A family argument last night - of the silent but deadly sort.
One person thinks the other is joking, the first person doesn't hear the humor in her voice and feels hurt and things roll downhill, picking up speed and leaving crushed feelings in their wake. I was not involved, but I know what it feels like... to be one of the people swept away in the misunderstanding, to be one of the walking wounded when it's over.
Some years ago, SisterJ and I were fighting over something - I honestly can't remember what - just that it had started out innocently enough, and before long we were both taking aim at each other the way that only sisters can: with pinpoint accuracy based on years and years of observing each others' weak spots. It was days before we even attempted to speak to each other again, and that just set off another round of accusations, name calling, frustrations and tears. A round of e-mail explanations followed - each of us presenting her side, illustrating her hurts, stating our case for the apology we expected. And I suppose it could have gone on like that for another few weeks (it certainly wasn't out of the question), but the most amazing thing happened.
Somewhere along the line, as she was sitting down to type out what was most likely yet another rant, SisterJ was able to take a step back and say "This is not what I want. I can fix this." And instead of keeping the hatred going, she wrote me a few simple sentences:
"You know what: Fuck it. It's not worth it to me. I'm sorry and I love you."
I was amazed then, and am still amazed today... I don't think I could've done it. I remember how hurt I had been by what she'd said to me, by the way I thought she overreacted, and how sure I was that I was right. I just was so stuck in being hurt, that I don't think I'd have been able to just put it to the side like that. But she did, and because she did I was able to write back: "Me too. It's done. I love you too. I'm sorry."
And that was it. My anger evaporated; I had a new understanding of my sister as a reasonably mature individual (and trust me when I say that there were many years that such an outcome seemed highly unlikely), and when we talked about what had gone wrong - as we eventually did - we did it without the heat, without the pain, and with the attitude that 'hey, for next time? Please try not to... XYZ, because that hurt my feelings."
I still think it was one of the best things I've ever seen anybody do.
And certainly, it was one of the best things I've ever read: I printed out that e-mail, have a much valued copy.
But tonight's argument was like quicksilver - an ordinary conversation burst into flames - hot and smoldering. As my brother-in-law and I attempted vainly to smother the flames, to divert them, to ignore them in the hopes they'd die a quick death, they only grew higher: I knew it had gone from bad to emergent in just the course of - maybe - 45 seconds. Flash fire, instead of flash flood: One careless word, one stubborn-ass response, a pattern as old as any of us.
It hurt to see the pain in her eyes as she packed up her stuff - she'd been so excited to show us her wares not more than 10 minutes before, and now she rushed to get into her coat, left before the pasta she picked was even out of the pot.
And then there's explanations to He who wasn't in the room, and the discussion that must follow.
It's not wrong to hide in my room, from the disappointment, the sadness, the uselessness of it all, is it?
I know eventually, they'll figure it out, but it was just so stupid. It was one of those nothing-things that turns out to be a something. And I'm so sick of somethings: We've got real problems, we've got to put our energy where it should be instead of wasting it on this crap. I shouldn't have to sit here with this ball of tension in my stomach, waiting for whatever comes next. When I think of all the drama we've got in our lives, and how much of it winds up being pointless, it makes me so mad: I haven't got the energy, the resources, or the patience for useless drama anymore.
It makes me think I should've tried harder to avoid the blowup, but it isn't my fault that two English speaking adults couldn't communicate without a translator: I don't know that it was anybody's fault, really... because I've been there: Sometimes even a grown up winds up acting petty, being hurt unrealistically, being overly sensitive. Sometimes we don't act our age. It sucks, and it would've been nice if I could've managed to avoid the big misunderstanding, because there was no reason it had to end up like it did, but it's not my responsibility.
Now I just have to wait for it all to clear up, and I am not good at the waiting, at the butting out and letting people figure out how to come back together on their own. But I'm working on it.