I remember a fight I had with my cousin when she wasn't even a year old. She was trying to effectively communicate with me with clenched fists and a wrinkled cross forehead and I was attempting to negotiate with pats on the back, paces up and down the hallway, and a "hush-a-bye-don't-you-cry" lullaby. At one point she looked at me and took a deep breath...and held it.
She didn't play fair.
I don't either.
Sometimes when people fight with me, all I hear is rejection. Shame. Defensiveness. I react much like my dog Jackson used to when I would comb out his tangles: mouth opened and teeth showing just in case I happened to yank too hard and cause more pain than he could tolerate. I used to view a disagreement as a "we need to talk moment" and prepare myself for a list of all the things I did wrong. I expected silent treatments prepared with a side of "you should know if you really loved me." Arguments are not a chance for me to get close to anyone. Altercations are cases for someone I love to reason their way out of having to love me anymore.
Until my Aunt.
My Aunt taught me how to fight. She should teach a class starting at infantry and ending when you die. She fights well - eye to eye - standing on tip toe if needed. She insists that you connect with her in all of your rage and that you call it what it is. She will not hesitate to tell you that she hates you when you behave in a way that is hate-worthy and gets in the way of her loving you. She hates that. And hates the you that would allow that to happen. My aunt is fearless when she fights. She once told me on a dock after my brother's wedding that I had a chip on my shoulder and physically nudged my shoulder as if wanting to knock it off. My aunt fights to get you back - not to push you further. She has sent me to "my room" on a time out until I get my shit together. Until I come back to my own body and realize that she is the same person who taught me how to swim in order to survive 3 brothers who loved to dunk me under water. She is the same person who always believed me and would come after me. This is my aunt - one of my God Mothers. And she will fight always for a connection with me even when I momentarily lose my mind in a sea of sickening shame. As soon as I move in her direction - towards the truth of who we are together - she will come in after me, holding her arms under my back to show me how to float.
The other day I fought someone much like the me I used to be - like the me I sometimes drift into because she's comfortable to snuggle with when I'm scared to death - even while she attempts to murder me in my sleep. I could barely hold on while I fought my someone who is so much like me. I tried not to shake her when she held her breath in an attempt to force air back in to her body and love back in to us. I dodged her teeth while I combed out the tangles before they got to be tight to her skin and even more painful. I yelled back to show I could be loud, too. I screamed to cover my fear but also to try to silence her just long enough for her to hear that I did not want to punish her. I did not want to reject her. I did not want to prove to her why she should have even tried to be close to anyone again. I only wanted to understand a little bit more about her. To gain access to another room in her complicated mansion. I wanted to fight to love her.
I had a great teacher.
It's my turn to teach.