“And what,” he asked, “do you do with your rage?”
“What makes you think I fucking have rage?” she asked.
“OK,” he said, “not rage… anger. What do you do when you get angry?”
“When I get angry I get silent. I don’t believe in yelling any more, it doesn’t help. The only thing that helps me when I’m angry is being silent. I need to process it, think through what exactly is hurting me, why I am so angry, see if I can discover a way to not react with the violence I sometimes feel when I am hurt by someone I trust.”
“What if the person you’re angry at needs to talk things out?” he asked.
“Fuck him,” she said, “I truly don’t care when I’m hurt or angry what the person who made me angry needs or wants. What I need and want is an apology, or failing that, silence.”
“But that’s not very fair, I thought you’re trying to be mild and peaceful,” he said.
“The world is a circle of people justifying everything they do– everyone does it and here in the West it is a reflex, a tic. We have to be justified, will argue hypotheticals to the death, we live in an adversarial system where every idiot makes his most vigorous argument. There is always a reason somebody accidentally forgot, or was careless, or stupid, or hated themselves too much to realize you had troubles too, or got sick and couldn’t keep a promise, or was confused, or underestimated the harm they were doing, or said the wrong thing at the exact worst time, or acted like an asshole, racist or shithead believing sincerely that they were in the right the whole time. Very few people do things believing they’re wrong, they do things they feel justified in doing, even if their justification is objectively feeble or even insane. The first thing I need when I am hurt by somebody I know is the simple acknowledgement that they fucking hurt me. It’s called empathy, also, taking responsibility instead of making an excuse. Does not seem like a huge thing to expect, if the person is concerned with my feelings, as I expect my friends to be, as I try to be toward them.”
“But you are capable of violence,” he said “and it scares people.”
“When have I ever been violent? If people are scared they don’t know me, they are defensive, maybe, they’re scared how they would act if they were as angry as they think I am. They compare their anger to mine and imagine what terrible things they might do. I have no idea what people are scared of. I use words and I try to use them as precisely as I can. I often write them down and revise them until they are as clear as I can make them. Words can sometimes hurt more than a punch in the face, worse than an arrow, I know. I try to measure my words before I let them fly,” she said, “I make every effort to do better with my anger. And anger, as you know, is a devilishly challenging emotion. In fact, I see you can refer to it, and talk about mine, but not actually talk about your own. It is easier to speak of mine, I suppose, since I express it more freely.”
“Well, you do speak your mind,” he said.
“Yes, I speak my mind,” she said. “I would recommend the same to you, don’t be mad, don’t be passive aggressive, don’t dissemble, don’t complain I’m not listening while assuming you know what I’m about to say based on some memory of something I may have once said. Don’t give me another hypothetical I can’t use while parsing and finding flaws in the one I give you. Listen. Use your great brain to hear what I am telling you, use your sensitive heart to feel the feeling I’m talking about– that’s more immediately important than the intellectual part. I am not fucking Gandhi, it’s true. Who knows if Gandhi even was Gandhi. If there’s an afterlife Martin Luther King, Jr. has an excellent reason to be mad as hell. MLK would be right to be raging up there at God’s right hand, in light of the almost ridiculous symbol he’s become in light of how little has changed for the masses of those he struggled for in the almost 50 years since he died. I couldn’t blame Martin for coldcocking God right now. Gandhi too, for that matter, I wouldn’t blame him for kicking St. Peter in the balls. I’m not them, or what they represent, but I’ve gone a long way toward becoming more like them.”
“Maybe not as long a way as you like to think,” he said. “You’re still pretty goddamned angry, and scary too.”
“As El Gato Ensombrerado said to the querulous fish in The Cat in the Hat, Spanish version ‘no temas, pececito’– ‘don’t worry, little fish’. My father was an angry man, my mother was an angry woman, both of my grandmothers raged, one of them whipped her infant in the face, the other broke yardsticks over her kid’s ass. I come from a home where people raged at each other, in a world with many styles of expressing anger including, frequently, deadly ones. It is a daily challenge to do better, to get as far as I can toward being more patient, more reasonable, milder. It is better to forgive than to be stubborn about being right, it’s true. But there is also a time when another person tears the fabric of trust and friendship, and argues like a lawyer, or a cornered rat, instead of empathizing with you for the harm they’ve done, and that’s the time to leave the room. Only bad things can happen if you stay in that room, it’s a room where the air becomes toxic and never clears.”
“Or you can work it out, truly be committed to being mild, forgiving, even when you have every right to be mad,” he said, “as you yourself are fond of writing in calligraphy.”
“That’s true,” she said, “it is a good and noble aspiration and something I might do more if I was a fucking saint able to repair the torn fabric of a relationship that had grown toxic. Which I am not. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go paint now.”
“Wow,” he said, “right in the middle of our conversation.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, “what exactly are we discussing that we are in the middle of?”
A whiff of fear stirred on the air around him and he said nothing. Without any noticeable expression she went into the other room, presumably to paint.