Temper runs a little hot in my family. It’s hard to guess that I might come from a long line of terrifying tempers, given my cool, implacable, barely ever ruffled let alone upset, online persona. But I do; most of my immediate family goes from zero to white hot rage in seconds. And it’s not rage that guillotines once and scuttles off to sulk in a corner; it is rage that gathers fury like a psychotic dustbuster in your ‘pantry’ that you supposedly use frequently because ‘cooking’. It collects the flames of its family and invites your friends to come watch the inferno while you are doused in the future you haven’t yet lived, unchanted stories in dismal flakes of bewildered ashes around you.
I had a moment for myself in my way-back fluster-years, where I found myself screaming at my then-boyfriend. Let’s call him Splatch. Splatch was a verbally and emotionally abusive asshole, and if anyone deserved to be berated and shamed into a literal heap of jizz crusted Kleenex, it was him. I didn’t realize he was this particular breed of asshole (the abusive sort) for most of the relationship; every time I yelled, I felt awful. I hated myself and I hated him and I hated how nothing I said mattered, how nothing ever changed. Not really. But at that point, I hadn’t defined his behavior in terms of abuse; I had no idea I was a victim.
Splatch had lied about something (again) and was sidling out of it with yet another twisty aria on ‘well if you look at it this way then I didn’t really do anything wrong’, and I screamed a bunch of words at him. An actual shriek. I remember the look of surprise on his face, the moment my voice hit my ears an infinite slap across my self-image. I remember the stillness in the room as I let the sentence die half in my mouth, half in shards across the naked floor.
And I promised myself:
No. You will never scream at someone like that again.
And the second bit, that followed without me having processed it, was:
Not even if they deserve it like this shithead does.
(It was done after that. I left.)
I didn’t veto my screaming out of some dribbleshit idea that he maybe didn’t deserve it. He did. I refused to succumb to the utter wretchedness of my screech because I hated that my temper made me feel ugly. I hated that my rage was unrecognized and stealthy. I hated how misunderstood my own anger was. I hated that I’d ignored it for so long, it had to break my heart just to be heard.
I believe in anger. I have practiced how to be angry in ways that do not lead to satchels of self-harm and abuse because I believe that my anger is necessary. Not always, not all the time; just sometimes. It’s not perfect. I have slipped and become so hurt that my anger has led to bad choices on my side of the scale. I have snapped, I have become condescending, I have been intentionally dismissive and apathetic. I’ve never again screamed like I did that day, but I have missed my constructive mark plenty along the way.
That said, I have never, even in the face of my unruly anger, left a friendship or a loved one cold.
I don’t know why my hurt or anger always stops shy of the final dismissal.
If I’m laying down a dealbreaker, I’m immediately polite. I am matter of fact. I am, in rare instances, warm. Affectionate.
I will say,
“Here is what I need to be ok with this. You can go for it, or not.”
And then they walk, or I do. My tears, if any, at that point, are utterly my own.
I think there is a place of utter vulnerability in hurt, and in anger. It is often shrouded, web laden, bowed and covered and lost, but it peeks at me when I remember who I am. It winks at me in my bleakest hours and says,
“Here I am! Here I always am.”
And then it waits for me to choose. It sits, like frankness and smiles, in the center of my hurt, befuddled by the smudges and grime across my core and around its feet. It rests, like new innocence unfound in memorized passages, while I relearn how it shines. It watches, till I see that it doesn’t know lies and it doesn’t know malice, and it lets me choose.
So my dealbreakers, when I get to them, are polite. They are acceptance of what is. They are calm and clear because I have remembered that I will never have nothing left, and my anger can rest.
If only for a moment.