I’m both, really. Ever since my cornered conversation with my grandma I’ve been reviewing my own personal relationship status with people/ friends/ family. That quick little back and forth last weekend really upset me and I feel like I need to do something, but none of my natural reactions feel right.
My usual response is to first fight a bit and then flee to whatever degree I deem necessary. Really, Violet is the first person in my life where the impulse to flee has diminished so greatly that sometimes it just takes stepping into the next room for a minute so that my rational brain can reattach to my body before my mouth opens again. But besides my relationship with Violet, if you corner me into feeling defensive I will usually bite back some and then get the hell out.
When I was 19 and found out my first love, my high school sweetheart, had cheated on me I booked a flight from Oregon to Vermont in the middle of January. It was a bold and cold (weather-wise) move bought and sold entirely by a first-time broken heart. I fled the scene in hopes of my aches staying behind, and that taking me away from her would hurt her. My plan was to go far, far away from the chaotic cloud of a break up and dance in the streets on a different coast, any street, free. And so I left. And what I thought would be a few months wandering aimlessly to pick up the pieces and come home ended up in my landing and living in Atlanta, Georgia for a few years (where my heart finally healed enough to get by and I ended up meeting my next great love. I never did move back to Oregon).
Another relationship’s end, in my mid-twenties, resulted in a one way ticket to Croatia, where I traveled most of Eastern Europe by myself for several months (Dubrovnik – go there!)
I think I must have learned this fight and flight technique from my dad, or at least that’s where it was introduced to me. When I was little, he and I got into it all of the time, over anything and sometimes everything. I’m have vague memories of spatting angry words back and forth over a two-by-four I loved, or something just as pointless, until eventually we’d both mutually retreat to somewhere away from the other, until later (the time frame that ‘later’ refers to varied depending on the individual level of injury due to insult).
When I would storm off, usually to my bedroom before he could tell me to go to my room, I would hide in the closet (yes, literally) and make and hang signs on my door that read things like, “Anyone can come in this room unless you have a mustache” or “All welcome, except for guys named William”. He thought this was cute, but it was my anger finding a way out. If I couldn’t leave I would keep him from coming in.
The first time I really upped my ability of flight was after a big blow out with dad. I can’t remember how old I was exactly, maybe 8. We were yelling aimlessly at each other and I remember it originated with a fight I was having with my brother and my dad taking his side. I stormed off yelling, “Fine. I don’t want to live here then! I’m running away!”
There was no response from dad, which was typical, meaning he was pissed, which was exactly what I was looking for. I packed a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, a yoyo, my rubik’s cube, a few marbles, a little notebook and a small pencil into a handkerchief, that I would later tie to the end of a stick, just like in the movies, and walked out of my room, nervous and prepared for more battle.
“Ok, I’m leaving now!” I yelled, kind of wondering why he wasn’t right outside of my door.
“Wait. Here.” Dad said, coming out of the kitchen holding two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut diagonally, the way I liked.
And I left, right out the front door. I walked down several blocks in our subdivision until I got to a point where I would have to cross a pretty busy road. I stopped and stared. I was so torn. I wasn’t allowed to cross that road without an adult… but I needed to run away to prove a point… but I really didn’t want to break that rule and the road kind of scared me.
So, I stood there until finally I sat down there, at the edge of that busy road. I ate one of the sandwiches dad had made for me and then became really thirsty – too much peanut butter like always! I stared at that road and started to obsess over the idea of a cold glass of milk. Eventually, the milk won and I turned around to go home.
I walked back in the house, having been gone all of 45 minutes and went back to my room to unpack. Dad came inside from the garage and said with a surprised voice, “You’re back, huh?” which made it all feel worth it to me for some reason. (He told me years later that he had secretly followed me, just in case, and when I came back he acted like he was in the garage doing something).
Later that evening we were all watching TV, Scarecrow and Mrs. King to be exact, and I asked my dad if I could sit on his lap. He patted his legs and said, “Get up here,” and that was that.
There’s no point to this I guess, except that I am realizing that I need to learn how not to leave, or I need to pay more attention to my intentions for leaving. When I’m arguing with Violet I usually leave so that I don’t say things I don’t mean. The other night when my grandma cornered me I left with Dog for a walk and when that didn’t work I left by drinking my way out of the situation so that I wouldn’t have to accept what she said as something she really said.
But thus far, every conflict I’ve ever been in with someone I love has either worked its way out or it hasn’t – and that’s just the way things go and will go whether I’m there to see it through or not. So, my grandma is going to be here this weekend, and in every way I can figure out how to, I’m going to try to be too. We’ll see.