Editor’s Note: This post was submitted anonymously.
Donald ‘Shadow’ Rimgale: [at Ronald’s parole hearing] What about the world, Ronald? What would you like to do to the whole world?
Ronald Bartel: Burn it all.
– Robert De Niro and Donald Sutherland in Backdraft (1991)
The first and only time my dad called me an asshole, I punched a hole in the dry wall where I was standing as I eavesdropped on the conversation he was having with my mom. I can still vividly remember how it felt as my hand broke through the thin layer and then slid back out, scratching my flesh. It hurt. It was worth it. I was embarrassed and righteous in my anger at the same time. As my parent he was supposed to hold himself to a higher standard than resorting to name calling even though, as I later realized, I had acted like an asshole. He was failing me. He had become one with the bullies who tormented me on a daily basis. That’s how I saw it at the time, and punching the wall was the outlet for my disappointment and angst induced rage.
When I calmed down, I helped patch the wall and cover the blemish with paint and vowed to never do that again…
That vow didn’t last very long.
Cleaning up the messes of my anger over the years that followed always ended up taking a lot of time and being a lot of work. I kicked a hole in the wooden garage door. I split my knuckles punching a decorative stucco wall that lined our front porch. I kicked new holes in the dry wall. Sometimes I would be so upset my body would become too weak to lash out and I would tumble into a sobbing mess instead. My body would quiver and the tears would pour from my eyes.
Were those times better? Was letting the rage flow out of me that way better than the times I punched and kicked the walls, the garage, the stucco? Was that a more constructive outlet for my pain because it wasn’t actively destroying anything? The opposite of destructive is constructive?
But, it was still destructive. It killed my confidence and self-esteem. How could I ever become a functioning member of society if I couldn’t control my emotions? Each time I physically manifested my anger, through tears or punches, that anger would cycle back around to myself with rising amounts of fury. I was worthless. I was the problem.
When I left home for college, I tried to reinvent myself. I became a free spirit, easy-going, letting everything roll off my back. I cared more about making good impressions and making good peer relationships than I did about anything else, including my health, my grades, my future. And for a time, becoming this new person worked and I managed to keep my rage in check.
Then one day a small flash of the hurt within my slipped free and I found myself choking one of my friends. With my forearm against his neck, my full weight pushing him down, I had him pinned to the wall behind the couch we shared in our dorm commons. I quickly backed off and laughed it off as just messing around, joking with him, … but we both knew there was more to it than that. He could recognize the anger burning inside me because he had a bit of the same within him. He let it drop for the time, though, and our friendship did not suffer. I forced the rage deeper and grabbed my new persona more fiercely.
That worked for two years. Then one day, while arguing with my live-in girlfriend, soon to be fiancé, I punched the heavy wood that lined our front door. I didn’t want to damage the dry wall because we were renting the place and I didn’t want to have to pay for the damages or do the work to patch the hole. I knew the doorway would take my attack without any obvious signs of wear and tear. The same could not be said for my knuckles, of course, but those consequences never factored into my anger fueled considerations.
The next two years saw escalating cycles of punching things around the house and crying fits, until we broke our engagement and went our separate ways. I was no longer in college. I was no longer defined by any of the ideals I had put in place when I redefined myself as a freshman. I was adrift in freedom to become, once again, whoever I wanted to be, and I eventually found peace.
Several years have passed in that calm. My life has moved on.
But, I can feel that anger bubbling up under the surface again. I can feel it taking over in my day-to-day actions when I find myself wanting to lash out. The idiot drivers around me not using turn signals, cutting me off, driving too slow, driving recklessly, running lights. The politicians on both sides of the divide arguing their points but never resolving anything other than making sure they continue to get paid. The people who don’t recognize their own hypocrisy. The media capitalizing on the misery of others. The nonsensical doling of pain across the world. I want to see them all burn. I want to burn it all.
I haven’t damaged anything yet.
I haven’t hurt myself yet.
Is it only a matter of time? Will I once again fall into that cycle? Is there no way to escape it?
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