The Lurker

Liminal IIHe’s out there. Right now.

An elderly man of East Indian descent, working as security outside the coffee shop. We’d chatted a few times, and every time he felt compelled to tell me about how stupid it was to buy a cup of coffee when it would be cheaper to make it at home.

He’s right, of course. It’s so much cheaper, if I could actually get some writing done – and then, too, I’m not really in a place I would call home. I exist in between right now, waiting for people who owe me to pay me so that I can create a home. Things that I don’t share with him. Things he doesn’t know. Things that I do not have to explain to anyone.

Things I shouldn’t have to explain to anyone.

And he’s out there. He shouted to me a few times over the last few weeks, across the road, and I ignored him or briefly waved. I bit back a few times, restraining myself against his barbed comments. I bit back  that if he was as bright as he was portraying himself, he wouldn’t be a security guard making small talk with anyone polite enough to listen. About how his theories on governance and his expressed thoughts on race went beyond dating him and actually seem to have married him unhappily.

About how his anger at the way the world is has nothing to do with me.

He is outside right now. He is unhappy.  Why is he unhappy? I imagine the world is not what he wants it to be – why else would he be unhappy? Why else would his negativity overflow through his mouth so readily? What stories would he tell? Decades of misplaced hopes and dreams made into human form….

We all have stories. We all have disappointments. What path took him so far down this lonely road? What was it that made him so unhappy?

There would probably be a woman. Or a man. Some romantic interest that didn’t work out. To fit the stereotype, they probably didn’t even look at him or acknowledge his presence – and if they did, it was to unconsciously let him know that they had found someone they liked who, in his opinion, had the misfortune of not being him. Maybe they made more money, maybe they were better educated. That sort of thing twists people into knots, making evil caricatures of them until they unravel.

Or maybe he lost someone close to him that he couldn’t help, and so he blamed himself – but in being unable to accept that pain, he pushed it into the mirror of the world so he could look at it and be angry at it. People do that, you know. Life is unfair, and we all have our ways of dealing with it.

Or, perhaps – just perhaps – he’s an asshole and has simply been refining it over the decades.

Regardless, he does not speak to me anymore. What he thinks of me is a topic for the next person polite enough to get trapped in that web. And he’s outside, lurking for the next victim to twist into his evil circus of a world.

Timing Anger

Mr Good and EvilThere was a time when my anger floated just below the surface, where I could draw on it as easily as a child with a sippy-cup. Years ago, I had a friend tell me that I was the angriest person that they knew – and I heeded that, as I never thought of myself that way.

But anger has it’s place. I’d spent a lot of time dealing with anger, both mine and that of others, and I’ve come to understand that the anger was never the issue, it was the rage that was. There’s a beautiful, powerful thing in rage, dressed in the tatters of a personality it runs amok like any other force of nature. Yet when it drives the personality, it destroys itself.

We’re told anger is bad, and it is not. There is not only a place for anger, there is a need for it at times. There is a time to rage, too, but they don’t talk about that either.

The real trouble is knowing those times, and to know those times you have to know how to express it in a way that will change things for the better lest they change you for the worse.

 

Death of A Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea (2)Adolescence was an unhappy, angry time for me. And it was at this time I found a spot as far away from everyone as I was permitted, a point in the triangular yard where I could sit and think – and yes, write. It was my spot.

It had an unkempt Bougainvillea spectabilis in that corner that allowed me some illusion of privacy while I could watch all round, my back against a wall. It was as secure as I was the opposite, the bougainvillea hiding me under it’s thorny branches. The call of the Uncle, the search by his toddler son, the incessant calls of the stepmother to do things she could damned well do herself, and the father who could always find a reason to be angry.

It was my bubble.

A bad day at school saw me stride into that thicket and it tore at my uniform, ripping my pants with a thorn. My pants. The pants that I maintained, that I paid to fix myself, that I washed and pressed, and that were always a problem to get new pairs from because they had to be tailored. Something in me snapped – years upon years came out in that moment, something pure and distilled. I remember staring at that thicket and unilaterally deciding that the bougainvillea needed to go.

I went downstairs and grabbed the camp axe, cutlass and file next to the stairs after a change into my shorts, and I went to work. I just let it all pour out on that Friday evening, the muscles that had grown from toting paper, electric motors, bricks and buckets of concrete lashed out with sharp blades. The bougainvillea fought back tenaciously, ripping back at me as I methodically focused my rage on each branch.

During that time the stepmother came out. “Did anyone tell you you could do that?” I stared at her a moment and continued, knowing her next step would be to wait for my father or uncle to return so that they could defend her soap bubble of ego – so large, so fragile. It fueled me. I simply said between swings, “It ripped my pants. It has to go.”

I decided then and there I would not stop, whatever the cost. Whatever the punishment.

I continued, picking branches one by one, finding ways to get in to that thicket without getting hurt too much, and delivering strikes for every wrong I felt had landed on me, every scratch simply pushing me further into this meditation of rage. I had moved being past being scared of what I could do.

I would do it. Let them sort the shit out later with me. They always do.

My uncle showed up first, going up the front stairs. I heard their voices as they spoke, but he did not come down. I kept going, about half way done, a pile of thorny branches at the base of the fence.

It was at this point that I realized that I hadn’t seen my dog, and called to her – she came, but she was sheepish around me. She sensed something and wouldn’t come closer than a few feet. The one creature in the yard that loved me without question would not come near me, and that fueled me more.

Angry.

Bitter.

The thud of the blades had become as dull as they were. I fetched the file from where I had placed it on the ugly red wall and sharpened everything. And I continued. Every now and then I’d hear distant voices from the house less than 50 feet away, talking about something.

My father had come home without me knowing, and as the sun glimmered its goodbye, he had quietly came over and brought a large cup. I saw that big yellow cup and him behind it. I waited a moment to hear what would come but he turned and walked off without a word. I continued and did not stop, only a few more branches to go. The fence was clear – all 16 foot of the point of that triangle. I stared.

I didn’t want to be done.

I really didn’t want to be done. And slowly, the weight of being done crept up on me even as I wanted more to cut, to punish for my anger.

There wasn’t anything left.

Cutting the branches on the ground was pointless.

The cup. I drank the cup down – water – and turned, sitting in my corner, watching the sun set. I went and got some gas, soaked the root, and lit it. I stayed with it until it burned out, adding branches now and then.

By the time I got back inside, putting everything back next to the stairs, there was no one in the living room or kitchen. I went to my room to get ready for a shower and found myself staring in the mirror within the wardrobe. Splintered pieces of that thicket, as well as some leaves, punctuated the sweat and blood – there was blood – in the reflection.

Any feeling of victory was gone. I saw a gruesome sight in that mirror. Teenage muscle rippled under a bloody and dirty visage. I had destroyed that bougainvillea. I showered and, without encountering anyone, went to bed.

I was to find that it would never be spoken of.

Something had changed. Punishment all but disappeared but for the greatest of infractions – real or imagined. Yet there was no sense of victory, no sense of things having changed for the better. They hadn’t.

But that bougainvillea never ripped my pants again, and I no longer had the illusion of hiding there.

No one else intruded.

Years later, I realized how sad a day it was – that the people around me had learned to fear me as they had taught me to fear them… and I no longer feared them.

A hollow victory with a bougainvillea proxy.
An education you can’t find in a school.