I’ve only had one physical altercation when I was in school. In 6th grade I slapped a boy while standing in the back of a classroom on our 1:20 break. That boy, my foe, is now my husband. Gary Wayne Thomas was my mortal enemy; he was a football player on the academic team. “Smart jock” was suppose to be my gig and this jerk was trying to steal my thunder. To make matters worse, he crushed on my best friend. So naturally, I hated him (6th grade girl logic, duh). I nicknamed him “Roadkill” and spat insults at him whenever I had the opportunity; he stole that routine from me too. One day his insults went a little too far: something about me doing something with a dog that, honestly, my middle school mind really didn’t even know the definition of. But, I knew enough to know this jerk needed to be put in his place, so I smacked him across the face and walked out of that classroom with my head high and secretly praying I wouldn’t get in trouble.
Turns out, that would be our first fight followed by many, many others for next 25 years.
In seventh grade, Gary took it upon himself to go around to all of my Class President campaign posters that read “Vote for Abby” and add a “Sc” in front of my name. Cute, Roadkill, real cute. This exacerbated our debates and we relentlessly badgered each other. It wasn’t too long after that, a truce was called. We were pretty civil and kept our fighting to eyerolls, arm punches, and smartass comments for the next several months.
To be such a self-proclaimed proponent of women’s rights, I had zero self-confidence. My friends were popular, gorgeous, and skinny. I was a six-foot monster who wore a size 12 shoe and bought boy clothes, because not a single store in tiny Morehead carried a “woman’s long.” I felt most comfortable in my Umbro soccer shorts and thought dressing up was a nice polo. Bless my heart. Despite my best friend’s efforts, the best I could do was hot roll my hair (and that was usually in a ponytail by 2nd period). Because I was a total, yet typical, trainwreck of a middle school girl, resistance was my most developed emotion. If I hated everything I really liked and pushed it away while declaring it’s insignificant and ignorance, I didn’t have to deal with rejection. Problem solved. Middle school angst for the win. So, I was really, really good at hating boys. Especially, the ones I liked.
The problem was by 8th grade, I didn’t really hate Gary anymore. In fact, I found myself awkwardly hanging out with him in the back of Mrs. Armstrong’s room during 7th period study hall. He was kind of funny and there was something comfortable about hanging out with a guy who didn’t make me feel like Hilda, the giant daughter of Paul Bunyan. (Sidenote: I played the part of Paul Bunyan in a class presentation of a collection of Shel Silverstein poetry. It’s like I needed to be the weirdest person in the room). Gary also liked rap music, which I also started to get into despite my strict upbringing of 1970’s rock. Rap was appealing mostly because hip hop fashion was defined by baggy clothes. I mean, what overweight girl was going to pass up the chance to wear baggy pants and a sweatshirt all in the name of fashion? This girl, right here knew that sagging my pants meant I didn’t have to acknowledge the muffin top that has been with me since “Kriss Kross could make ya, Jump! Jump!” Anyway, Roadkill and his rap tapes were kinda growing on me. The arm punches and insults were being traded in for hand-holding and weird attempts at flirting. By April of 1995, the meanest thing Gary did to me was pull my ponytail in the middle of a class field trip to get my attention and ask me to “go out” with him. (*“Going out” was 1990’s terminology for dating, but as 8th graders we literally never went out anywhere.)
So the resistance subsided and the fighting turned into unadulterated, adolescent, puppy love complete with “for your eyes only” notes and hours of talking on the phone. God, the late night phone calls. Kids, listen. You will never know the pure joy of the all-night phone call with your significant other: pretending to hang up when your parents tell you to go to bed, fighting over who should hang up first (you are lying if you say you haven’t done it), falling asleep while listening to the other one review their favorite X Files plots (No? Just me?). These phone conversations became a stronghold to our relationship.
