Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
“C’mon, take the first hit. I dare you.”
My mother’s half-blonde head rolled as she stretched her neck and cracked her knuckles. She was squared off before me in the kitchen, surrounded by scuffed cabinets, sticky counters, and the smell of sizzling sausage. My hands were at my sides.
“Mah, I’m not gonna hit you.” I said, brows furrowed. “That’s barbaric.”
“Give me a fucking break. You know you want to,” she snarled, looming toward me.
“I don’t care what happens, you’re my mother. I don’t ever want to hurt you.”
“Can’t we just talk like adults?” I took a step backward into my tween-aged sister, who scampered out of there like a mouse.
“You little bitch.” My mother started to lunge for me.
“Mavis stop disrespecting your mother.” My father began to drag my mother away by the arms, but not before throwing me a pair of dagger eyes, that clearly stated that he was both infuriated with and disappointed in me.
As per usual, an argument ensued about how I never met expectations, how my opinion was the wrong one, and that I would never make it in the real world. My father would be curt and cold for about two days, and then get over it. My mother would not talk to me for days, weeks; no one knew when she would come around. I would hide in closets, in the laundry room, not willing to let them see me cry. This cycle would surely repeat in the coming weeks when there was another simple disagreement.
This cycle was all I could think of, balled up in my bed on a recent Thursday night. My boyfriend lay beside me, his skin on my skin. We shared one blanket.
“See?” He continued. “You’re so empathetic. I can’t have empathy for someone who just doesn’t try.”
The subject of conversation was poverty, and the lives and opportunities available to those who live in poverty. My boyfriend was raised by a wealthy catholic family, and has never really had to struggle in that way. I was not only the direct descendants of hard-working, penny pinching immigrants, I was also working five different jobs and going to school full time.
“Not everyone is afforded the privileges that you were, and not everyone knows how to move out of whatever stage they are at in life.”
“Yeah but if they want out bad enough, they’ll find a way.”
I turned to look at him, visibly stunned.
“That’s not how that works,” I told him firmly.
“Sure it is. Ambition. I get that not everyone has it but I can’t condone --”
I cut him off.
“It’s not as simple as ambition, Liam. If you are a teenaged boy and your father has never been in the picture, and your mother is a drug addict, and you’ve never seen anything beyond a twelve block radius of your city… How are you going to know there’s even something else out there for you? How are you gonna know what opportunity even is?”
“Why are you making excuses for people?” he asked.
This is when I stopped hearing him. A flood of panic washed over me, as I came to the realization that the absolute worst, the thing that I dreaded the most, had finally happened. We were actually disagreeing for once. This had never occurred before.
My mother’s snarling face and my father’s stark disappointment swam before my eyes as I continued to argue my case. I don’t even know what I was saying; I just got more inflamed and more prickly and all rationality flew from my mind as the trepidation set in.
I could not lose Liam the way that I had lost my parents when they stopped speaking to me, many months before. Fights meant silence. Fights meant loss.
He left my house an hour later, fearful that I was upset with him. I assured him that all was well, he kissed me goodnight, and then I stayed up. All. Night. Long.
By morning, I had convinced myself that we were destined to break up. People who disagree don’t stay together happily. People who disagree ignore each other for days on end. This type of confusion and turbulence was not something I could handle again.
A week later I was on his couch, in his basement. The argument had long since been dropped, though it still stirred dangerously in the recesses of my mind. As my mother had not spoken to me in nine months, I was typing an email in an attempt to create some rocky line of communication for her to grab onto, should she ever want to speak to her daughter again. My face was white-washed and tear-tracked in the glow of the laptop screen in front of me, and I was hiding beneath a quilted blanket.
This concerned Liam, because he wanted to comfort me, but he gave me the space that I had requested and divided his attention between fixing his computer and checking on me.
Soon the weight of this email, and the bits of disagreement still floating around in my gut, made my stomach turn violently. A gush of panic, like vomit, rose within me and, tearful, I threw the blanket off of me. I leapt from the couch.
I needed to go, and I needed to hide. Now.
I searched my mind for that closet or that laundry room that I would run to back when I lived at home, but my search came up alarmingly empty. Without bothering to pack my things, or even bring them with me, I grabbed my keys and made for the steps.
“Wait! Where are you going?” Liam turned from his screen. I was already at the bottom most step.
“Noth -- I can’t…” was all I spit out in response.
And then there were arms holding me back, like a vice.
“No no no no… come on. Come sit with me,” he whispered in my ear.
Then my legs began to kick as I attempted to push him off of me, muttering, “I can’t… I can’t…” over and over again.
Liam is a foot taller than me and fifty pounds heavier, so I quickly found my back held against his torso like one might hold a pitbull, as he sat on the couch. I continued to struggle.
“C’mon… Talk to me,” he said softly.
The tears were coming, and fast, and I couldn’t think of anything other than losing my parents, and nothing made sense, and before I knew what was happening, I was being cradled like a child, and I was sobbing.
Then came a mantra, an unexpected stream of words, that were both comforting and startlingly unbelievable.
“I love you,” he whispered into my hair. “I think you are worth having around. You’ll always have me. You are the most important part of my life. You’ll be okay. Everything will work out. I love you.”
He repeated these statements until I began to see that they were sincere. Some time later, when I was quiet, he pulled my chin up with his thumb and forefinger to look at my face. Embarrassed, I pulled away and buried my nose in his chest.
“Hey now, c’mon. It’s just me…” he said. “I don’t care if you’re crying. You know I think you’re beautiful.”
I rolled my bloodshot eyes and he chuckled.
“Smile for me?” He made a face that could scare a small child. I let half a smile slip.
“There we go,” he looked pleased. “Now, what’s wrong? You can tell me anything, you know that right?”
After I went through the emotions that followed typing the email to my mother, I shared my concern about the disagreement. I explained my parents to him.
“Well, here’s how I look at it. Two people who care enough will work through anything. Okay?”
I nodded. He thought for a minute.
“What we need to do is disagree for the next twenty one days so that you come to realize that I’m not going to leave you.”
That made me laugh, admittedly.
“C’mon. You know everything is going to work out because we both want it to work right?”
He had a point. I had never before considered that two people could actually work through problems like that. I didn’t know that they could be solved, like one solves a math problem. Life hands you moments. It's how one chooses to react to these moments that determines success or failure. My mother reacted poorly, thus, the failure that is our stunted relationship.
It took me twenty one years, but now, I finally understood.
I looked up at his face, this face that I had slept beside a hundred times, and felt something that I had never felt before. I was suddenly aware of the striking level of vulnerability that I was offering to him, and I was completely okay with it. I felt safe.
“What were we disagreeing about again?” I asked, bogged down by all of the what-if’s and maybe’s that my mind had conjured over the past week.
“Well, I was saying that if a person in a rough situation wanted to get out, there are options beyond crime to turn to. Like a minimum wage job for example. There are options to do better and move up beyond hurting other people, or getting arrested.”
My stomach dropped.
“That’s what you were saying?” I was floored.
“Yeah? I probably wasn’t saying it right though, but I thought about it later. And you were saying something like people can’t always get out, or don’t always want to.” “No! I was saying basically the same thing you were!”
“Oh my god.”
We both laughed.
“Were we both thinking the same thing at the same time and just not hearing each other?” I asked.
We watched each other, smiling, and in that moment I knew that everything would be okay. I told him so.
“You’re right,” he nodded once.
“You know how I know?” I asked.
“I just realized something. Disagreeing is okay. Fighting is optional.”
“Hell yeah,” he said, and pulled me closer.