My family rarely gets into fights—
Let me start that over.
My family rarely gets into fights that last a long time.
We fight, in fact, all the time. My younger brother—the one I call Douchebag—and I have a rule that we can’t be in the same town together for longer than 24 hours. That’s always the amount of time it takes for the newness of seeing each other (he lives in Asia) to wear off. Then we start going at it because, well, he didn’t earn the nickname Douchebag for nothing. And I’m not the only one in the family who calls him that.
We love telling people our 24-hour rule because they’ll watch us hug in joy as, at the very beginning of a visit home, he steps off the plane. Then they’ll begin to get confused as we both immediately look down at our devices and start the respective stopwatches.
“What are you guys doing?” they’ll ask.
“Oh,” we’ll say, sharing a knowing glance as he looks up from his fancy wristwatch and I look up from my phone, “just setting the timer.”
I’m usually the one to go on to explain while my brother doles out more hugs and kisses to our waiting family. “We fight if we’re together longer than 24 hours.”
The observer will look in disbelief at my happy, sweet brother, busily smooching the family after not seeing them for 2 years, and then back at me, observing him with pride in my eyes. “You two?” he or she will ask.
I’ll nod adamantly. “Oh, yes. We even got into a fight on another continent once. At a wedding.”
It’s one of our proudest moments. The only reason we weren’t thrown out was because it was a long-lost cousin getting married, and they were too happy to have found us (I cannot fathom why) to have the bouncers eject us. That night, though, we actually resolved it after I slapped him in the face a few times—because somehow, that always makes my little brother dissolve into fits of girlish giggles.
He’s a weirdo.
Anyway, my family’s fights are usually pretty intense but quick, and we’re over them within, like, 5 or 10 minutes.
However, over the past year, my older sister and my dad have kind of been at odds, and while it’s sad and I take any chance I get to encourage them to work their issues out, it’s also been kind of useful because it takes the heat off of me. When he’s complaining about all of the ways she’s been fucking up, he doesn’t have time to complain about what I might be doing wrong.
Well, I found out the other day that they’ve worked it all out and they were all happy happy joy joy at the last family gathering, which I missed. I knew something was up because my dad’s been all over my ass lately. I texted my older sister:
Have you talked to Dad lately?
Yeah, she texted back. I just saw him yesterday. We went out for ice cream.
Really, Mike Brady? I thought. Ice cream? Goddammit. But instead of voicing that, this is what I texted back:
You need to start doing stupid shit again so he gets off my ass. I got in trouble for saying “suck a dick” last weekend.
Lol, she wrote back.
Yes, laugh out loud indeed. If only.
FIRST of all, it’s like my mom said that one time when my dad shot me a dirty look for telling a horrible joke. (I would tell it here, but it’s truly awful. In fact, I read it in one of those Truly Terrible Jokes books and walked around for years pretending it was my own. It actually made me tons of friends in the cool crowd…which made me re-think wanting to be part of the cool crowd.) (Okay, not really. I was so excited to be accepted into the cool crowd after years of braces and bangs, goddammit.)
So my mom, as my dad was getting ready to bitch at me for telling the awful joke (at a Baptism…did I leave that part out?) caught my dad’s eye, motioned to me, and said, “Have you met your daughter Shay? Because this is nothing new.”
I gave her a grateful look as the rest of the family kind of raised their eyebrows and nodded their heads as if to say, “Right? Why’s he getting all pissy now when this has been going on since she slid out of the womb?”
It worked in my favor because they turned it around on him. “He must be having a bad day…” they all muttered, whispering about him as if he were a mental patient and as if I hadn’t just told an awful joke about dead babies….at a Baptism.
That’ll teach him.
Anyway, through the years, I learned to not only embrace this crass personality, but also to hone it because, well, I’m kind of a horseface and I had to rely on other things to get boyfriends.
And I could pull in the hotties.
A good friend of mine in college once looked at me in open awe as the most current hottie in my life pulled out of my driveway after a fun night in which I didn’t have sex with him yet again. (I wasn’t quite the slooter I ended up being just yet. That was more my junior year in college.)
“So you're not having sex with him, yet he keeps coming around,” she murmured, thinking out loud. “I just don’t understand….you've got that really elongated face...”
Then she snapped out of it, realizing that she was being an asshole, but I took no offense because she was right. I mean, she was just as homely as I was back then, but so were all of her boyfriends, while some of mine could have ended up on the pages of People’s Sexiest Man Alive issue.
After mulling it over for a few more seconds, she said, “Actually, I do get it. With a personality like that, you’re never going to have trouble in the dating department.”
She had basically just called me ugly, but for some reason I felt like I had won. “Thanks,” I replied, smiling at her and patting her head patronizingly before heading into the apartment for my morning Dr. Pepper.
So last week when my dad called to ask a question about my son’s birthday party, I was more than a little surprised when, towards the end of the conversation, he said, “Listen, Shay, there’s something I’ve got to talk to you about.”
It sounded a little serious, but I knew it couldn’t be that bad or else he’d have told me earlier in the conversation. I thought maybe it sounded like he was about to chastise me, but I hadn’t done anything wrong…
“Yeah?” I said. I took him off of speaker because I was in the kitchen with my boys, and I wasn’t sure where this was going. Were they about to witness their own sweet mother getting a lecture--high-school style?
“Last weekend when you were talking to me on the phone…well, you told me to suck a dick.”
“Right,” I affirmed, chopping lettuce for that night’s dinner salad.
“Shay, you told me to suck a dick.”
