Monday, September 24, 2018

Friday Night Flight or Fight

Some people have a monkey on their back. I also have
a monkey on my front. Basically, I'm all monkeyed up.

I know I’m not the only person that struggles with anger management, depression, and anxiety. Many of you have shared with me your own stories, either recently or throughout the course of our friendships, and I confess, I haven’t always completely understood your struggle. I have sympathized, of course, but it was difficult for me to really empathize with what happens in your brain until I found myself on the other side of it.

I had a meltdown recently. It came quickly in a barrage of incidents that piled up too fast for me to deploy any of my practical tactics. I wanted to share what happened so that those of you who maybe don’t quite understand yourself can sneak a peek behind the mask and get an idea of how things can quickly escalate.

Level 1—the dreaded Wal-Mart
Cathy calls Wal-Mart “the dreaded Wal-Mart” and I have never attempted to correct her, not once. I don’t like Wal-Mart, and I’d prefer to not give them my money as a result of it. The problem is, where I live, I do not have an alternative to Wal-Mart and the sometimes very specific things they stock that is not an hour’s drive from my house. To make matters worse, my local Wal-Mart is a sterling example of one of the things I hate most about the company: all Wal-Marts do not, in fact, carry everything, or even the same things. You would think that, in rural areas, the Wal-Marts would have the full range of products, and in urban areas, the Wal-Marts would carry less and be more competitive with their prices. Unfortunately, I was not consulted on their business model.

I don’t remember what I was needing that pushed me out to Wal-Mart, but they didn’t have it, despite it being available online and at other Wal-Marts. A common enough occurrence in my life, but still enough to piss me off.

Level 2—Chaos at the Movies
I pulled up to the theater, and hadn’t even gotten all the way out of the car when someone came outside to start grilling me on upcoming movies. I wasn’t even able to put my groceries down. When I walked into the theater, there was a spray of Middle School kids lollygagging about (we were showing a horror movie, so that’s just an occupational hazard), so I set my bags down and started directing traffic; i.e. “What movie? That’s in theater one.” “Ma’am? Straws and napkins are here.” And so forth. All while I’m still be bombarded with questions from this patron, who is a nice kid but sometimes has problems recognizing boundaries. He also has a tendency to not think things through to their conclusions, which lead directly to what came next.

Level 3—Stray Dog
As I was trying to give this young man succinct answers, a small dog ran into the theater, between the legs of some people coming in. This dog was small and looked like a blue heeler mix, maybe part collie as well. As soon as she popped in, everyone stopped and looked at me. I looked at the dog, then at the people, and finally said, “Is this anyone’s dog?”

“I’ll get it,” said the young man who was currently the thorn in my side. He shooed the dog out, whereupon it looked through the window and started whimpering. He came back to me, intent on picking up the third degree, but I stopped him with an upraised finger and said, “Hold up. Is that your dog?”

“No!” he said, exasperated. “She just followed me from my house.”

“Why was she at your house?” I asked.

“She wasn’t!”

“I don’t understand. What happened?”

He took a deep breath. “We were all outside, fixin’ to walk up here, and this truck came down the street and threw the dog out on our front lawn and drove away.”

Now, I know this kid. He’s not a liar. And he’s a nice kid, but again, not the most logistical thinker. “And so the dog followed you.”

“Uh huh.”

“And you kept walking, even though the dog was following you.”

“Uh huh…” he trailed off, having sensed where I was going with this. On cue, as if to illustrate my unspoken point, the dog made another razoo through someone’s legs and began sniffing around, looking for, presumably, the asshole that threw it out the truck in the first place.

I started to ask the people standing by the door, looking around in bewilderment, as if they’d never seen a dog before in their lives, to please put the dog back outside, but I stopped myself. I’d seen this happen twice before, and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t happen a third time unless someone suddenly committed to keeping the dog from trying to enter the building. That suddenly became my job entirely.

I ushered the dog outside and tried to sooth her. She was freaked out, pacing back and forth, but she would let me pet her for a while, and then she’d start to follow newcomers around, either to the door or to their car. This dog did NOT want to be here, and I don’t blame her.

