D.R. and I don't fight much. Sure, we get frustrated with each other--eyes are rolled, fingers are pointed, fists find their way to hips (that's my signature move), and there are exceedingly long drawn out breaths of frustration. But our time together has been pleasantly devoid of the ol' Knock Down Drag Out. Make no mistake, this is not from my lack of trying.
I come from a family of fighters. Not so much on my mom's side (although, she perfected the silent treatment and wielded that weapon well when I was young), but my dad's side--whoo boy! There was yelling, stomping, screaming, swearing, slamming doors, and, my personal favorite, the strategic exit of a moving vehicle.
My father and stepmother, Sonjah, were fighting in the car on the way home from dinner one night. Amanda and I listened from the backseat, our foreheads creased with worry. I don't remember what they were fighting about, but Sonjah reached her threshold at the bottom of the biggest hill in our neighborhood. A hill that high school cross country coaches used to train and punish even their most seasoned runners. It's a big ass hill. At the top of her lungs, Sonjah shouted, "Matthew, stop this car right now! I am walking home!" We all tried to convince her that it wasn't necessary to get out of the car five minutes from home.
"I don't care! Stop the car!"
"Fine!" my father shouted. In one quick moment he pulled over to the side of the road, unlocked the car door, and stared straight ahead as his seething wife got out. She slammed her door and my father hit the gas. Amanda and I stared out the back window at Sonjah, astonished at how angry she was; scared she might not make it up the big ass hill and through the suburban wilds of Billings, MT; and, absolutely terrified of our father for letting her do it.
That's how you fight in the Dunn family: guns blazing, don't back down, and always wear comfortable walking shoes.
I employed this rampaging tactic with D.R. exactly one time. Again, don't remember what we were fighting about, but I literally threw down! . . . a pair of his dirty jeans that had not made it into the hamper, but had been living happily crumpled on our COFFEE TABLE for three days. I said something snarky as I slammed the denim on the floor. The gauntlet was thrown! D.R.'s eyes got wide, he braced himself against the couch while I growled and gnashed at him (I turn feral when angry). Then, his eyes went to the ground, his face expressionless, and I knew I had lost him. The defensive wall went up, and whatever I said fell on deaf ears. Progress made: none.
Since then, I've had to refine my tactical approach to conflict. I keep my crazy in check (for as long as I can) and D.R. has learned when it's necessary to rise up and tell me I'm being crazy (illogical, dramatic, unfair, selfish, etc.) . We have our issues just like any couple, but I am learning that it's not necessary to burn down the whole forest just because there's a twig in my shoe. And, I am happy to report, neither of us has ever had to exit a moving vehicle. Progress made: some.
Fortunately, this passion for conflict is the cousin of fierce strength and abiding love for family and friends. Both my mom and dad's families spring into action at the first sign of sadness or pain. If we can't be in the immediate proximity, we are shooting emails, making phone calls, and sending hand written cards. We link up over the time-zones--no matter how long it's been since we've seen each other or spoken--and wage war on whomever or whatever has dared stand against us. In this family you are loved . . . militantly.
When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in November, I handled the news as any normal person would: I cried.
D.R. was leaning on our kitchen counter as I wrapped up The Phone Call. His jaw was tight, his eyes were angry, and his arms were crossed over his puffed out chest. He wanted someone to blame just like I did. He hugged me and waited for me to speak. Since there wasn't much to say, he was content to let me use his t-shirt as Kleenex. Boys are so good at that.
When the crying was over, I took the next logical step that any normal person would: I started a mental draft of my will.
Regardless that every medical professional told me I would be fine. Regardless that I felt great and completely healthy. Regardless that I wasn't even on the surgeon's schedule yet because I wasn't considered "a ticking time bomb", I started leading D.R. around our apartment telling him who gets what in the event that I bite it. He rolled his eyes only a couple of times and reminded me that I was being a bit premature, and possibly--just possibly--a little dramatic. "Nevermind that! Who gets my vast collection of aprons?"
Confident that my worldly goods were in capable hands, I took the next logical step that any normal person would: I Googled "thyroid cancer".
My doctor warned me not to do it. D.R. tried to stop me. Hell, I tried to stop myself! But, as I mentioned, the first sign of pain or sadness, and we go to war. I was at war against an unknown and unwelcome thing. I figured the more knowledge, the better. I won't say that I was WRONG about that, per se, but I will admit that there are things I wish I could un-see. All those horrible accounts of mangled throats, spliced vocal chords, and uncontrollable weight gain kept scrolling across the page. When I brought the computer to bed, D.R. turned over with a disapproving sigh. I stayed awake until 3am, reading and panicking.
The next morning, the questions started. "What if the surgeon gets the wrong chart, and I end up minus one breast or something?"
"I will leave you immediately because I've made it very clear from day one that your breasts are the only reason I'm with you."
"What if they can't regulate the hormones and I turn into some horrible troll of a woman?"
"I will dress you up, charge people admission, and make lots of money off of you."
That, my friends, is someone you want by your side when you go into battle.
I had to go through the joyous process of finding a new doctor and surgeon, which meant surgery was postponed until January. I was ready for pumping anesthesia, flying scalpels, and now I had to wait?! Nothing puts a damper on a war like an enemy not willing to engage.
But, December actually turned out pretty awesome. I saw friends and family, even reconnected with people I hadn't talked to in years. D.R. talked me down from a number of irrational cliffs with the very calm observation, "I wouldn't know what to worry about first, so I'm just not going to start until I have to."
And so, with time, space, and pre-op testing, comes clarity. I am scheduled for surgery on January 20th, and what began as a war to be waged, now feels like a strongly-worded letter to be written.
Dear thyroid cancer:
Get the fuck out!
The thing is, I know I'm a good fighter. I know I can make it up that big ass hill if I have to. Having D.R. by my side makes that possibility a lot less daunting.
But, if shit gets crazy, enjoy my real estate holdings and off-shore accounts. You know who you are.