Friday, July 24, 2009

On ass-kicking, genetics, and being a grown up.

I have taken on a long-awaited writing project, and much of my energy is directed into that at the moment. However, today reminded me of a few facts about myself-- facts I work daily to keep in check.

First reminder of the day: I am descended from some badass genes.

That's my Mema and Papa, out for a day on their motorcycle, back in the day when it was a bit more rare to find badass bikers with their hot chicks rambling the countryside wearing their leather boots and zippered shirts. I don't know exactly when that picture was taken, but probably sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

And while my Mema was prone to feisty antics of her own, Papa was clearly the prize fighter. Tall and lanky, he was the skinny kid who'd rather pop a guy upside the head than continue to argue when he knew he was right.

Exhibit A:

That's him on the right, grinning like the cat about to eat the canary. I know it's silly to bet about things that have already passed, but if I had to wager on the outcome of this fight, all my money's on Papa.

Is there any other proof needed? His face, gleefully anticipating a good ass-whoopin', says it all.

When I was really little, we lived near the town where he lived, and I saw him and Mema all the time. I even lived with them for a little while the summer before and for the first part of my kindergarten year. And even after my mom got married, I spent a lot of time with Mema and Papa. When my mom's little sister found out I had gotten pregnant while in college, her words, though they stung, were not a surprise to me.

"This is going to kill them. Everyone knows you've always been their favorite."

I was their favorite. Papa always wanted to have a grandson, and didn't have the kind of relationship he wanted with my older cousin (his only grandson when I was born), and so he poured all that ass-kickin' boy energy into me. I had his big ol' field to play in, and he got me a go-cart (purchased second hand off of another aging finagler, I'm sure). When I wanted to go fishing every day, he converted their old concrete pool into a freshwater pond, stocked it full of bream, and made me a fishing pole out of bamboo.

And then there were the boxing gloves. Papa kept a couple of pairs of boxing gloves hanging on the wall just inside the big, open hallway. Having been a bit of a prize-fighter back in the day, and watching boxing matches every time one came on TV, he loved few things more than a good match. I was one of the things he loved more, and so he never shied away from an opportunity for us to don the boxing gloves and go at each other, him letting me get in a few KO's every now and then, in the hallway while Mema shot the occasional mom-comment from the kitchen. When we got a little older, my sister (who, like me, also inherited the ass-kicker genes) convinced him to let us bring the gloves back home, and we'd often work out our annoyances by beating the crap out of each other in the hallway at home, with our own mom shaking her head and muttering curses about her dad's influence.

Whatever the cosmic connection between me and my Papa, one thing stands for sure. I love few things more than the adrenaline rush of a good, dramatic battle.

Second reminder of the day: Loving to fight does not lead to an ideal life.

So, I knew this before today, but this is just to say that yes, I am aware that I cannot simply beat the crap out of everyone who pisses me off. I get that part. I am aware of my innate tendencies towards ass-kicking, and it is something I work on daily, and am getting better with all the time.

Third reminder of the day: My words are my greatest, and favorite, weapons.

I'm not exactly sure where she got it from, but I sure did inherit my mother's sharp-tongued genes and gift with words. Mom was an incredible writer, whether she realized it or not, and though she never fully honed her craft, she was undeniably a wordsmith. I thank her for passing along to me the ability to take words and put them together in way that creates an emotion.

Unfortunately, my mother's gift with words paired with my Papa's instinct towards ass-kicking have created within me a sharp-tongued monster, eager to make the verbal kill, taking out anyone in its path. It's a monster I've fairly reliably learned to tame, and to only allow to come out for the occasional play tussle, like baby tigers tumbling around, playing the hunt. But it's in me, part of me, yearning to be put to good use now and then. I usually save it for my activism and advocacy efforts, when sharp-tongued criticism and exposé can be a part of accomplishing the good.

