Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rolling Red

I had an anger flashback last night and recalled some very small moments of outburst. This was followed by profound sadness, regret, and shame that I think sit in for a while. In the past I would promise to change, promise to move forward and then not do anything.

I remember being lodged in a motel in Albuquerque for a few weeks. And I felt very awkward whenever I spoke to the front desk clerk. My chest would tighten and a forced smile appeared on my face. I tried to be pleasant, never complained about the ranting veteran in the next room, who they said rented out a suite for a few days at a time to get drunk and scream. In fact, I found the rants interesting. They were indecipherable through the walls but I responded more to just the poetic nature of someone renting a room for a few days to drink and scream. There was a part of me that wondered why they put me up in a room so close to this man when 90% of the motel was vacant.

A day or two later my tightness and awkward feeling subsided with the motel clerk. I felt more at ease to express some of my thoughts. Jokingly, or at least I thought it was joking, I referenced a misunderstanding with one of my friends. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds. The clerk looked at me and said 'you are very angry. I noticed that about you.'

That's not a polite thing to say to someone trying to be pleasant. I wasn't yelling at her, or critiquing her work, or talking about someone she knew. I didn't even feel 'angry' in the moment. I continued smiling and shrugged it off because that's the polite thing to do whenever someone brings up a character flaw. I certainly didn't want to get defensive nor did I want to turn the social pleasantries into a therapy session where I spilled myself out. 

I smiled against the silence. I followed up with a 'really? Angry? When did you first notice it?' I was hoping she was going to reference a social faux pas or incident in which I may have accidentally did something outside of norms because I could apologize and explain myself. Instead she gave me the worst answer possible: the first time you walked in. The first time I walked in, I did nothing overtly angry. I didn't kick the door in and slam my fist on the bell. I didn't raise my voice or make demands. I was, in fact, very loose. They asked me what room I wanted and I said whatever they thought was best. They asked me if I had any preferences and I did not. Isn't that what being nice is all about? This is what I was taught as being the opposite of angry. Angry people aren't trying to please and smiling, right?

I was down right pliable and agreeable to any suggestions. They put me next to the ranting drinker on the second floor. I rolled my bags upstairs and when I passed by his open door, I nodded at him with my tight smile. And he looked at me perplexed and wary. That would be or usual interaction over the next few weeks. His door would be open and I would walk past it toward the exit and he would look at me. In his face I also starting noticing something else: a cautiousness and possible fear. Fear of me?!? And this made me smile even tighter and start vocalizing my greetings. This really made him terrified of me.

I began to feel like a monster, some hideous creature with such a terrible disfigurement that no amount of manners could overcome my ugliness. I pictured myself as Frankenstein's monster, trying to find love and only meeting terror, running children, and snarling dogs. I layered manners and politeness over rage. When I smiled and did those things that nice people are supposed to do, I felt not only unnatural but caged up. And when I start to feel like this I get very quiet and depressed. At my job in Albuquerque I carried this tightness with me. My smile was that of a person suffering the world. I hoped to make it through my waking hours without apoplectic eruption. Success! Another day without killing these motherfuckers.

And now here is this petite Indian woman telling me that I was angry from the moment I walked in. Internally I felt destroyed and the echo of my childhood mantra 'what the hell is wrong with you?' What, Aurin, is so fundamentally wrong with you that scare a war veteran AND a little Indian woman with your smile? What is so wrong with you that you have not had a single significant romantic relationship? What is so emotionally and psychologically hideous that people won't even talk to you without putting on their wary facial guard?

Perhaps the Indian woman could read my internal thoughts because she apologized and walked her statement back. She wasn't scared of me. I didn't terrify her. That made me feel a little bit better. My back slumped and my smile softened. I softly muttered that anger was something I needed to work on. It sounded positive, progressive, and offered an ending to the conversation. But she would not relent. She asked me if I did anything? I told her that I had begun meditating. A few minutes in the morning. I set up my altar, put out my little Buddha statue, prostrate and sit down. I would get to a still place and then go through an analytical or review meditation, some times do some mantras.

She smiled and reached under the counter. The clerk handed me a small orange-colored hardback book with a picture of a wheel on the back and a blazing sun on front. "The Teaching of Buddha." That was all it said. No author or back cover summary.

But I was already practicing and studying. I didn't need this book, I was experimenting with lojong and tong-len in my practice. Didn't she know this? Instantly, my defensiveness rose up. I would explain myself, tell her that I didn't need her gift that looked like it was for a little boy. My pride battled with my manners. My pride wanted to show how smart I was, how I didn't need her book, how I was fixing the problem. My manners told me that it was a gift. In this instance, manners won out.

I tightly gripped the book and thanked her. A few defeated mutters came from me about already 'practicing' but she smiled and told me to read it. I said I would and return it to her when I finished. No, it was mine to keep she insisted.

At night I read the book. My pride whispered to me 'but we already know this' as the book went through the basic bio of the Indian prince Siddartha Gautama Shakyamuni. I squirmed against the 'homework assignment' that felt belittling. If was as if someone had read my play and handed me a Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style' and suggested that I study it.

I struggled through it but was able to follow up a few days later with a thank you. I quoted some of the text from the book to show that I was a good gift recipient.

I never met the woman again but I still have the book. I wanted to leave it behind in Albuquerque or slip it back to her at the front desk when she wasn't looking. But manners told me to take the book, read it.

The job ended and so did many of my relationships in Albuquerque. I think about the ranting drunk in the next room and wonder if there was some reason we were next to each other? He threatened other people and the few guest who arrived all requested distance from him. All except for me. Toward the end of my stay at the motel, I passed by his open door and found the room emptied of its guest. No more clinking bottles, rumpled bed with the comforter tossed on the floor.

Lit by the harsh morning sun, his room felt like a sterilized crater. The room and even hotel felt sad to be rid of its raging resident. Had he been kicked out for one rant too many, did he run out of money, or had he done everything he had come to do and decided to return back to his job as a school teacher, father, son? I had so many questions and I felt sad that my neighbor was gone. I realized that my room would look like that in a few days.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Anger Flashback

I would wake up to throbbing hot headaches in the middle of the night. My head felt like an ember. And the smell. I have to remember this is how it used to be.

I was so angry. And just because I wasn't screaming didn't mean the rage wasn't there. It was always beneath the surface as aggression, annoyance, sarcasm, jealousy, social outrage.

These memories come in flashbacks, sudden and crystalline. I was folding clothes this evening and tears poured down my face. Another memory. My chest filled with steaming phlegm.

Another moment: yelling at a server, flinging a cup across a diner because the service wasn't fast enough.

These were people helping me, serving me, spending their lives and time to make sure I had enough.

I stopped trusting my sense of smell. I no longer felt clean air on a normal day. I smelled smoke. This wasn't imaginary or a dream. Smoke that smoldered a gray, dry cloud. I was numb to it so much that many of my smell memories are tinged with charcoal dust. I could not smell a flower, the scent was too subtle, too easily blocked out.

I don't even remember what I was angry about. Waking up made me ready to fight. Sleeping was a battle of blocking out the day's events and hoping for a black wall of oblivion to blot out the rage. And when the wall disappeared behind the sunlight, all the anger was ready to go.

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