remember the baby gate in front of her bedroom door and other places in the house) and she upset me, I’d complain to my mother about whatever it was Debby was doing.
“Tell her not to,” Mom would advise.
So I would march my wee self over to wherever she was.
“NOT TO!” I’d shout.
It never worked.
As we got older, it became clear that Debby had inherited my mother’s short fuse and sharp tongue. I was older, but slower-witted. And like Dad, it took me a long time to get really angry, but when I did, I put on a show.
So most of our fights went this way: She’d get mad and start yelling. I’d try yelling back, but she was faster with the barbed words and better at shouting over me. It was easier to give up and stalk off to my room to sulk. And read.
There are two notable exceptions to this pattern. One has become the stuff of family legend, mostly because it ended with a severed finger. Sweetheart and I were having dinner at a local ethnic restaurant with one of my then college-age daughters when I casually mentioned the other.
Alex was as shocked as I’ve ever seen her.
She went completely quiet, staring at this stranger who looked like her mother, but no longer sounded like her.
“I knocked her down and walked on her,” I said.
“You knocked her down and walked on her,” Alex repeated. She repeated it a couple more times, turning the words over in her mouth as she attempted to assimilate this information into her previously-formed mother matrix. Sweetheart and I, sitting across from her at the restaurant table, watched and waited.
Her next move was to ask a question.
“What did she do?”
“I don’t remember,” I said. “What I can tell you is that she was making me really mad and I warned her that if she didn’t stop I was going to knock her down and walk on her. She wouldn’t stop, so I did.”
It was many winters on, but even from that cozy restaurant booth I could still conjure up the salient parts of the event.
We were walking home from school. The argument had commenced several blocks back, and now we were five houses away from home, at the steep part of our hilly street. It was midwinter, cold. Snow was mounded on either side of the shoveled sidewalk.
She wouldn’t stop, and I pushed her. I remember her shocked look as she went down, remember the ambiguity I felt about doing it even as I was making the choice to follow through on the threat I’d made. Even if I didn’t fully want to, even though I didn’t fully want to. I had to. Because I had said I would and if I didn’t, she’d just do whatever it was that had made me mad again and I couldn’t take that. So I walked across her, but just once. Then I kept going. She trailed behind me, crying, howling, screaming.
I walked ahead, silent. I knew I was going to be in big trouble when we got home.
I was right. The evidence was all over Debby’s back – the prints were an exact match with my boots. Mom & Dad mopped her up and comforted her while I waited for my punishment, which I don’t remember. I was sorrier about having to do it than I was about having done it, though. Or, to put it another way, my belief that she’d brought it on herself left me feeling okay about whatever punishment I got.
Across the table from me, my daughter was still scouring my face and the inside of her brain for her own answers, which were clearly not forthcoming.
We sat, silently. Sweetheart and I, waiting. At last, Alex spoke.
“I have to reassess everything I ever knew about you,” she said.
“It’s nice to know I can still surprise you after all these years,” I told her.
Then, we moved on to other topics.
One we did not discuss that night was the great finger-severing of 1965. My children have never not known that one, and as a very wee child, my niece was fascinated by the story.
I’ll share in a future post.