FRESH YARN presents:
My emotions are a fat and pampered lot. I carry them with me like old women hold small dogs. I knit them sweaters, give them their own seat at restaurants, feed them on a steady diet of indulgence and exposure. Is my happiness hungry? Does my depression-wession need anything? Him such a good little black cloud, yes him is.
But of all of the emotions I hold close to me, I think I love my anger the best. It is a vibrant, frightening thing, my anger; a whip of blinding light, a smack flat on the bridge of the nose; a sensation that is both delicious and annoying. But I love it because, as the song says, anger is an energy. If you harness it right, it can change things, it can take you places. And that's why I love my anger. Oh, the places we go.
Like that one time, on the subway. My boyfriend and I know they're trouble before they step on the train. As we pull in I see them arguing on the platform, he bends at the waist with a finger in her face, spitting and punctuating, as she leans back and looks down sullenly. She tries to break away and walk toward the train and he grabs her shoulder and whips her around for a few final words. Then he grudgingly releases her and they get on.
But we aren't out of the station before it starts again. He starts yelling at her in Spanish, which heightens the tension because we know he's mad but we don't know why. He yells and yells, she looks at the floor, popping in with a couple of quiet retorts that we don't even hear much less understand. He hears them though, and he punches her in the face, twice. She doesn't cry. She stares at him, then turns and stares out the window.
And oh. And oh. Here it comes, here it comes, my anger. Unsettling and exquisite, clenching my stomach and prickling up each bone rung of spine to the base of my neck where it stings and stings, burning my eyes, weighting my throat, my smile drawn back in rictus, release give me release. And it's so easy, so easy to give in to it because it commands all my attention. It's all I feel, all I WANT to feel.
I sit across from them, watching and rocking. I am seething and he sees me staring at him.
"You gotta problem with me?'
And it's on, it's on, the beast sees the meat in the killing ground, ARRRRGH!
"Yeah, I got a problem. You need to keep your fuckin' hands to yourself."
And he looks stunned, like I verbally pepper-sprayed him. He looks like he isn't used to resistance, like he always gets what he wants without too much effort and he hates me for making him sweat.
"This is not your business."
"You made it my business when you punched her twice right in front of me."
And then he says, "This is how white people get hurt."
And I'm thinking "Suck my clit, you mean-hearted nightmare wetback," But I was just thinking that. No, the key is harnessing it, controlling it. So instead I say,
"Color's got nothing to do with it. You need to keep your hands off her. And you know what? She shouldn't go home with you."
"Oh, she's coming home with me! She's coming home with me!" He stands up and starts to come at me. And the boyfriend leans forward. Just leans. The boyfriend is an emotional minimalist.
"You need to sit down, pal."
"But she --"
"You need to sit down. Watch your mouth."
The man sits back down. Unfolds his hands. Folds and unfolds them. And he stares at me for the entire trip and I stare right back because I am good, I am righteous, me and my anger. Think of winged seraphim flying by divine right, mighty steeds on their hind legs, rising with marble warriors on their backs. Think of patrician women with roman noses and flowing togas blind to evil, that's how right I am, you bastard. I am . . .
A complete and utter idiot. I see the girlfriend staring at the window for the entire ride. I'm an idiot. Because you know what I did. She's going to get it now, worse. Whatever she was headed for, now it'll be worse. And you know she's heard it before, over and over from her family, from her friends. Here I am some dumb woman with no investment in this thinking that I can help her hear it. I'm an idiot. Anger is an energy, yessir.
* * *
And we are out, on the street, in Brooklyn. The boyfriend and I pass our favorite Italian place that we're sure is Mafioso. The waiters look like they can serve up the specials, then dismember you and scatter the parts.
We stroll along as a cab pulls up and a man gets out. He's puffed up and overly manicured, but his hair and his clothes are completely out of time, like tradition is his life raft. Like he's down to just his heritage. He gets out of the street door and walks around to the sidewalk door, opens it and pulls his female companion out by her hair and dumps her to the ground. We hear her head crack on the curb. She moans belatedly like booze cushions it a bit.
She's at my feet, she's a lump, a tangle; and I say omigod because that's what humans say at moments like this. And the man whips around and says, "Shut up! Shut up! I will kill you, I will kill everyone who looks like you. I will kill your family."
And such is Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is like Chicago, minus the space. Emotion minus space usually means cruelty. Think of that one psychological experiment where they added more and more rats to the box, they just jammed more and more rats into the box and it wasn't long before the rats bit back, before they sank their teeth into a weaker neck to try and make their space. That's Brooklyn.
And the man heaves and stares at me, his companion moans and tries to rise and their cabbie wishes he was someplace else entirely. I feel the boyfriend take me by the elbow. Keep walking, Lisa, keep walking.
We walk past the precinct house in our neighborhood and I'm worrying and worrying the whole thing like a drooling bulldog with his mangled chew toy. Wondering, you know. What could we have done? There's a cop outside the building. He looks like a million guys in Brooklyn, brunette and all gut. But he'll stand up when you ask him to, that's why they pay him the big bucks. I ask him what we should have done.
He pulls on his belt. "Wait for us."
"But what if she's bleeding. What if he's beating her to death?"
"Wait for us."
"But what if."
"Wait for us. Look. If we don't like to take domestic calls, and we don't, we certainly wouldn't expect you to handle it. All you can do is call us and wait. You just have to wait."
I look across the street and see the woman from the cab, tottering in her six-inch pumps, whimpering and nursing her head.
"Ah jeez, here comes trouble," the cop says, like he knows her.
I do, too. I recognize her now, from around the neighborhood. She's a stripper when she's feeling legal, a straight-on sex worker when she's not. That's what they say, the boys in the wife-beater tees after they watch her walk by. They usually watch her a good long time.
Sex industry activists have started movements to change the way this woman is perceived. They see her as a woman empowered, a woman who recognizes her gifts and exploits them for all they're worth. She embraces her sexuality and is stronger for it. But the activists are rarely there when the power is revoked. Like tonight. That's where the cops come in. That's where you call and wait.
The cop looks at her and shakes his head. I tell him who she is and he says, "Yeah, Christine. That's the way she lives it. What can you do?"
Well, I'm thinking, you can haul your doughnut-puffy butt across the street and see if she's alright, you can see if she wants medical attention, you can see if she wants to file a complaint. And I'm waiting for that glorious feeling to crawl up my spine and blow out the top of my head. I want my anger with me when I give the man a piece of my mind.
But the cop watches the woman teeter down the street and I notice his shoulders sag. He puts his hand in his pockets and suddenly looks bone tired, like he's so weary he could cry. And I can't be angry with him. What can he do when someone he's responsible for keeps putting herself in harm's way again and again? What happens when his well of good will run dry? Sure, her protection is his job. But he can't give what he ain't got.
I keep walking.
I don't feel angry. I feel a bit ashamed that my anger is such a finicky
creature. I wish it would come on and take me someplace. Anyplace but
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