“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
It’s difficult for me to hold a grudge, but I make a few exceptions.
Apologies go a long way with me. If you’ve hurt me, and acknowledge that you understand you’ve done so and say a simple “I’m sorry,” then we can move on. If you don’t, well, you can just go fuck yourself.
Lately however, I’ve been trying to let go of residual anger because frankly I don’t have space for it anymore. There are plenty of other emotions camping out in my heart, I don’t need the unsightlies hanging out as well. So when I start to feel that building, whitening-knuckles-on-the-steering-wheel, breath-holding, jaw-clenching feeling, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself – it wasn’t all bad.
This is easy enough to imagine with an ex-husband. Back in my younger, sweeter days, when I saw divorced people acting all unreasonable and whackadoodle toward each other, I would think how crazy it was that two people who once loved each other enough to get married could find themselves to a point at which they wanted nothing more than to spit venom into each other’s eyes and then set themselves on fire rather than deal with one more moment of attempting to wrap their heads around how fucked up it all has become.
I understand now.
When I start to go down the path of all the ways my ex-husband completely botched the end of our marriage and what could have been a cordial and even welcome friendship, I try to think, it wasn’t all bad.
For example: he would sometimes come to me and, in all seriousness, say “pull my finger,” which I found hilarious. He would wrestle me to the ground to pluck weird hairs growing in odd places out of my face. Early in our marriage, he would cook an entire dinner while I read on the couch, then take extra time to cut around all of the weird food bits he knew I wouldn’t eat; later in our marriage he would still do this for me, even going so far as to shell an entire crab if need be.
Every once in a great while he would give me long, completely sober, impassioned speeches about what an amazing, dynamic, one-of-a-kind woman I was, and would try to get it through my head that I am, in fact, fucking incredible. It wasn’t always bad.
Letting go of anger is more difficult on the step-father issue. He’s easy to ignore because we live across the country from each other. But when – even thirty years later – something triggers me; or I think about the complete lack of self-awareness and positive sexuality that was until recently one of the biggest, most recurring struggles of my life; or just the fact that he is mind-bogglingly still alive after a life of overeating and obesity and the resulting multiple major open-heart surgeries – meanwhile good, decent, lovely people die for no reason every day – I get kind of pissed.
So I try. I think it wasn’t all bad. I try to remember the time I knew a spanking was coming and so I put on every pair of underwear I owned. When he came up to punish me he lay me over his legs and whacked my bottom, then said “what the….” He peeked under the waist of my jeans and then muffled his laugh. My face was hot with fear that now I’d get in even more trouble than before. Instead he whispered “listen, I’ll clap my hands, and you yell ‘Ow!’ as loud as you can, okay?” Sometimes we were in cahoots, he and I.
We had a shared hatred of my meanest brother, and would share fantasies about how we wanted to kill him and bury him in the yard so no one would ever know.
He would slip me twenty-dollar bills when my mother wasn’t looking, even if I hadn’t done all of my chores for the week. On allowance day, he’d wink at me when my mom gave me another twenty.
He taught me to build birdhouses and how to lightly burn them with a torch so they looked more weathered.
He washed my long, long hair by hand in the small sink of our little travel trailer when we were off selling our handmade wind chimes at arts n’ crafts shows around the state. He would heat up the water, then cool it down a little. I would lean back while he washed, rinsed, conditioned, rinsed. This was years and years after the last time he’d laid on top of me on the waterbed he shared with my mother, or pulled my hand into his unzipped jeans while we drove down country roads in his truck. I’d long ago decided to put all of that business out of my head for the sake of a peaceful family life.
After I’d moved across the country and wasn’t busy with the hard work of protecting everyone in the family except for myself, I let the anger toward him come into me like a mean, thorny, slow-growing weed. I gave him opportunities to acknowledge, to apologize, which he did. Then he took those gifts back, and that made me feel even more hurt and angry than I’d ever known possible.
But then something surprised me: I started to feel glimpses of joy in my life. First a little here and there, and then a lot. It came and went; comes and goes. Knowing it exists and can find it’s way to me, though, made me realize that I no longer needed to give so much space to all of that pain and hot darkness. So I decided it was time to try to let it go.
And really, it wasn’t all bad.