Fists are raised. Her right hand is balled next to her chin and her left hovers in front of her mouth and nose. A slight tuck of thumbs and a swallow of bile burns her throat, but she has a face to wear. The determination in her gaze hides the fear that is urging her fight into a flight, but she steels her resolve and plants her feet, bending her knees slightly so they don’t lock on her when it’s time to move. He doesn’t realize he tells her his next move as he steps before he reaches for her shirt. His cologne met her before she saw him and this close the assault on her nose is enough to make her flinch. She’s been here before and she knows that she has learned the next move like a dance based on muscle memory. She drops her chin and shoulder in a hook aimed at his ribs stepping in and on her right side below the left side of the rib cage he exposed in his attack. With a quick draw back of her stinging right hand, she lifts up his slightly slackened left arm with her left forearm, moving closer and following through with the force of her right elbow and forearm, twisting her back for a second hit with the back of her elbow, catching his ribs again. As he’s bent in pain she takes a second to snap a left cross at his cheek and feels positive his stubble stung her more than her bony hand could have hurt him. He was taller than her but he didn’t have her solid frame. He probably didn’t look past her jeans and stilettos. He takes a moment to fight the pain, and step back. His fury builds but that moment was all she needed and she runs off, slapping the pavement in bare feet as her shoes lay abandoned on the street and her purse is still miraculously strapped across her body.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all just defend ourselves? My first fist fight was me getting punched in the stomach because I teased a boy about his teddy bear on the school bus and insisted on touching it even after he said it would get my butt kicked. I had the wind knocked out of me but the shock was most painful. I remember walking home and the anger fell from my face in silent tears and shame.
In middle school I had more enemies than I knew what to do with. I think it started as jealousy, but I was so not aware of anything related to my looks that I didn’t know what to feel other than fear. I was the last to leave the classroom after each period because I was afraid of getting jumped. My looks were always given as you see them. I still can’t work with a curling iron and frequently see men in drag that deserve my girl card and breasts more than I do. (Perks of not being afraid of a beautiful man is they will sometimes help you with makeup tips.) I will rarely spend more than $20 on any one item of clothing or accessories. My designer purses are all gifts. I’m loved. Envy me. That same love showed up for me one day after school. I finally told my family what I was so afraid of. The next day my sisters came to pick me up from school after drill team practice. They sent me to the car and went up to the drill team room where some of my biggest fans were. I have no idea what was said or done. I just know I was told to take a vacation for the rest of the semester. The problems went away and there was talk about my sisters stepping out of line as the adults that came to my rescue when my teachers and administrators didn’t.
Growing up I saw my Mom rage at my Dad, then pick up the pieces of their life and do what she could to take care of us and any other person who needed help. She’s the most giving person I know. There is something inside of her that she’s given to me that has the ability to cut down the strongest tower. For her, it is the ability to get up and do what survivors do. For me, it’s an ability to frame ideas that seek out the vulnerabilities that can be used to undermine a situation and tilt things in my favor. She has this fight that is full of strength and determination, but as a kid, it always came out as the phrase, “grab and twist.”
I’ll just leave that there a minute.
My Dad marched with Martin Luther King Jr. He served in the Army during the TET Offensive in Viet Nam. Naturally, I grew up around his post traumatic stress and with a healthy dose of patriotism and respect for our vets. I know not to wake him abruptly because his fists rise before he does. He’s not a fan of fireworks and he taught me that time doesn’t heal all wounds. Work and perfect love do. You can’t ignore or drown out your pain. He never fought with Mom. She would rage, and he would stand quietly. He didn’t want to fight with her, and she needed a reaction. Any reaction was better than feeling ignored. It also taught me to work around a shaky temperament and I can dance on eggshells if I need to. That dance came in handy as a wife.
We learn a lot from our family of origin and sometimes we have to unlearn what we know.
I wasn’t always an advocate. For most of my youth I was self centered and obsessed with a good story and personal time. Fighting for someone else wasn’t my thing because I didn’t care if it didn’t involve me, until it did involve me. When I had kids, and learned about autism is when I learned about a good fight.
When we first married, we lived in the garage at my Mom’s house. It was converted and my project home. I was learning plumbing basics and I was so proud of putting the trap in under the sink all by myself. That was the first toilet I installed and it will be there forever because when I tiled the bathroom floor, I didn’t know I was supposed to remove the toilet first. It’s grouted to the floor and it doesn’t leak. But a new toilet would require a new floor as well. Live and learn. When we moved into our first apartment it was perfect for our family of three. When we were about to become a family of 5, it was time to move. I expected part of our deposit back. They tried to charge us a few thousand above that. I looked into renter’s rights. I took them to small claims court and I won.
Later we moved and I started pseudo managing a property for my Mom. She wanted a tenant evicted and I started and finished it. In hindsight, I may have missed a few steps, but at the end of the day they moved out and it’s not my fault they didn’t search for loop holes. They would’ve found them. Now Mom gives and takes the responsibility from time to time, but I’m okay with that too. I usually have quite enough on my plate.
My kids have always been in public schools. I was grateful that the free assessments set us on a path with Regional Center and the school district that started services and therapies we needed. My kids didn’t come with instructions. Most people figure it out as they go and I’m in that boat, rocking and upchucking over the side and on the deck with the next person still finding those sea legs and just as annoyed that there is only one Head on deck and it’s busy. It built up over years, but their behaviors were adjusted and worked around in the classroom to the point where we saw it as behavior that needed adjustments, and not the emotional neglect that my kids were suffering. I was always involved. I sat through classes. I still know the voices of all of the principals and vice principals that have overseen my kids. At the end of the day, becoming a teenager is hard enough without sensory dysfunction and below average social and communication skills. My son was taken from school by ambulance and put on a 72 hour 5150 hold. Our constant vigilance at his side and his calm when with us got him released early. He still had to endure being at that school for another 6 months until we were able to get him an emotional disturbance diagnosis and placement in a nonpublic school for autistic kids. I had to write letters, follow up respectfully, document and keep on top of things. I’ve had to make calls to different departments and regions to see where I could rattle a few chains. A couple of years later and my second child went through the same process. A short while after that I would fight for compensatory hours and a refund of therapy co-payments and win with the help of an attorney that the district paid for me.
I’m also an In Home Support Services provider for my kids. They have needs outside the scope of typical parenthood and the state recognizes this by paying me and sending me W-2 forms at the end of the year. My kids would need me to do what I do anyway so when the union started taking dues I had a problem with it. It took a few months, phone calls, and even and affidavit but I got a check from them too.
I think the hardest fight is the one in which you decide early on that you don’t want to give it your all. It’s when you pause to think about the repercussions instead of doing what you know comes next, instead of worrying about consequences you won’t face. It’s when you decide to be gentle in your attack, setting yourself up for defeat, and knowing the road you are on is the high one. It’s hard when people think they have you beat, but don’t realize you haven’t taken off your kid gloves and have been pulling punches because part of you still cares enough to want to protect them.