This nonsense continued for a year until high school made everything about life more complicated. In addition to my identity issues, my resistance returned – this time in the form of a dedicated, student-athlete who wanted more out of high school than just following her boyfriend around, waiting on him to earn his lettermen jacket so she could wear it. I wanted my own letterman jacket. This resistance and “I am woman, hear me roar” theme would become the undercurrent (or more accurately, whirlpool) of my relationship with Gary for several years. Repeated conversations about my priorities would start a thousand fights and even a few breakups throughout our high school career. But eventually we made it of high school together and entered college at Morehead State. The priority issue was still a problem in college, especially when Gary left school to work for the Kentucky State Police. Gary frequently felt slighted by my basketball schedule and obsessive need for GPA perfection. But we persisted, despite ourselves.
Even on the night Gary was going to propose marriage, I fought him. In my defense, I didn’t know he was going to propose and his timing wasn’t super well thought out. My mom had just me a huge pan of lasagna that I was going to share with my roommates after a particularly tough practice. You guys, my mom can cook up some fierce lasagna. And Gary showed up out of nowhere on a random Tuesday night wanting to take me out to the lake – without stopping for so much as a milkshake first. I nagged him enough that he bought me an Ocean Water from Sonic, but bless his soul, my hangry kicked in full force and I bitched at him from Main Street to Billy’s Branch. In fact, it was so terrible he says he almost reconsidered the proposal. But he asked anyway and I said “Yes”. With that we agreed to spend our lives together forever.
Marriage didn’t tame my resistance or natural inclination to fight Gary. Actually, I recall a very nuanced and lengthy conversation regarding whether or not the word “submit” was going to be used in our wedding vows – it wasn’t, by the way. As we struggled with adulthood, our fights increased. My perfect student routine was replaced with a perfect employee complex, coupled with the inability to say “no”. Gary worked two jobs and we rarely saw one another. We spent years fighting over everything from sleep schedules to money woes to dirty laundry (we still haven’t resolved that latter one). Much like our fights in middle school, our arguments were basically just a lot of pointless nagging and grumpy insults. We’ve had a lot of laughs and precious memories, but at the same time it’s not like we’ve been nonstop staring into each other’s’ eyes since 2003.
After throwing our only daughter, Charley Anne, into the mix in 2008, my resistance turned into defeat. Screw.it. I was too tired to roar as I didn’t have time to fight Gary, the laundry, and my overwhelming mom/wife/teacher/coach guilt. Any and every fight between 2008-2012 was started simply because someone was sleep deprived. End of story. But again, we persisted through the tough toddler years semi-intact.
The past few years have been full of changes: Gary left his job in Morehead and started a new one in Lexington. We left Bath County for Morehead and then on to Mount Sterling. I left the school had been teaching at for 10 years. And most recently, Gary lost his dad. These changes piled on top of the normal stresses of being parents and adults, has not brought out the best in either of us. We have been predispose to a good fight since the day we met. However, our recent fights were angry and mean as we struggled to communicate with each other through the messiness of our lives. Yelling and nagging was easier than patience and understanding. Full disclosure- it was to a point that Charley noticed that her parents fought more than they laughed. Though we have never, ever considered or discussed divorced, Charley was certain lawyers and custody schedules were being worked out. And she even shared this with her guidance counselor. Charley, by the way, is a big fan of the guidance office (I think there is candy involved, or at least a break from class time). We reassured Charley that we were not divorcing, and that we are both just really good at calling out the other.
Lately, with little explanation, the fighting and arguing has settled down. Sometimes, Gary looks at me and asks, “Why are we are getting along so well these days?” I usually say I don’t know, but I actually have a few theories.
One distinct addition to our lives is our podcast, Close Enough. Gary has talked about doing it for awhile, but I would never commit. (Ahem, resistance). Then one Saturday he told me to sit down at his desk and talk into the microphone. (One of the 12 that he has ordered from Amazon). For one hour, once a week, Gary and I sit down together without our phones, without my schoolwork, without his video games, and without Charley. We look at each other and we talk about absolutely nothing. The laughter, the stories and the conversation may not make a bit of sense to anyone else, but us. I don’t think it makes sense to us half the time. For no reason at all, we have bonded over this silly, little podcast. Look, I know. It sounds stupid and corny and cheesy. But, you know, so did all those 4 AM phone conversations when we talked about nothing and everything all at once, while we got to know one another and ultimately became best friends.
Here’s to hoping this podcast brings us closer, or at least, close enough.