When I was little, I was forever out of my league in the sibling fighting department. My sister was three years older, three years stronger and overpowered me on every level. She was not only more naturally muscular, she was also more emotionally aggressive. She was forceful and loud. In my family, I could barely get a word in edgewise.
She knew my weaknesses and would rarely pass up an opportunity to get me. She would do things like hide in the dark in the nook next to to our upright Steinway piano and jump out. And I would SCREAM my head off.
Lots of things scared me. I was deathly afraid of scary movies, haunted houses and basically anything that involved the dark and unpredictability. I was also pretty risk-adverse. One time her taunts were so unbearable about me being afraid of riding on our red plastic motorcycle down what I perceived to be the steepest hill ever (I was 5 or 6), that against my better judgment, I threw caution to the wind and jumped on the two-wheeled vehicle. After I was flying down the hill at a considerable speed, the front wheel hit a crack or a rock, and I went flying over, landing face first. She went yelling for a neighbor who peeled me off of the pavement, all skinned knees and elbows and a chipped front tooth. And yeah, she was punished.
We went along fighting—and playing—throughout elementary and junior high school.
One day after school, I was around 12 and she was around 15, we were doing our homework at our respective white desks with candy-cane-like moldings on the drawers listening to rock music on WPLJ, and a rather aggressive, irrational thought took hold of me. I wanted to hit her. I wanted to deliver the first blow. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be physically aggressive in the only way I thought I could. I knew she would proceed to beat the shit out of me. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to Hit. Her. First.
I couldn’t think of anything else. I just kept fantasizing about getting in one girl punch. One slap. One burst of real, raw anger.
I felt the wimpy me leave my body. I calmly got up from my white swivel chair with its plastic red cushion, I quietly took a few steps over, and I walloped her.
What happened next was a blur, but she was quite mad and I think she wrestled me to the floor. It didn’t even matter. I was satisfied from knowing that for once, she could feel my physical anger.
I realized much later in life that there was quite a bit of physical—and emotional—anger directed at me when I was a child. And so when I met my ex-husband and he seemed to have only kind bones in his body, I knew that his temperament was the perfect fit for me. He didn’t have a temper. He didn’t get angry. I wouldn’t have to worry about feeling afraid.
I was wrong. The various stressors in our marriage triggered anger in him that I had never seen before.
And just like that scared child, I cowered inside. I wanted it to stop.
Getting divorced from him has made most of it stop, but there are still plenty of moments when his misguided rage comes my way.
Sometimes, that younger girl in me goes down the rabbit hole of wanting to deliver the first punch. Sometimes I do. Because for a change, I want him to feel my anger. And then what happens next is predictable. I spent years seeing it happen. He tries to emotionally beat the shit out of me.
I will never, ever win. That sense of failure used to grip me and torture me like nothing else.
But today, on the second anniversary of my divorce, I know that winning actually involves not fighting. I work damn hard to take the high road as much as possible. But it’s exhausting. And sometimes I’m just too tired to fight the good fight. But I know, if I’m not the one to strike first, he won’t have anyone to hit back.