I like to fight. I can’t help it. My Irish father used to delight in telling his kids that our surname Kelly meant ‘troublesome’ in Gaelic. He’d laugh as he said it, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
Dad was a trial lawyer, and by nature, he liked to argue. At family gatherings, my older siblings would often refuse to take the bait, preferring to pursue the path of diplomacy. Not me. I gave as good as I got. Frequent sparring became a central part of Dad’s and my relationship, and he’d pick fights with me on purpose, knowing that more often than not, I’d rise to the occasion.
When Dad was sick and living alone in his home in Olympia, he became even more stubborn and set in his ways. He was maddening, impossible. Everything was a negotiation. We wanted him to be in hospice care, he wanted to die alone at home. We tried to get him a live-in caretaker; he absolutely refused to have a stranger – no matter how qualified or permissive or kind – in his house.
And so it went, the battles. As Dad’s health declined, he labeled me the ‘aggressive’ one. My sisters were much sweeter, nicer, more patient, while I still fought Dad at nearly every turn. And I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it.
One of my last visits to Olympia coincided with an epic football match up between our alma maters: Dad’s beloved Oregon Ducks against my USC Trojans. Dad not only refused to watch the game with me because I wasn’t rooting for his team, he went so far as to banish me to another room, where I watched the game, sequestered away from him where he couldn’t hear me cheer if USC scored a touchdown. While my sister Deirdre shuttled back and forth between the two rooms, Dad and I watched and rooted against each other in our separate corners. At halftime, he abruptly shuffled into the kitchen to make himself a drink, barked ‘exciting game,’ and then retreated back to his den.
It’s no wonder I take sports so seriously. It’s no wonder I’m so competitive. I learned it from my Dad. I learned how to hold my own in fiery, contentious arguments. I learned that fighting with style and eloquence and passion is more effective than fighting fair. And I learned that the person who gets the last word usually wins, and so I always, always try to get the last word. A quality that not everyone finds endearing.
There’s a reason I’m drawn to the film noir genre and co-produce a noir play festival: I love to play bitches. The acting roles I get the most excited about are damaged, edgy, tough, dark and twisted dames who like to break the rules and who will claw and scrape for what they want. I may look like the girl next door, but I’d much rather be Lady Macbeth. After all, it’s a lot more fun to step into someone else’s skin if you’re able to take bolder risks and bigger chances than you’re allowed to in real life, and you’re not bound by the societal expectation to play nice.
There’s a part of me that understands that I have to follow the rules, and there’s a part of me that wants to break stuff, just to watch it shatter. I want to light things on fire and watch them burn. I want to crash the car, to jump off the cliff, to push the limits of what I can get away with.
I like to fight. I like to win. It’s why I’m still here. It’s why I won’t give up. And it’s why, sometimes, I live up to my last name.
Until next time, friends.