Fight like a girl

Written by on August 14, 2009 at 11:34 am

Patty got into her first fight when she was 12 years old. The lessons she learned then prepared her to fight a new kind of antagonist as an adult.

I got into my first fight when I was twelve years old. I was walking home from school with my best friend Gina when a group of other girls surrounded us. In seconds, I went from thinking about my afternoon snack to strategizing how to get home with my teeth intact. The fight — here's a surprise — was over a guy. The boyfriend of the one of the girls had taken far too much interest in my red hair, and she wasn't pleased.

Words escalated, pushes turned to shoves, hair was pulled, fists were thrown, nails were dug, sweaters were ripped, and the world went upside down. I was looking up at kneesocks and plaid skirts, the sky was grass, and then I was back on my feet again. Long story short: Gina and I had the stuffing kicked out of us.

"Stay away from Nicky," said a girl who looked almost as bad as we did. I could see tears glistening in her eyes and in that moment, I was childishly glad. I pulled my shoulders back and said, "Stay away from me." Big words. Little girl.

I looked down at my sweater, absolutely dismayed at the dirt and holes with only one thought circling my head: what was I going to tell my mother?

We went to Gina's house first and Mrs. Demartallio met us at the door. She was properly shocked, even more so when Gina burst into tears. She listened to our story of the big mean girls and then said in her sweet sing-song voice, "Gina, honey, tell me you didn't fight!"

"But Mom!" Gina said, "They hit us first!"

Mrs. Demartallio wasn't buying it. Sweetness hardened to steel. "Ladies don't fight, Gina Maria. Never."

When I got to my house, the bruises were already black and my sweater and skirt looked even worse. I was miserable, and as I searched my pocket for my key, the misery grew. Most likely the key lay in the middle of Congress Avenue. I knocked and my mother opened the door. She stood there in the doorway, one hand on the knob, the other holding her cigarette. She didn't say a word as she looked me up and down. She lifted her cigarette to her mouth, took a drag and blew it out. Smoke swirled around her head. I couldn't stand it another minute.

"Ma, these girls attacked us, but me and Gina, we were ladies and didn't fight back," I lied.

Her eyebrows rose and she took another drag. "Well then," she said calmly, "You're a G-D fool."

Shock wasn't just written on my face; it went right down to my toes. She pointed the cigarette at me and said, "You never throw the first punch, but you don't ever take the second."

She instructed my father to teach me how to "fight like a girl. Not a lady." And so that night, I learned how to protect myself.

I haven't taken many more physical punches in my life but, like everyone else, I've had my share of emotional ones. At times, MS threatens to knock me out, and that's when I most keenly remember that day in my mother's sun filtered Chelsea kitchen.

MS may throw a punch, but it's up to me to fight back. It's up to me to refuse to be a victim. It's up to me to do what I can to stop this disease from taking me down. And while the MS Challenge Walk helps me feel like I am taking my power back, it does one other thing, too: I know I'm not in the fight alone.

Diagnosed with MS in 1994, Patty responded the way many do: she refused to discuss it. It took her ten years to realize that silence isn't the answer. She, her friends and family formed the Blister Buddies for their first Challenge Walk in 2004. Patty is now on the Challenge Walk Steering Committee and chairs the PR Subcommittee. In November 2008, she became a member of the Greater NE Chapter's Board of Trustees.

1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Steve says:

    I love this story! What a great lesson from your mom. We should have a punching bag at Sea Camps so everyone can fight back!