I was a pretty mild-mannered child, the shy girl who lived on the second floor on the corner, overlooking the library on 111th Street. I lived there with my mom, who was also pretty mild-mannered now that I think of it. The idea that I would do anything bold enough to draw anger seems far-fetched. But I was a kid, and I managed.
I started young. Mrs. Glubka downstairs was a crotchety sturdy lady who never talked to us. She had a scowly crease down her forehead and I knew enough to steer clear of someone who didn’t even smile. She wore those old-lady shoes with heels, all laced up and mean-looking. My mom steered clear too, not even greeting her as she would everyone else we came across in the laundry room or the back steps or by the coal chute in the back parking lot. I don’t think Mrs. Glubka had much fun.
I gradually figured out through my toddlerhood that the bang-bang-bang that rang out sometimes in our living room originated from the end of Mrs. Glubka’s broom handle that she would knock on her ceiling/our floor if I was making too much noise with my big girl shoes. My mom was pretty steamed whenever it happened and would slam a pot or two while making dinner. I didn’t take it to heart since my analysis was that Mrs. Glubka was in the wrong.
The janitor, Andy, the all around guy who took care of our building from coal deliveries to storage room organizing to snow shoveling to back porch sweeping to landscaping, would have throttled me once if not for his wife’s intervention. I was experiencing some newly won freedom to walk around the building on my own many steps away and briefly out of visual surveillance of my mother as she chatted with other moms on someone’s porch.
I was proud of my new independence so when I came across Andy’s apparently greatly prized zinnias from the garden in the center court of our building, I promptly picked them and marched up the sidewalk holding the giant yellow and red flowers aloft.
I ran smack dab into Mrs. Craft, Andy’s wife. She gasped. And she hatched a quick scheme to get me and the flowers out of sight.
“Oh, don’t let Andy see these, little one,” she said. “He will be so so angry. You must rush inside. Scat.” She knew where I lived and hurried me up the back stairs, wiping her hands on her apron and shaking her head.
As she walked away, she mumbled, “All the summer he so proud, and now this!”
I assume I was found out by my mom, but I don’t remember the repercussions. I’ve never picked anybody else’s flowers since though so I’m guessing she made her point.
My boldest act required a few more years but not much improved judgment. And it required the presence of the other kids in the building – some of them bigger than me and most of them boys. We would stand at the top of the hill – yes, a hill in the city. Our building sat on the eons-old former shore of the lake. Cars would whiz down the street headed for the light at the bottom of the hill, just past the end of our woods behind the building. (Later the woods gave way to a stack of two-story apartment buildings, but by that time I was in the babysitting business and some of my best customers lived there, so it was okay with me.)
But my bold act was joining the other kids in flinging crab apples at passing cars. We hid in the bushes so carried out surprise raids. This triggered angry honking, fist-waving and the occasional hollered threat. This was back in the day when any adult went ahead and disciplined any other parent’s children without fear of crossing boundaries.
It was a thrill. I felt lawless. I felt brave. And, like road rage of today, I felt insulated from any real consequences by my distance and the speed of the cars.
So, see? Even the girl in Apt. 2 could step up and draw some anger. The mildest kind. I know because I spent part of today reading pieces from writers telling the stories of childhoods in the shadow of domestic violence, preparing for a book that will collect many such stories. They have much to say.
Years later, after I was grown and gone, the lady downstairs had been replaced by a young couple, given to shouting matches and slamming into walls. My mother, no longer so mild-mannered, heard evidence of that while climbing up the back stairs, banged on their door and demanded to talk to the young wife. The husband refused. My mother insisted. The young woman came to the door and peeked her head out. No, she said, things were under control. So my mother moved on, angry and worried. And told me the story, and I tell you the story, which is about anger. And about courage.
This post met tonight’s BlogapaloozHour challenge to write about a time we had ignited someone else’s temper. If you’d like to subscribe to receive an email whenever I post, please leave your email address below:
Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.