I tried to call our Animal Control team, but as it was a Friday and after 5 PM, they were gone for the weekend. So I called the police instead, and they promised to send someone over. I was worried that the dog was going to run out into the street. It was a busy Friday night.

But I also needed to get upstairs to check on Cathy. She was calling me, and I couldn’t answer because now I’m holding the dog in my arms. I picked her up and she just stopped. She put her head on my shoulders and looked up at me, trusting and loving, and my heart just broke. I wanted to take care of this dog, but I couldn’t bring her upstairs, not with Sonya up there. Cathy would not have the strength to help wrangle the meet and greet, and anyway, she was not my dog. I had this very real feeling of hopelessness and despair, and also a lot of anger and resentment at uncaring dog owners, people in trucks, you name it. I didn’t think I was going to be able to help this dog.

Out of nowhere, that dog became a furry, shaking metaphor for what I feared the most about Cathy’s illness; that I couldn’t help her. I felt genuine anguish welling up inside of me, but before I could do anything else, the policeman drove up. I explained to him the situation, and asked if there was someone he could call to take care of the dog.

He thought about it for a second, and then said, “Well, I get off at 10. I could take her then.”

It was a very kind offer, and had my situation been any different, I doubtless would have said, great, see you in three hours. But everything was heightened at that moment, a raw and exposed nerve. I told him my situation, and he got on the radio to dispatch. They talked for a minute, and he said to me, “I’ll take her now, and they will watch her at the station until I get off work.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was grateful, but as I looked down at the dog, I nearly didn’t give her over. The officer was clearly a dog-person, and he was very gentle with her. He piled her into the cruiser and they drove off, leaving me suddenly without a single responsibility except getting my groceries upstairs.

I went back into the theater and picked them up. The movies had started. The crowd had dispersed. Everything was back in place, as if it had never been messed up. I explained the outcome to my staff, and told them I was going to check on Cathy. I walked upstairs, into the loft, and set the bag down, and promptly broke completely open.

Cathy took one look at me and said, “What’s wrong?” I burst into tears, and I let all of that anger and frustration out in a lengthy cathartic cascade of grief. It was an ugly-cry, the kind that turns your face red and makes you clench your fists, but I did it, and I didn’t stop until it was all out of me. Cathy, to her credit, just listened. She just let me go. She witnessed my frustration and she let me be frustrated. 

In the past, I would have done one of two things: either driven straight to Taco Casa and shoved a burrito into my food hole, or gone upstairs and not-picked-a-fight with Cathy, instead throwing passive-aggressive attitude around until she popped off. This would allow me to either storm off, or cool off, but what I would really do is pack up all of those feelings and put them away somewhere. Then I’d drink to get sleepy and wake up the next day, feeling hollowed out but ready to start a new day. I might share the story of the dog and my frustration with the customers not helping me to wrangle it. But that would be it.

Writing this now, on a Sunday night, I have no lingering feelings, no residual anger or phantom aggression. I used to do a variation on this, years ago. I had real anger problems, and I used to vent frequently, and I would coat my bile in a veneer of sarcasm and hyperbole. Now, this is pretty entertaining to listen to, and a great many of my friends would often encourage me to “Markalogue” as it came to be known. I eventually grew out of that phase, mostly because I stopped being so angry, and also because Cathy was great for countering that anger and aggression.

All of that changed when we moved to North Texas. We were suddenly dealing with our own problems, and I didn’t feel like I could share my frustrations with her. So, I bottled them all up. Well, actually, what I did was roll them up into a burrito and force-plunge them into my gullet as fast as I could pack them in.

I won’t say it hasn’t been a difficult adjustment. I’m more up front now about how I’m feeling, and sometimes it’s not something Cathy wants to hear or deal with. I get it. And I don’t blame her. So I wait until we’re both in a more neutral setting and then I tell her what my problem was. I tell her how that makes me feel. Or sometimes, like last Friday, I just get rid of it.

I am by no means “done.” Rather, I know that this is a work-in-progress, a lengthy process. I anticipate it will take at least two more years to really undo the damage I’ve done to myself. And while I don’t exactly relish the work ahead, I can look back on the work I’ve done this year and feel relieved that I got help when I did, and be proud of myself for the work that I have done so far.

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