My sister and I grew up beating the crap out of each other. We fought constantly. Sometimes by simply yelling at each other, other times the fights were full of hair pulling and punches and biting. We were horrible to each for about five years of my childhood, after which there was peace between as we mutually decided it was best to ignore one another.
Most of our fights are unmemorable — with one blending right into the next. And I can’t for the life of me remember how any of them started. Not a single one. I guess it was just a case of us being close in age (she is only about 20 months older than me) plus being two very different people in a very small house. All I know for sure is that we never got along. At best we tolerated each other. There were, of course, short blips of sibling love and loyalty, but what stands out most is the fights: beating each into “bloody pulps” (my mother’s words) in the backseat of a car on a long drive, me smashing her doll house with a thrown tennis ball and her tearing my Steve Garvey baseball card in retaliation, all the horrible name calling, the ruined dinners, the tears. It was not a pleasant time. And not a time that I am particularly proud of. And I am sure it’s why we were allowed to watch so much television during those years: as it was the one time we were quiet and not at each other’s throats.
I remember one disagreement in particular. I am not sure why it stands out among the others. We are arguing in the driveway of our little house in Lebanon, Ohio. I don’t remember why we were fighting, of course, I just know we were. It was a chilly, gray November day. I was maybe five years old, my sister seven. She has short brown hair and she’s wearing a blue jacket. I was in my red, hand-me-down wind breaker. She is standing about five feet from me. I can still see her face.
The argument lasted about a minute before I struck with what I — in my five year old brain — thought would be a fatal blow. A cutting truth that would level her and bring her to tears. Really hurt her. Really make her sad.
“You know,” I said, “when we grow up you won’t be allowed to marry me.”
“So?” my sister said, in response. Derision dripping from her seven year old face.
So! She didn’t care!
I had nothing else. The fight ended. She had absorbed my best weapon and defeated me right there in the driveway. I fell into silence. The fight was over.
But oh what a dumb thing to say! Looking back, I try not to think about it, but it pops into my head at least once a month. I am embarrassed about all of our fighting, but it is that fight in particular that I find most humiliating. I do my best to forget about it and move on, but it’s always there. In the basement of my brain. Not only did I lose the fight, I lost it in the most shameful way possible.