I distinctly remember being in his basement watching a war movie. The room was completely dark, but the screen’s flickering and flashing with the bombshells and artillery lit the room. But the movie had just ended, and this was usually his time for self-reflection. War movies will do that to a man. They make him think about what his life is worth, about whether his life is as exciting, as full of conflict, as meaningful. Then he said the phrase I would only understand six years later:
“I don’t think we fight enough.”
In fact, we never fought—well, I never fought. About politics, about religion, about movies or television. No matter how important or silly, I didn’t want to fight. Who wants to fight? Who likes arguments? Doesn’t arguing mean you’re not happy? That you don’t agree? His meaning was lost on me. I laughed at first when he said that. So I asked him, “Isn’t that a good thing?”
All he did was shrug. It was the same shrug I would see three weeks later when he said he didn’t want to be with me anymore, but that we could still be friends.
I remember that I told my mom what he said about fighting, and she didn’t seem to understand it either. If my own mother didn’t understand it, it certainly was nonsense; so I chalked it up to his being a silly teenage boy trying to find meaning where there was none.
Over the past few years, I have given more thought to that phrase. Over time, I have come to learn that he was wise beyond his years.
At first I thought he meant that arguing made a relationship more exciting, so it should be done now and then to shake things up. Wrong.
Sometimes I thought that he meant that love was war, and that you had to fight for what you wanted. Closer.
Then we had a huge fight my freshman year, and for the first time, I argued with him. I told him I thought he was wrong, and eventually, I told him not to speak to me for awhile. It was the first time we ever fought in the entire time we’d known each other. I remember staring at the portable phone in my dorm room; its form was blurred by the tears that were freely falling from my eyes. I was breathless, speechless, empty. I had lost my best friend because of a fight. I had been right after all these years: fighting ruined relationships.
But I wasn’t right. When my tears dried, when his hand healed after punching a wall when we fought, when we both calmed down enough to speak again that summer, I knew that wasn’t what he meant about fighting. We talked more and more. We had heart-to-hearts in each others’ cars outside a coffee shop when it had closed, and we weren’t done talking. We revisited the pain that came with that fight. In fact, we called it The Fight (yes, with capital letters) because it was the only one we’d ever had. I cried more than once, he got teary-eyed a few times. And we had small arguments when we disagreed about what happened.
I started to understand what he meant about fighting then. Now, he and I get along very well. But even after all the talking through it all, I was only halfway towards complete understanding of the fighting thing.
I finally felt like I understood what he meant last week. I was in the car with my current boyfriend on the way to the bowling alley. We were having an argument about politics, specifically Iraq. Our spat about whether to send more troops, whether democracy was possible, whether Bush was right or wrong in this situation or that situation drowned out the well-meaning songs on the iPod. He was using more and more hand motions, a sign that he was getting frustrated because he knew I was right. I was gritting my teeth a little because I’m stubborn, but I knew parts of what he was saying were more right than mine.
“You can’t force a new regime on people whose characters aren’t molded to that way of thinking,” I explained again.
“Right,” he said, seeing an opportunity, “but they can be educated. You can change your habits.”
I cringed a little. He had a point. “But you can’t separate it the way we do. Their religious conflicts are so deep and so important that something like separation of church and state can’t work. Their church is their state.”
“Not necessarily. Well you don’t have to set it up in the same way,” he countered. “It won’t ever be exactly like us, but we have to try.”
I employed some of my education. “But different people need different kinds of government. Maybe democracy isn’t right for them,” I suggested.
“Maybe not,” he agreed, “but tyranny wasn’t working, either.”
We went back and forth, arguing and countering and reexamining, and we never really settled it. About ten minutes before we reached the bowling alley, we stopped arguing. Neither of us was convinced, but we never “agree to disagree.” We had shaken each others’ foundations just enough to keep us thinking. We had come to the common ground that there was no common ground.
After a moment or two of hearing nothing but the engine humming and the music playing softly, he reached over and held my hand. I smiled and looked at him. He, too, was smiling.
That’s when I understood what my old friend had meant about us not fighting enough. It meant we didn’t care enough—about politics, about religion, about movies or television… but mostly about what we thought, and about each other.
That’s when I thought maybe—just maybe—he had been right. And in my head that night, I thanked him.
Samantha Vajskop is a junior from Brecksville, Ohio, majoring in History
and Political Science.