This piece was originally performed for Greetings, from Queer Mountain in September 2015.
I’d like to think I’m good at letting go of things. But it’s mostly because because holding on uses up a lot of energy and I get tired! I find holding grudges to be exhausting. If I am ever in a contest for who can stay mad the longest, I will lose every time.
My mother, on the other hand, holds on to EVERYTHING. She’s one of those people where, when you have a fight, will bring up things from five years ago. Or, since she’s my mother, anything from conception onward is fair game. “I carried you for nine months….” “Okay, Mom, but I never asked to be born, did I?” That now-classic exchange some child out there is having with its mother as I speak.
Growing up, I found myself grossly unprepared to do battle in this way. We’d be mid-argument and she’d starting listing all my failures from the past. Leaving me to stutter, “Well, but you– and then– and I never— I’m sure there’s– I just didn’t write it down. I didn’t think to bring a list.”
My mother keeps score. Every time I didn’t do the dishes. Every water glass left on the coffee table. Every cookie she ever baked for PTA. Every time she ever drove me anywhere, or bought me anything. Every doctor’s appointment. Every dollar spent on my education. That time she combed lice out of my hair all night.
And that’s not to say I don’t appreciate what she’s done for me. Although, that’s exactly what she would say. It’s more that what I did or didn’t do I did out of love or not and then promptly forgot. I’m on to the next thing. Always thinking ahead instead of looking back. Too much on my mind to tally points in some relationship pop quiz.
There are never two kinds of people, but if we say there are two kinds of people, there are the people who keep score and the people who don’t. I learned to keep score to protect myself. After being bombarded with all the things she did for me for so long, I started remembering what I did back.
Hoarding facts like ammunition.
Preparing myself for battle.
But armor is heavy. You can’t walk as far when you’re wearing it. That’s why knights rode horses back in the day.
I learned to keep score to make sure I was winning. To make sure I never owed anyone anything. So I could know that there was nothing anyone could throw at me in the middle of a fight to prove I didn’t love them enough.
Because there’s no real way to tell the difference between people who keep score and people who don’t. Not at first. And once you’ve been ambushed on the road one too many times, you learn to watch your back.
When I first started dating my current partner, I was keeping score in my head, just in case he was, too. Okay, I drove to your house. One point to me. But you cooked dinner. One point to you. But I did the dishes. That’s at least a half a point.
Or with money. Sometimes at a restaurant we’d go dutch. But other times one or the other of us would pick up the tab, depending on who was doing better financially at the time. As long as I was doing okay I didn’t mind if he didn’t pay me back right away (or even at all), but I made sure I paid him back. Because in my mind, I had to make sure I didn’t owe him anything.
But then, one summer came along with reduced hours at my job. Suddenly, I wasn’t doing so well financially. Suddenly, I couldn’t pay him back right away, or even at all. Suddenly, I owed him something. And that felt bad.
But I remember one day we were sitting in my car and he turned to me and said, “You know, fair doesn’t always have to be equal.” And this wave of relief washed over me. I had permission to stop keeping score.
And I realized that keeping score is a childish, Biblical way to act. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. It’s like the toddler who cries if she gets a green cookie but Sally got a blue one. Or the way if I give my cat some treats I have to give my roommate’s cat treats, too, or there will be hell to pay. Hell. To. Pay.
Because what’s fair is that the person with the car drives around the person who doesn’t. That the person with more money picks up the tab. That the person with more energy cooks dinner. That the person with a job buys clothes for the kid who isn’t old enough to have a job. That the person without lice combs the hair of the person with lice.
What’s fair is doing what you think is right not because of the favor that person will owe you later, but because you want to do it. What’s fair is owning your own decisions and not blaming them on other people.
Once you’ve learned to keep score to protect yourself, it’s a hard thing to unlearn. Sometimes I still want to say, “But I drove to your place last week,” or “I cooked dinner last time.” Or “Remember that you still owe me $15 for Chinese food.” But instead of saying any of those things, I can hold that thought up to the light, accept it as true, and then let it go.
Accountability is a bitch. But the decisions we make are ours alone, regardless of what anyone else does in response. Everything you have done for someone else, you chose to do. Even if they asked you to do it, you had the power to say no. Now, that’s not to say there shouldn’t be reciprocity in relationships. If one person is doing everything and another person is doing nothing, that’s a problem. But sometimes the benefits we get from loving someone aren’t something that can be tallied on a scoreboard. The joy I get from my partner’s presence – surely that is worth a plate of fried tofu and some veggie eggrolls, right? Being able to vent about my problems and get support and advice. How many trips to HEB is that?
The problem with an eye for an eye is that it’s fine as long as everyone is trading eyeballs. But how many teeth is an eye worth? How many chickens for a loaf of bread? This is why the barter system failed and now we have money.
So now, whenever I feel that little calculator in the back of my brain activating, I let it go. Because armor is heavy. And I’ve got shit to do.