“Uh-huh?” I said, throwing in a few cherry tomatoes.
“You don’t see anything wrong with that?”
“No. And if memory serves—which it may not because I was about 3 strong ones in—you were making fun of me first.”
My dad sighed. “Your 80-year-old aunt was with me.”
“You started it.”
My dad was quiet, and then I got silent simply because I was baffled. I mean, it’s not like I told my aunt to suck a dick.
Finally, my dad spoke again, which I was grateful for because I really wanted to see where this was going. My interest was, as they say, piqued.
“You don’t need to say ‘suck a dick’ when your aunt is with me.”
“But I wasn’t talking to my aunt. I was talking to you.”
“You were on speaker.”
Before I could stop it, a huge bark of laughter escaped from my throat. “What the hell were you thinking, putting me on speaker? Everyone knows you don’t put me on speaker! Oh, no—this is all you, old man,” I chuckled. “Totally your fault.”
I let my mind wander to the time—no, make that to the three separate times, with three different friends—when I’d called them and they answered on speaker. One time, I had dropped a full cup of water just as my friend, a preschool teacher who fortunately was at home and not with a bunch of 3-year-olds, had picked up the phone. Apparently she clicked it to speaker to make talking a little easier just as I was screaming, “FUUUUUUCK!” while my favorite cup soared through the air, landing on the floor and cracking. Her 7th grade daughter was in the kitchen with her, and luckily they love me because they both burst into giggles. The daughter rolled her eyes and said, “So that’s Shay on the phone?”
Yes. Everybody knows—usually through experience—that you don’t put me on speaker.
My dad sighed again. “Listen. You need to call your aunt and apologize.”
I felt my brow furrow wildly into an expression of defiance. I think I even did that head-snappy-back thing and flared my nostrils a little bit. It wasn’t pretty, but given the situation, it was called for. Even if he couldn’t see me.
“You want me to randomly ring my aunt up and say, ‘Sorry I said suck a dick seven days ago, even though it wasn’t to you’? Should I also apologize for yesterday when I told the hubs that the town gossip was a meddling piece of shit who needs to get laid? Or maybe I should tell my aunt I’m sorry for that time last year when I said that the shit I just took was so big that calling it a number 2 didn’t do it justice and that it should be called a number 3. Would you like me to apologize to my aunt for those offenses, too? Here, maybe I should get a piece of paper and make a list—“
“Alright, that’s enough, smartass,” my dad said. “I get what you’re saying. It’s just that…well…Aunt Jean was there, too…”
Ahhhhh…the real reason my dad was suddenly feeling all lecture-like: one of his other older sisters, Aunt Jean the Drama Queen. I love Aunt Jean, I really do, but the thing that makes her the happiest in life—besides slot machines and Depends--is when one of her siblings’ kids messes up and she can remind everyone about it for 3 years.
I could picture the scene: Aunt Jean, bending her ear toward the speaker from which my sexy man voice was flowing, dropping her jaw in mock mortification at the way “you let your kids talk to you, Denny….and in front of our elderly older sister.” (The same “elderly older sister” who is a line-dancing instructor at the local YMCA, by the way.)
My dad must have felt somehow chastised, bruised around the ego, a little bit of, “Maybe I shouldn’t let my kids talk to me like that…” (even though we have the best relationship in the world) going on in his head.
So I needed to bring him back to earth a little bit.
“This is the same Aunt Jean,” I said, acting as if I needed clarification about one of the aunts I’ve known all my life, “who walked past me last year, paused to look up at me, and said, ‘Shay, I just shit my pants a little bit’? Right, Dad? That Aunt Jean?”
My dad sighed. He knew he was losing this one. “But she really had shit her pants,” he tried.
“Well, whose fault was that? She didn’t have to announce it, did she?” Actually, I loved that she announced it, and I was honored that she chose me to be the one she told. She and I had shared a genuine moment that day as we threw our heads back and laughed, and then she went, “Oh, shit. I just did it again. I have to get to the store and buy Depends.” (She doesn’t suffer incontinence, by the way. We were on a trip and she’d gotten traveler’s diarrhea.)
Anyway, I loved her for telling me. But if we were pointing fingers, let’s all remember what Jesus said—let he who lives in a glass house be the first to throw the stone. Or something like that.
“You know what?” my dad said. “Never mind. Just—never mind. Don’t call your aunt.”
“Are you sure?” I pressed. “Because I’ve got this list of all the inappropriate shit I’ve said—“
“NO. Do NOT call your aunt,” my dad said.
“If you insist…” I said, a smile in my voice.
My dad sighed one last time as we hung up the phone, and in that sigh, I could hear his thoughts: What the hell kind of bullshit must I have done in a past life to deserve the shithead kids that I was dealt?
I don’t know, Dad. Probably something really good.
I had moved into my bedroom to talk on the phone since Dad and I were throwing around a lot of “suck a dicks” in the conversation. When I returned to the living room, where my boys were now sitting, watching Henry Danger, my 8-year-old son looked up at me.
“Why was Papa upset with you?” he asked.
The hilarity of the whole situation struck me once more, and I started laughing and couldn’t stop. Finally I managed to squeak out an answer between gasping for breath and wiping the tears from my eyes.
“Because Mommy said a bad word.”
My son looked confused. “But you always say bad words.”
I looked at him, eyes wide in agreement. I threw my arms up in a broad, triumphant shrug.
“Right? That’s what I said, too!”
Ah, the wisdom of the young. He could probably teach my aunt Jean a thing or two.