(side note: I am working my way through Natalie Goldberg's latest book as a part of compiling the best of this blog plus new writings together as a memoir. The title is "Old Friend from Far Away" and is one of her best books on how to write in years - very practical, all exercises, some commentary. It's been a joy to sluice through it, like pudding or smooth swimming. This is one of her prompts...)
I don’t remember anger.
It slips away like sand through a sieve. I am the desert or a shore, but dry, not wet, and the anger just drifts along in the wind, sometimes stirred, but often forming new shapes that have no resemblance to the original feeling. It is easy to feel mama like forgiveness, hard to recall the core inside which shapes all the shapes outside. I forget, I forget that burning ball, it’s not that I don’t remember, it’s that I forget, on purpose, put it away, deep on a shelf inside, and wallow on the outside, not wanting to look that far in.
Do I look in? Certainly. Most would say – my students, my friends, my lover, my therapist, even myself – would say I look farther in for longer than most do in a lifetime. And yet, here is this core, burning, feeding itself without my acknowledgement, as steady as my breath and often, quite often, stealing all of my oxygen so I can barely breath.
I got very angry with a friend when she admitted to me that she had spent years in a relationship with someone who abused her. This is hard for me to admit – took years to admit to myself. I knew I didn’t like the guy, often advised her to leave, but I certainly never knew it was that bad. This, she admitted, and then we bumped into him, just like that, in a coffeeshop in the Northeastern town where she lived, where in fact, she had moved out of the city to be with him, years before. The same town where his verbal abuse turned sexual and physical, until she left him one day. I don’t know why exactly I was so angry, and it was hard to admit it to her, but it finally burned up to the surface that day in the coffeeshop and it was impossible not to see it on my face. We stuttered the blocks home from the café, me a few feet ahead, on the edge of tears, unable to look at her. Part of the anger was toward myself, yes, how could I have not seen, I was her bestest best friend, but mostly toward her. This went against – still goes against – everything feminist in me. Don’t blame the victim. It’s not her fault. And yet, there it was, embarrassing, a-political anger.
She hasn’t spoken to me in a couple of years, and although she claims it isn’t about this incident, I wouldn’t blame her if it were. How hard it must have been for her to admit to me that she had been broken, bruised and abused by the same person she went to for comfort more often than me. Betrayal in the first degree, then, in the second. To find anger where she expected comfort. “I never even told my mom,” she pleaded, and I still couldn’t look her in the eye.
“I found out that I am resistant to pretty much everything,” my former boss confessed yesterday at coffee with me. I had asked her how meditation was going – she had taken a course a couple of years ago, and really liked it. “I never have gotten into the habit since then, but even in that class I learned of some habits I wasn’t aware of, and also, this might sound funny, but some inner resources I never knew I had for when the chips are down.” It doesn’t sound funny at all – I love people’s caveats for stating vulnerable-making things. I do it too. We all do. “Like what,” I inquired after she admitted her resistance, adding “I never would have guessed that about you.”
She smiled, as we often do, revealing an Achilles Heel: “I say no right away to things, even if in my head. And I’ve come to realize that that is, well, just a habit. Sometimes it’s tied to my intuition – I really don’t want to do something, but often it’s just a knee-jerk reaction, and if I give myself space to overlook it, I can go on and say yes.” I smiled, secretly, I thought.
“What?” – she was embarrassed.
“I do the same thing.”
She was shocked, as I had been about her.
“Yep. I once had a friend, an editor, a co-writer, who told me bald-faced a few years ago that I say no too often, that folks won’t listen to me if I say no so much, and that I should take a step back and wait before answering if that is going to be my first response.”
We laughed. The things we think no one else is ever thinking.
Secrets like this make me so happy. I swear I could spend my whole life having conversations like this. I need to, in fact, because I forget them. Maybe this is why I write. To remember I am angry. To remember that I forget the most obvious part of every moment. To keep in mind, again and again, that resistance is just a habit, and beyond it lay the real reactions, the real interactions, as close to a real me as I, or anyone else, is ever going to get.
Our laughter was sincere, not awkward, as there was nothing left to cover up, and opened up a spacious field between us, where anger and fear danced like magic with the potential to do as much good as harm. I hope my other friend, the one still working through my anger, her anger, her former lover’s anger half a country away, was dancing in there too, in some small part.