I am a fighter. I have been since I was a little girl. Although I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother who was awful at mothering, one story she liked to tell about me has given me courage at unexpected times.
You see, I was a total tomboy growing up. When my mother put a dress on me at three years old I would go into the other room and take it off. She would find me running around in my underwear every time. By the time I was five she had given up on dresses. No way could she keep me in one; I had a crazy stubborn streak that for better or worse remains to this day.
As my mom tells the story, one day she was frying chicken in the kitchen during the summer over a hot stove. She always mentions the frying part first because she never was domestic and hated cooking most of all. In fact she loathed it, and by the time I was nine I knew how to cook for myself and often did, alone or with my younger sister. And it was uncomfortable cooking in our kitchen in the summer. We had no air conditioning, relying on box fans jammed into open windows that ineffectively ushered the hot air out through the densely netted screens. So when my mother tells the story and says she was sweating and miserable standing in that kitchen, I know exactly what she was talking about.
Fork in hand, turning the chicken, my mother heard my voice float in over the humming fans. She couldn’t understand exactly what I was saying at first, but I sounded intense. Then she could make it out. I was screeching: “Take it back! Take it back! You take it back!”
Panic hit. I was no stranger to fighting and my mother knew whatever was happening was not going to be good. She dropped the fork and ran for me, leaving popping chicken to its own devices despite the dangers involved. Once outside, it was worse than she thought.
I was sitting on the chest of a twelve year old neighbor boy, who I had knocked down, despite being half his size and only five years old. But I was strong at five years old, way stronger than I looked. I had spent my time outside in the dirt, playing with bugs, running around until after the sun went down, tearing holes in the knees of my jeans on a regular basis, playing kickball, racing the boys, wrestling with my brothers, and climbing trees.
When my mother found me, I had his shirt balled up in my left fist and my right fist raised above my head ready to strike. Fury took over my face, I was screaming at him, demanding that he take back what he just said.
My mother ran over and grabbed me off of him. The boy was in tears and he got up but couldn’t move at first. He just stood there staring. My mother told him to get away while he could.
When my mother calmed me down she found out he had said something about her.
So, now I am an adult with several neighborhood kids much bigger than me that I contend with on a regular basis: RA and Fibro. They taunt me, kick me, make me cry; keep me from doing what I want to do, and tear into my body every moment of every day. What do I do? I remember the little girl who fought.
I remember her when I feel defeated, or the pain on my husband’s face from his own rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis worries me as I watch his knees buckle or a flare makes him pale as a ghost. I remember that little girl when I have to decide whether to cancel a “Mama Day” I planned for just me and my kids. I try to remember her on the many nights that I can’t sleep because pain has wrenched the possibility from my swollen fingers, or the slightest touch when my children brush past me causes me to gasp and cringe.
I try to remember that little girl on days like today when I go to the grocery story with my son and I have to walk with a cane. I know people stare at me because I am so young, but even that doesn’t matter because every step sucks strength and energy from my body so that when I come home from a 30 minute trip I have to lie down for two hours to recover.
No matter how much pain I am in or how sad or alone I feel or how crazy it seems to make me, I remember—and I fight.
I fight like that little girl who just won’t put up with some foul-mouthed boy saying horrible things about her mother. I fight like her every single day of my life.