I find it puzzling how society feels that it is absolutely normal to be constantly showing the best parts of yourself. We joke about uncomfortable things and then push them aside, to be delt with at a time when the lights are off and the doors are closed. I noticed even in my own relationships and friendships that I mentioned only the silly, funny fights and arguments, never the difficult ones that caught me in the gut and bashed against my gums.
My partner and I have had, in 4 years, 2 of these gut crunching, gum bashing fights. Not physically. Our fists are replaced by carefully constructed, intellectually phrased paragraphs of linguistic fire. We burn our way through the night and sometimes the coals are still simmering 3-4 days later, sometimes even months later.
I feel it is important to explain that as a couple, we have had to learn how to fight each other. He being born into a land of all thing British, rural, wealthy, polite and placed, has only ever shouted at dogs, cows, football matches and on rugby fields in his youth. He is a man who says please, thank you and sorry, far too much. He is assertive but softly spoken and relies heavily on logic.
I, on the other hand, am South African, raised in a confined space, with few rules. A place always filled with animals, people and noise. I come from a people who shout when we are excited, shout when we are angry, shout when we are hungry, shout when we are tired, shout when we are happy. We shout even when shouting is an effort. We shout because shouting is fun and illustrates facial features when a face can not be seen or is far away.
I remember the very fist time I shouted at this man that I have come to call partner and love of my life, he looked, in that moment, like a 6-year-old child. Eyes wide and lips slightly parted. Mind completely empty, in shock. It took him a while to find words and explain that no one had ever in his entire (then ) 30 years of living, spoken to him in that way.
My angry shout turned fast into a shout of laughter. I couldn’t believe this man. I was momentarily annoyed, by something that, in the next moment, I could not even remember the reason for, and here he sat, petrified. In my mind, my shout was an exclamation, hardly an attack.
Over time we have grown in our understanding of each other and our vocal volumes have merged, meaning he has become louder and I have tried my best to stay at my same volume.
There is one place though where we keep bashing heads. He tries to help me in a situation in which I have not asked him for help. He steps in, unknowingly using his gender or his race to aid me in some way or another. This is my red flag. The lid comes off and my volume can not be turned down.
Once I am tired and my sweat has dried, I eat (because anger makes me hungy). He will say, “I think you over reacted a bit, I was just trying to help.” In this moment, there are two options, I walk out or I stab him multiple times with the thickest, biggest, sharpest knife that we own. That is all.
This has only happened twice and luckily there were never any knives at hand. So I walked away, meaning never to come back. But sadly for me, walking away has only ever got me as far as the front door because in my rage I still have to acknowledge that the car I drive is his and so driving it away from him with the intention of never bringing the car back, well, that’s theft. Sigh.
We have tried many times to speak about what happens when a white man steps into a space. I have tried to illustrate it by finding examples in everyday life. He is a clever man, a man who contemplates and observes and debates everything and he tries hard to be conscious of these things that I highlight. But he is white and he is a man and the world has never asked him to be anything else and so his change is a slow one.
My change too is slow. I know that as his partner I need to be there every step of the way, as he is for me. And I know that I need to be patient and considerate. I know these things but my anger has no shape and can not be bridled when it comes to white patriarchy and the immediate crown that is put on the head of a white man in ANY given situation.
There have been 2 fights in 4 years, and I am sure that there will be many more still to come. But I trust that our lessons will become easier to learn and my anger softer and his efforts greater. And yes, my efforts greater too. He and I. This is the forever kind of love, I don’t know where it came from, but it’s here in the space between he and I. It lives like a plant, flowering and wilting, but it lives. This much I know.