Monday, May 18, 2015

Compass and Storm

A week-or-so ago (and I write this with full permission), I found myself angrier at my wife than I have been in years. It was in the top three of all the times I have ever been angry in my life, for sure.

I'm not going to tell the details, because that is not what this is about. This is not about what happened outside of me, but what happened inside. It's not about whether I was right or wrong, but about the weather inside of me (and in all of us) when the storm of emotion becomes a hurricane. 

Let it suffice to say, the thing happened and we exchanged words and I was livid. We sat, for a very long time, in silence. We were on a long trip, sitting next to each other. Neither of us was driving. 

Cliche or not, my teeth were grinding and I believe my nostrils were actually flaring. I felt Karen next to me, but was so angry I didn't even want to brush an elbow against her. It's not as if thinking stopped and emotion kicked in, but thinking happened in firework trajectories, all bursts and blasts and lightning flashes -- every line of reasoning electrified with currents of emotional persecution. I would glance over at her face, completely aware of how much I loved it, but love had become temporarily irrelevant. Not gone, by any stretch: just irrelevant.

Minutes passed and then twenty minutes and then an hour and the feeling remained, gripping like the soul's version of a kidney stone. Then I heard my own recurring theme, somewhere behind the wind and hail and the gut-squeezing anger: think. Everything can be handled with logic. Get out of yourself for a minute -- what is she thinking? What will fix this?

You might think she's wrong, but she probably thinks you are "giving her the silent treatment." Are you? No -- it's deeper than that. "The silent treatment" is not a valid way to solve a problem; you're too smart for that nonsense. You're not talking because you can't. Speaking is impossible right now. This is not a conscious choice. But if you think she is wrong, you have made that clear. What's on the inside is invisible to her. Now you are just torturing her -- being quiet. Giving her the worst thing in a relationship: nothing. You have to find a logical compass out of this storm because however angry you are, she does not deserve this. She knows you well, but she doesn't know how deep the strings she plucked are; she's innocent to that...

But there was no sign of a compass anywhere in the wind and deluge. I was aware of the struggle; of the difficulty in finding my way out of this. I could not open my mouth without being cruel. I knew it. 

We stopped to rest; we ordered food almost in silence; we sat and ate at an outdoor table, in thick heat, in silence. Then, she asked if we were going to spend the rest of the trip without talking. Now I spoke; now I said, more calmly, what I wanted to say. But it was like chewing on sand. It wasn't a moment of mending; it wasn't an "A-ha: all you have to do is talk about it and all is better." It was very difficult...

...but it was possible, in a way it had not been an hour before. It was, at least, within my capability. It was no longer dangerous to speak, even if speaking felt very much like growling.  

Nothing's simple. There's no "answer" in a situation like that. There's no clever sunset-picture meme or magic spell or self-help concept to get us through such anger. There's just control and a basic will to think one's self through and not make things worse than they need to be. 

She'd said she was sorry. Twice. The first time, it really hadn't mattered to me at all. The second time, I wanted to say it was okay (and I think I might even have grumbled that it was) but it was not -- not in the storm going on in my chest. Nothing was okay, then. She could have shared the most joyous news, ever, and it would have meant nothing. My heart, for a short while, was Teflon. 

Back on the road, the sun went deep and low. Our hands -- at some point -- found each other and it was done. Maybe that was the only real compass to find. But by that time, the storm was over. 


  1. It's odd how that happens, when you can both loathe and despise each other with such intensity for a brief period. At the time it feels more real than the 99% of the time when you're not at loggerheads, as if you have been afforded a momentary glimpse of an unpalatable truth. I've never understood it.

    All I've learned is that the storm always passes and that it's usually about something else, rather than each other.

    As the song says, "You always hurt the one you love...So If I broke your heart last night, it's because I love you most of all."

    1. Steerforth -- It is a kind of alternate reality, for sure. When it was happening, it was as if Jekyll and Hyde were not so much wrestling as slipping past each other like magnetic opposites. But they were both there -- no question. A "stange case," indeed.