Saturday, July 10, 2010
First the Sound Then the Fury
The man on the phone had absolutely no way of knowing how deeply he had just terrified me, or why I was acting like a complete schmuck. The top of my scalp was tingling and quickly going numb, it felt as if the air had been forcibly sucked from my lungs, and my knees had quite literally buckled together in an effort to keep me upright. There was no way he could have known any of that because the entire response by my nervous system had taken less than two full seconds.
Everyone who has anyone that they love knows how this feels. The late night or early morning phone call, those seconds in between registering that the phone is ringing at an off hour, and finding out why that is are among the most horrible seconds in life. So when my cell phone rang at 7:46 on a weekend morning, immediately I was on alert. It didn't help that I knew my son had been out all night, as he had told me he would be. Or that I knew my husband had left early in the morning to go and do maintenance on the rental home we own. Steve from Insert-Name-Here Painting just had no way of knowing that the two people I love most in the world were out in it, and I hadn't had so much as a sip of coffee.
"Hello?" I said into the phone, the number identified merely as "unknown" on my cell phone display. I was only partially steeled for the worst.
"Mrs. _______?" A very serious male voice inquired. An officious voice. A deadly calm voice. The voice of notification. If the Grim Reaper makes prank phone calls, he likely sounds one hell of a lot like this dude. It probably doesn't help that a lot of people have no idea how to pronounce my first name if they've only ever read it, and rather than try, this guy decided to err on the side of formality. Bad choice, painter man.
Somewhere inside of me a woman nearly deranged by fear managed to answer. We've all gotten the bad calls in our lives and they start like that. It's the greeting of a police officer, a coroner, a fireman. For all I know it's how the flipping Coast Guard captain sounds, before telling you that entire chunks of your life have been found bobbing in the surf.
"This is Steve Eckland from InsertNameHere Painting," he continued in a decidely dour tone.
Just like that every person I love hopped directly out the ditch in which I had mentally placed them, but Steve Eckland doesn't know that to this moment. He doesn't know that my son is a Type 1 diabetic, who doesn't take very good care of his diabetes. Or that I've been told by medical professionals that I'm simply going to have to standby as he flounders through that. He doesn't know that my husband had just been driving on two separate major highways, or that his father actually died doing precisely that. Or that, because the universe has an exceptionally dark sense of humor at times, Rob even had my dog with him. Really, there was just no way for Mr. Steve Eckland (not his real name) to know that in the space of less than ten seconds he had frightened me so badly I actually felt like I might faint.
What he does know is that Saturdays are a work day for him. That he works for the painting company that is contracted to paint the exterior of our house this coming week and he also knew something I did not: he was returning my husband's call. The other thing he likely knows is that he got the most ill-tempered, icy, unfriendly woman in the world on the phone, first thing in the morning.
Numfar, do the dance of rage, silently yelped that woman inside my head, freshly returned from the Isle of Terror.
"Yes?" A small word, yet I know it dripped fury and icicles. My tone of voice at that moment is actually the thing that killed the dinosaurs lo those many years ago.
Anger is the big brother of our emotional response system. It's rarely a pure emotion. Sure, we all have that righteous anger response from time-to-time. A news-piece about a nefarious individual cheating nuns out of money meant to save the baby seals brings it out. Someone dropping kicking infants, or preying on helpless young children. That pure, outraged anger that comes from the place of what is right, versus what is absolutely wrong but most anger is actually about protecting our other emotions. Fear, shame, vulnerability, anger is in charge of guarding the tender parts of our souls. Most of the time when anger sweeps over me like a raging tidal wave, it comes from somewhere cowering.
Want to make someone gibber with rage? Make them feel a right fool first and foremost. Or accidentally make them believe that their treasured and adored loved ones are in peril. I was in complete control of what I was saying, but my tone was about as friendly as a wolverine tweaked out on Meth.
Poor Steve from InsertNameHere Painting, from his perspective I am a shrew with the thinnest veneer of courtesy. That woman who just apparently hates all bipeds and is hard-pressed to bestir herself to even a semblance of civility. I was a harridan, a near banshee. I sucked all joy from time and space. People, I was pissed right the hell off and for no other reason than for the briefest of moments I thought my very worst fears in the world had been realized. Those thorny, malicious demons that come and perch on your chest when you lie awake, staring at the unvarying ceiling above after awaking from a nightmare with nothing to do but listen to your own thudding heart were present in that tone.
Powerful suckers that they are, I was struggling to keep them in check and although I heard my fishwife tone, at the moment the blinding anger towards the person who had frightened me to the core of my being held sway. If I'm being entirely honest, I wasn't actually trying that darned hard to stop it. At that moment I was a ballistic missile.
Over a question about power-washing, but that's the nature of the beast. Whether it is protecting hurt feelings, paralyzing fear, or thwarted love, that kind of anger is the hardest kind to club down and just force it to behave. The "thank you" I uttered at the end of the conversation sounded like it hailed from the Ironic Universe. The words said one thing, the tone was very much insulting his lineage.
And I felt like the biggest jerk in the world because at that moment, I was one of them.
I believe in accountability. I think when you do something wrong, the word does not end but you do have a responsibility to own up to it, make it right. However, in just a couple of seconds Steve, whose own phone manner could actually use a little freaking work, had me envisioning life support machines and possible caskets in my future, was also being a tiny bit remiss in treating his work day as mine also. In addressing me with all the friendliness reserved for a perpetrator of Nana Muggings.
I'll see him this week, and I'll have a chance to utter an apology for being grumpy. I can put it down to the very real, "I had yet to have coffee, I'm sorry."
He has no way of knowing that, like a lot of people, I've had more than one person unexpectedly perish. Really, Steve the Painter doesn't understand how he stepped on the hornet's nest this morning. Or that after I hung up, and grabbed that much needed cup of coffee I was a little sick-to-my stomach.
Anger is complicated, and sometimes amusing to consider in the aftermath. I have a generally cheerful disposition. I don't get angry all that easily, generally speaking at least. But evidently the access to my coldest form of fury lies directly down the road from my greatest fears.
Everybody has their sacred ground. The stuff we protect within us with the sabers and guns of our emotions.
Poor Steve but, screw it, I tip well and although it is almost two hours later, I'm still a little miffed that I started the morning with a blast off into terror, that then made me feel foolish, which in turn woke up the Troll sleeping under my personal bridge. The goat community reports no survivors.
Next time maybe he'll wait until the back of eight o'clock in the morning to make a call with his Undertaker's tone in full swing. I'll be over here waiting for the Gruff Killing Troll to return to the land of Nod.