This post was inspired by A leaf on the motherfucking wind on Love Is A Fetish. Nikki is one of the fabulous hosts of FetChat, a weekly open forum discussing all things kink and also one of the minds behind the FY! newsletter, a free newsletter about “sex, science, love, and community”. Read the site, get the newsletter, drop in on FetChat; it’s all awesome and you won’t regret a thing.
“Remember that time with what’s-his-name, back in high school?”
I’m still downing my glass so when I nod, my whole head, the glass and my arm follow the motion. “The one with the jealous girlfriend.”
“I just wanted to talk to her. You held me back.”
“You had your ‘cut a bitch’ face on.”
“I did not; I looked perfectly calm.”
“Not to me, sweetie.”
We giggle into our drinks. My friend leans back, face still smiling but thoughtful. “You know, I’ve never seen you angry. Not even once.”
If I smiled, I didn’t feel my face make the motions. “Hope you never do.”
I don’t say who should hope for it; her or me. I’ve known this woman for over 20 years, but I’m about 89% sure that the day she sees me lose my temper, sees me well and truly angry is the day I lose her as a friend.
Anger was a big part of my life growing up. It wasn’t even an emotion; it was a living thing, something solid and physical that rolled around my home. It echoed off the walls and down the phone lines when my parents would scream at each other. It was in the torn-off window screens and the smashed phone and the things my mother threw at my father chasing him out into the hallway and into the elevator. It was in the threats I had to relay between the two or later explain to a court-appointed advocate. My parents weren’t just unhappy; they were an entire microcosm of scorn and spite and bitter resentment and manipulation and pulsing, blinding, searing hatred. Them together was a storm that me and my brother had to weather.
My Mom got mad at us too. Not quite so much my brother; he was her baby, the poor lamb with no role model (because boys need a male role model, blah, blah, blah) who deserved extra since he was “deprived” a father figure. She got mad at me pretty often, though. For embarrassing her with my terrible fashion choices and never looking happy or grateful enough for being dragged from my books and put into more “normal” little-girl activities. For my weakness when I came home crying from school on a weekly basis (until I utilized my Super Secret Repression Technique! and stopped crying altogether). For simply exasperating her with my constant hunger, moodiness and laziness (because obviously I couldn’t be in pain when I had no injuries, right? I had to be making excuses) and my unruly hair and my suspiciously quiet habits and my baffling “lack of curiosity” about other people (because wtf did I care what the other kid’s race or nationality was). I was pudgy and too quiet and too needy and she couldn’t understand why I was the way I was and why I didn’t want the things I “should” want – and she did not deal well with things she didn’t understand. So I got yelled at. Often. My Mom might have loved me (and this, I never doubted), but as a kid I felt sure that she didn’t like me at all.
When angry she’d rage around the house like an angry goddess that I tried to appease; by apology, doing extra chores so she wouldn’t complain about them, hiding the things that displeased her, anything dear god, anything that would make my mother stop screaming at everything. Sometimes she wouldn’t speak to me for a day or two, except to bite out orders at me or to tell me what a hideous outfit I’d chosen and dear god why do I always have to pick out your clothing for you? and why can’t you just put on some blush or lipgloss, you look so pale and what’s wrong now? Your feet hurt? AGAIN? She’d try to go about her daily errands and stuff but there was so much anger in her you could practically see it, her arms and hands jittery with it. More often then not she’d drop things, forget where she put things and get even angrier at every tiny mistake or inconvenience after. She wouldn’t get physical with me, not usually. Though I do still sport a thumbnail-sized scar on my wrist; accidental, unintentional, but still there from her squeezing my wrist so tight, that the nail dug in. When she’d yell at me to leave her alone (or when she’d be angry enough to chase me), I’d lock the door to my room (thank god for solid wood doors with locks) and read books or draw or journal and wonder how the living hell anyone could have so much anger in them. Wonder how could I stop it, fix it, make it all better.
I guess it was only inevitable that I started lashing out too.
At myself at first; I developed…habits. Pulling my hair when frustrated (or cutting off chunks of it), clenching and grinding my teeth, digging my fingers into scrapes and cuts and counting out how long the pain lasted. I still pick and pull the skin off my lips as an adult but when I was younger I’d do the same to my fingers and toes too. Once I tried using my grandmother’s sewing tape as a jump rope, which worked as well you would imagine and in my fury I stuffed the tape between my teeth, tore at it like a damn dog until a tooth flew out.
Worse, I’d hit my little brother. We’d be playing one second and the next my Mom would be pulling me off him, me scrabbling for his throat like a switch had gone off in my brain. Why the kid would go on to give me a kidney 20 years later, I still don’t know. True, I had to promise to take care of Mom once she got too old to do it herself, so maybe it was more even a deal then I give credit for.
I don’t remember what set me off most times. But I did remember what it felt like to be that angry. Like my whole chest was imploding, crushing my lungs while my head was full of screaming and ready to pop. It was shaking and feeling full enough to explode and not being able to breathe because it just plain hurt. I hated it, hated feeling so many things that has nowhere to go and hated myself for feeling this way, turning into this rabid thing and having no clue how to make it stop and I hated it so much that everything in my head just wanted to jump on anything I could and rip it to bloody pieces. It got me thrown into therapy for the second time of my life. According to my Mom, she had no idea where my anger came from, no clue what caused such violence in me. And she was partially right; of the three of us, my dad, my mom and me, I was the one quickest to violence, by far. Granted I was a literal child (maybe 12 at this point?), but I wonder sometimes what that says about me.
It got…not better, but easier (?) to deal with as I got older. Funny enough, dealing with lupus also gave me tools to deal with my anger. I learned to find ways to breathe through the things choking me whether it was pleurisy or rage. I learned that disconnecting, distracting myself, steering my thoughts and attention to other things helped muffle the pain I was in, gave my emotions a chance to fizzle out before they could suck me under. Plus between endless rounds of ER visits, doctor visits, school and later college…I honestly might not have been lucid enough to feel angry at anything. Mostly, I was lucky enough to get myself into better environments – and away from my biggest trigger, my home life.
Now some 20-something years later, anger is really just another thing on a long, boring checklist of things I monitor and regulate. It hasn’t just gone away. And even though I don’t actively feel angry often, I feel like I just have this backlog of anger sitting in me that I don’t really know what to do with, ready to burst out when I’m cornered. And it has. Luckily I can count on one hand the time that’s happened in my adult life, but still…