A Thing or Two About Anger

After six long years, Chicago, I blew it. I had gone six whole years since the last time I lost my temper. What brought me to this? One stuck up, ignorant school administrator who doesn't think before she speaks.  And maybe a few other things, as well.

The thing about what I do is that the stakes are high. When you work with cancer patients, you can either toughen up and keep people at an arm's length or you can let them in and risk getting hurt. How I've always approached my work is that if it ever stops hurting and I'm not letting these patients into my heart, that's the day I register for culinary school. In this line of work, when you let people into your heart, they then own a piece of it. When I see someone trying to hurt one of them, there is nothing I won't do to put an end to it.

For five days, I was working with a school administrator whose ignorance and stupidity were upsetting to a family. I can give no details, except to point out that this came down to money and school politics. I listened for five days to insensitive comments, ludicrous thoughts and her assumptions on what she would do if she was in a parent's shoes. I don't know if it was the fact that my socks were a bit too thick for my cute boots or if it was the idiot who went in a wrong way lane to bust a u-turn in order to beat me to the line at Caribou.  Something set me off. One final ignorant comment and boom, there were about 90 seconds of unfiltered verbal sludge. Most of it feels lost in an irate fog, but I do remember my final words: "Does your superintendent comb the area for village idiots or are you just that mean?"

Silence, followed by a quick and probably insincere apology on her part. We hung up the phone and within five minutes, I had an email conveying that they would be arranging what I was advocating for. My boss found it wonderful and entertaining, even clapping for me when I walked out of the conference room.  I had done what I needed to do to advocate for my client.  Just like the text books in college said.

For about an hour, I felt really good. I marveled at how light my heart felt and like I owned the world. I knew that when I was fighting for this child, it wasn't just about an idiot. It was about all that hurt and anger I didn't know was there. I began to notice this creeping, uncomfortable feeling that's hard to put a name to. As the morning went on, despite being unbelievably busy, I couldn't stop having these thoughts go through my head. Thoughts about six years ago when I last blew up at someone. Thoughts about all the times I should have blown up on someone. Thoughts about why I haven't been able to find my voice when someone hurt me. Thoughts about how empty it felt to not have whatever that was inside me.

All of a sudden, I can remember the last time I lost my temper like it was yesterday. Standing on the driveway of the house I had built with my ex. It was a place I loved, loved, loved to be. Our marriage had fallen apart, but we were still clinging to that impossible "we'll always be there and friends." We were sharing custody of our dog and I had come to pick him up when I was faced with a stranger's car in my old driveway. I just knew. It was the worst moment in my life. Sure enough, there was another woman. I ranted over how much I had sacrificed and given along the way. How I wished I would've broken it off back when I left for college and could have had anyone I wanted (a bit exagerated but rage will do that to a girl). I called him a "suit" for selling out to corporate America and indulging in fancy cars, expensive clothes and boring people.  And I remember the last words I said and the last time I ever looked him in the eye: how could you do this to me? That afternoon I stared at the lake outside my new bachelorette pad for hours. I thought about how I felt I didn't belong anywhere. I thought about how embarrassed I was that I yelled at him and was mean to him when that was not what I wanted to do. My biggest hurt that afternoon was a surprise to me. I thought about how I'd probably never have a baby.  That was so strange to me, because I had not thought much about children up until that point when I thought I'd never get that chance to again.  This was completely irrational, but in that state, your thoughts aren't always the most accurate.  I also thought about how hurt he looked when I yelled that final question at him and shook my head.  When you spend a third of your life with someone, you know every expression.  I knew I had hurt him and I knew I hated myself for being so mean.  The only way I can describe what happened that afternoon is that it was like I broke my tongue.  A crazy image, yes, but seriously, I broke something.  From then on, I have never  been able to say what I need to say when someone hurts me.

Unfortunately, a few guys later, I became involved with someone who was pretty good at hurting people.  I didn't see it coming, because he was such a "good guy (blech)" and everyone loved him.  It wasn't until I was pregnant when I saw the true colors.  My broken tongue didn't go to well with a temper that could shake walls.  It was a match made in hell and it sure didn't help my new communication style of hiding my face and remaining silent.  Over and over again, there would be screaming and awful things, but I kept silent.  Thankfully, I was eventually able to get brave enough to leave and I started off on my own.  Broken but mending tongue and a baby in tow.

During this past year, I had a new boss who would have given Stalin something to be proud of.  She hurled put downs and insults my way every chance she got.  I've never really been one hundred percent sure as to her reasoning, but I wasn't the only target so I don't think about it too much anymore.  There were a few times I felt like I could almost say something back, but then I'd have a hard time catching my breath and that darn tongue would stay were it was.  I was also lucky enough to get to leave that job and took over my new position as a manager.  Shortly there after, a bully of an employee blew up on me.  My hands couldn't stop shaking, but I felt my tongue tingle.  I was not going to let someone bully me ever again.  I sat on my hands and calmly told her to knock it off.  After that confrontation, I closed my door and leaned against the wall.  I couldn't believe that I finally was able to have a voice again.  It was weak, but it worked.   Maybe it was that final phase I needed to get my tongue rehabbed and ready to stick up for something or somebody.

These last few weeks, I've been in a weird spot.  I kept thinking "maybe I'm angry" over a recent experience.  It felt so odd, though.  I don't get angry.  Hurt, yes, but not angry.  Never angry.  I had given that up, six years ago.  The more I thought about it, the more this strange feeling seemed to take up space in me.  I've been thinking about it and it's occurred to me that maybe it's okay and safe again to get angry.  When people do crappy things, I need to get angry.  In fact, I'd say angry might need to take up a little place on one of my shelves just in case I need it sometime.

For better or worse, today for a very good reason, my tongue finally healed.  For 90 seconds while I spewed the law, threats of going to the superintendent and the rights of a sick child, I finally put some of the past behind me.  When that following hour was up,  as I thought about all those times that I couldn't find my words and I found that there's an empty space now.  It's odd to have a vacant spot feeling.  I can't say vacant feels good.  I'm not sure what to think about vacant.  But tonight it occurs to me that I didn't realize that the nagging, annoying anger I felt these last few weeks, was a sign that things were getting better. Like when a scape starts itching as it heals, I think that anger was the final sign I was ready to use my tongue again.

So goodnight, Chicago.  I promise to use my newly healed tongue only for the good of our city (that's what she said (okay I couldn't resist)).  I think I'll start with an apology to that village idiot for implying that she was a village idiot...



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