Anger and I are very, very old friends. Anger came into my life when I was a baby. I got to listen to anger through my father in what must have sounded like a monster as he drunkenly attacked my mother. She told me I would stand up in my crib, holding the bars like a little jailee, screaming at the top of my lungs as my precious tiny ears were assaulted by the noises of her having the shit beaten out of her hard enough to send her to the hospital, more often than not. My brother was introduced to anger at these times as well, though he was far too small to do much but lay there and cry, often in pain due to the problem he was born with: strangulated hernias. Which is apparently a not uncommon problem for babies to deal with upon their introduction to life, but for him, it must have been especially grievous.
Anger became a fixture in my life again later, long after my father’s suicide, as the impact of that act slowly colored my mother’s behavior, as did the behavior, and lack thereof, of the man who married her following my father’s untimely death. The man who I would be young enough to call “Dad” as I grew older and all memory of my father slipped from my young brain cells. “Dad” was nothing more than a metal rectangle in the ground at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, MI. After a while I didn’t understand why we would go to visit him. Thankfully I remembered as an adult, and the last time I visited his spare grave was ten years ago. It was the first time anyone had visited his grave since we left Michigan in 1981. Something about that just seems wrong.
Anger would never leave my life. In fact, anger gained an ever-increasing presence as time went on and it became apparently that Richard, the stepfather, was nothing more than an abusive little boy, causing my mother to become increasingly bitter and angry herself. She resorted to understandable coping mechanisms: drugs, drinking, and sex through casual relationships outside the marriage. Which is not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with open relationships, but more than any other personal relationship we humans decide to pursue, those extracurricular relationships are the ones that must be undertaken with utmost care and precision.
Again, I got to bear witness to the fruits of anger between my now-parents: the drunkenness, the beatings, the shouting, and more and more frequently, the blood. Slowly and deeply, those same seeds were planted inside me. They would not bear fruit for many, many years, mostly because it just wasn’t safe for me, and deep down I knew it. Anger and violence amongst adults is not just a game of seeing who can hurt the other the most. It’s a game of control and power, and I knew only subconsciously that I was not old enough nor powerful enough to be able to engage in this game safely, let alone win it. I continued to wear my mantle of anger hidden far beneath the much more palatable mantle of “good student”, which got me good attention at school, and at home it served as a buffer that kept much of the violence away from me.
Then came adolescence, and I began to blossom into the full human being that I was rightfully entitled to be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe to do so. Not only was I prey to my stepfather, who only had lewd and horrible things on his wretched mind, I was also prey to my mother, who was hellbent on controlling my life in almost every way, shape, and form in an effort to keep me from repeating the perceived mistakes of her own youth. Which weren’t her mistakes: they were her own mother’s. I’ve always wondered if she realized she was doing the exact same things that she had so often said she never would.
Needless to say, bad things began to happen as I grew and stopped being an academic wallflower. I was never beaten, but I was kept under a tight rein that was often suffocating in its ability to control a willful adolescent. When things came to a head in 1988, rather than attempt to manage things in such a way that I could finish school and then go out into the world on my own, Mom felt I was a danger to myself and had me hospitalized for two months. Really, I was a danger to her own mid-life crisis driven lifestyle, and I was a mirror that reflected back at her every sordid voice and behavior that she herself was spewing out into the Universe in the name of “having fun”. She was the walking definition of irony.
Anger has followed me these long years since I was finally able to escape her direct influence, and I finally let out my own anger in 2001 when I let her know just how I felt about oh so many things. Our relationship was never the same after that, but I was certainly a healthier person. I was breaking free, finally! It took me to the age of 29 to do it, but I was doing it.
I wish I could say anger slowly slid away from my life, but it didn’t. It found a comfortable place to sit and hunkered down, reminding me of all of my parents’ transgressions and how badly I had been fucked over. Anger was right, though I can’t say it was truly doing me any good. Rather, I can say that anger was an outstanding protector. Anger stood over me with a very sharp sword and would whack off the head of anyone who dared to transgress my borders without my permission ever again. Anger made me feel safe. I kept him around, though I was leery because I knew the power that he had. For the moment, though, it was refreshing and empowering to have this newfound power to wield against anyone or anything that might try to put me down, take control of me, or do anything else to hurt me.
Slowly, though, anger himself took control of me, or tried to anyway. I recognized what he was doing, and I knew that I had to rip out those claws no matter how tightly they were dug into my psyche or how much temporary good they had done me. Anger became a very powerful tool to keep cleaned and sheathed in the corner, only to be pulled out when absolutely necessary. He could not be a constant companion.
Fortunately, I had begun my path towards Buddhism and yoga, and it was relatively easy to put anger into a manageable corner that left me free to rebuild the rest of my life. He reared his ugly head again, though, not long after Zoe was born. In retrospect I realize that was the ever-present specter of bipolar illness rising up from time to time, in combination with a very real and justifiable anger that had finally achieved emotional awareness and really wanted to talk about all of the things over the course of my life that I was perfectly justified to be pissed off about. I pushed him down each time and tried to move forward. I had a child to raise, after all, and if I could help it, I did NOT want anger to be walking with her hand-in-hand as he had with me.
It was impossible, though, and I realized that my only recourse was to make sure that she wielded her sword with more skill than I had done thus far. That all by itself made me angry. I suddenly found my inner psyche pitted with volcanoes of anger that had always been there, yet had lain dormant, waiting for just this moment. Some of them oozed their lava across my soul; others exploded without warning, generating tsunamis of emotion that wreaked havoc upon my inner shores wherever they landed.
It was incidents like this that finally drove me to the psychiatric emergency room. Each time one of these volcanoes released its load, I could see the fear in the eyes of anyone around me. More frightening, I could see the potential for them to take hold of my daughter. I steadfastly refused to allow anger to wield the sword. If anyone was going to be holding that sword, it would be me and my daughter. Skillfully and patiently, we would both lay to rest that horrible specter that had caused so much damage for the last nearly 40 years in my family. I refused to allow it to take hold in us the way it had in those who came before us.
And so here we are, students at the finest karate school in Texas, learning bit by bit how to be the master rather than the mastered. I’m still angry, though. Every time I think I’m done being pissed off, another volcano erupts for me to deal with, which makes me sad and angry all over again. Perhaps I will not truly be done until having those volcanoes go off simply does not bother me. Because that will mean they no longer control me: it is I who control them. When that happens, nothing will ever be able to stop me.