This means that usually, when I'm inflamed over something, the mouth flies off before anything else. Most people who know me well understand who I am, and as long as the verbal lashing isn't directed at them, they give me space to vent when it's needed.

Fourth reminder of the day: Angry hives are like the odd behavior of the forest creatures, predicting the arrival of a terrible storm.

One of the strange things about me and my body is that I tend to break out in hives when I'm extremely upset. Most of the time, this is precipitated by a long period of uncontrollable crying. In the past decade, I remember the hives coming along with my sobs over things like the loss of my Papa, the discovery of a betrayal by a man that I loved, and the discovery that one of my children had faced an inconceivable pain, one from which I had hoped to always shield my children. Farther back, though, before I really began to work at gaining control over my anger, I can remember two times in which the hives were brought on by not tears, but uncontrollable rage.

In one instance, it was my desire to protect my child from a potentially life-threatening situation. As I took my child to leave a dangerous (for my sick baby) setting, a man grabbed me by the arms refusing to let me leave. Like an animal fighting capture, I flew into instinctual action, arms flailing, punches flying, with the startled man retraining his grasp from keeping me from leaving to keeping me from hurting him. When I finally got my son buckled into his car seat, I noticed the flame-hot burning on the skin on my face, neck, and chest. A quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed a splotchy red rash growing all across my upper body.

In the other, my sister (who, as you may recall, also carries the prize-fighter gene) escalated an argument to the point where she was up in my face, chicken-necking and carrying on like a crazed fool while ranting about how I didn't control her. I asked her calmly, not once, not twice, but three different times, to please leave the room. She (being sixteen years old at the time) thought I was telling her to leave because I wanted to boss her around. In actuality, I was telling her to leave my presence because I was becoming slightly scared of the urges that were growing within me. A few seconds after her last rebuff, she was picking herself up off of the floor, taken down by one strong blow to the side of the head, reeling from the physical and emotional confusion. It was Christmas day. As I took my child and left the house, I recognized that same hot feeling growing across me, and as I passed the mirror in the hallway, I again saw the familiar red splotches, confirming the overwhelming adrenaline flowing like lava through my veins.

Fifth reminder of the day: You can do a hell of a lot of growing in a dozen years.

Today, I had an unusual situation in which someone's misunderstanding of the intent of my words fanned the flames of my anger, sparked by being accused of an intent that I would not-- could not-- own. Perhaps misreading his own intent, I felt as if he were calling into question the one thing that matters more to me than almost all others-- my integrity. I allowed the razor tongue to fly, defending my intent, explaining my meaning, but the more the accuser argued, the less rational I was able to remain. Finally, emotionally exhausted by the continuing argument, I left the room and found a quiet place to regroup. When I passed by a friend a few minutes later, she pointed out to me that I was breaking out in a rash. I ran off to the bathroom and saw the evidence in the mirror-- hives. There had not been enough tears to bring this on out of grief, only anger, only irritation. I splashed some water on my face and chest, trying to cool my skin down enough to help them go away. I fanned myself with a nearby piece of flat plastic. I even disappeared into a giant walk-in cooler for a while, hoping to soothe the heat I could still feel burning across my face and chest. But it was still there, and I was dumbfounded-- "I'm breaking out in freaking hives over this!" -- like I couldn't believe it was really happening over something so stupid. It's never comforting to be betrayed by your own body.

Eventually, it went away and I made my peace with my accuser, and things all went back to normal. But it wasn't until later in the evening that it hit me.

The last two times that I remember breaking out in hives over my own anger and frustration, it escalated into me getting physical.

And while the mental image of me tearing into someone, flying fist-first into someone's chest to the reaction of their complete shock and surprise, is a strangely amusing one to me (for reasons I can't really explain, and for which I should probably feel shame), I'm thankful, for myself and for my family and friends, that a hell of a lot can change in someone over the course of a few years.

I'm still a genetically-predetermined badass. Just one with a little self-control.

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