Saturday, August 1, 2015

On not going along to get along

Last night Will and I were play-fighting. He kept teasing me, saying ridiculous things, trying to get my goat. Like a second-grade boy pulling my braids. I wasn't letting him get away with it. For every verbal assault he'd attempt, I'd fling it right back at him. Finally he stopped, looking all doe-eyed and wounded, but smiling, and said, "Gah, why you gotta always stick up for yourself?!"

Even though we were just playing around, it suddenly hit me what a wonderful thing it was Will had said to me. The reason I appreciate Will so much is because he LIKES my spunk and attitude. Once, after we'd been dating a few months, but before we were married, Will said the thing he likes most about me is that I call him out on his bullshit.

"So many women just go along with whatever their boyfriend wants, but you're not like that. You like to argue and get your point across."

Recently I attended my friend Leslie's funeral. She had died unexpectedly and way too young. In the eulogy, her sister-in-law said that everyone loved how easy-going Leslie was. Hating conflict, she'd "go along to get along."

I, too, admired Leslie's easy-going temperament, but it also kinda bugged me. I worked with Leslie for eighteen years, and during that time I often witnessed people over-powering her. Patrons talking to her abusively. Show-offy co-workers getting praised for their ideas while Leslie's quiet, subtle creativity would often get overlooked. But Leslie never complained. Never acted like living in the shadow of others bothered her in the least. Going along to get along.

I now realize the reason Leslie's easy-goingness bugged me is because she reminds me of my mom. Dad bullied Mom badly during their twenty-two year relationship. I'd watch them and think, "Come on, Mom! Stand up for yourself! Call Dad out on his bullshit!" But she never did. When Dad would start to yell, Mom would turn and walk down the hall, shutting herself up inside her bedroom until he simmered down.

That's just Mom's style. She despises conflict. Even when Dad would yell at me, she would never fight him. The louder he got, the quieter she got. When I was a kid, it bugged me that she wouldn't defend me against Dad's verbal assaults. But I understand now, as an adult with a wider perspective of the world, that not-yelling was Mom's way of letting her voice be heard. If she had yelled at my dad to stop yelling at me, then we'd all become deaf to each other's words.

Still, though, it often felt like Mom's avoidance of conflict was an avoidance of concern for my welfare. By the time I was an angsty teenager, I began raising my voice. Fighting--no, yelling--no, screaming back at Dad when I felt under attack.

The only thing that improved my relationship with my dad was moving out of the house and away from his authoritarian nature. Freeing myself. Thinking for myself. Sticking up for myself. But our relationship is still shit. We only see each other a few times a year on holidays, and even then our conversations are superficial and awkward. With my mom, on the other hand, I feel as though I could tell her anything. We don't live in the same city, so we see each other less frequently than I would like, but we chat online every day. We have a special bond that can't be severed. No matter how much she bugs me (and I'm sure I bug her, although she's too agreeable to say so).

Once though, I remember driving in the car with Mom and Will, and we were trying to decide where to go for dinner. I'd make a suggestion and Mom would say, "Sure." Will'd make a suggestion and Mom would say, "Sure." Mom was our guest, so we kept trying to get her to say where she wanted to go. "Mom! It's your turn to pick. Where do you want to go?"

"I'm just along for the ride," Mom said.

Oh, how irritating those words are to a hot-head like me. Reminds me of that other non-confrontational dude who preached peace and love and all that harmonious shit. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. That turn-the-other-cheek dude.

They crucified him, you know.

But some believe he had the last laugh. Up there in heaven, looking down at us mere mortals and our silly, stubborn species. Always fighting with each other. Always shouting. Never listening.

No matter how much I prayed, I felt persecuted living under my dad's roof. Sometimes, Jesus, you gotta turn the other cheek as you turn and walk away and find a studio apartment of your own to grow up a bit, like I did when I was 18. Or like Mom finally did, when she walked out on Dad after twenty-two years of trying to ignore his bullshit. She moved on with her life, in her quiet, easy-going way. People often think divorce is a terrible thing for kids to experience, but for me it was good to see Mom finally stick up for herself.