The annual office dinner party is never a tepid affair. It starts off with lots of kindhearted, PC talk. A few middling managers deliver desultory speeches. The big boss will make lots of noise about success and future ventures. But as the night lengthens and the heavy stuff comes out, attendees never fail to amuse.
Conversations become politically charged. Office hostilities bubble to the surface. My colleagues usually disgrace themselves. Sometimes there’s an affair.
There’s always a scene.
It’s like a bad wreck on the highway. You know you shouldn’t linger, but somewhere deep inside you’re lusting to see a little suffering at someone else’s expense.
I never fail to attend.
This past year, during a lull in the fray, someone got the bright idea to propose we share something about ourselves that is not obvious. So I endure tidbits from the lives of saints and sinners alike. One guy is a big time dog lover. Another has a nascent interest in amateur astronomy. One of our admins reveals her blood type.
A miniature version of me lurks somewhere in the back, sneering at our share group. Imaginary hands move slowly, clapping contemptuously.
Finally, it’s my turn. I don’t know why, but I blurt it out all at once.
“I used to have a real problem controlling my anger.”
They initially dismiss me. “Right. Sure you did.”
“Really!” I insist. “I had the kind of temper that quickly escalates into physical violence. It was a real problem. You wouldn’t have wanted to know me then.”
Most of them just roll their eyes incredulously. Some see the sincerity in my eyes and look astonished. Others are confused. They know me to be highly conscientious. I’m a deadline keeper. I am the calm and contemplative one. On top of a mountain of work, I double as the office therapist. They’ve seen me maintain my composure in the worst office tumults imaginable.
Am I fucking with them?
I close my eyes and rummage through the sordid ruins of my past, searching for the right words to convince them.
Suddenly, I’m in fourth grade at the end of long queue, waiting to be released for lunch. A tall boy cuts in front of me, joking with a classmate. He won’t move, so I grab a heavy textbook and swing the binding side to smash him over the head. He dodges and it crashes over the top of his ear, shearing most of it off. He stands bewildered for a moment, bloody fingers cupping the place where his ear used to be. I’m on top of him instantly, pummeling his face until it too is wet with blood.
No, that won’t do.
The memory fades and now I find myself in the back of bus returning from day camp. All the project kids sit in the rear. I’m not liked very much because I take exception to being called whitey. I’m in the minority, but that doesn’t stop me from grabbing a nappy head and bouncing it off the bus window until the glass shatters and his head splits.
I can’t share that one either.
My mind jumps to another moment. I’m staying with my brother in our father’s six family tenement in one of the shadier parts of the city. We’ve been fighting back lately and this time we managed to force our father out of the apartment. He’ll call the cops if we don’t let him back in, so I slide the dead bolt open, hands betraying no nerves. And then he’s there in the parlor. The air makes a strange whooshing sound, indifferently parting against his haymakers. They don’t matter; he’s on his back an instant after my bat makes contact. I keep swinging, blinking through the red and feeding my rage.
No. No. No, I think. Pick another.
Another memory forms. I’m a middle-schooler, sitting in the vice principal’s office, tears in my eyes. He’s on his feet, bellowing. I’ve just assaulted my teacher.
Spittle flies toward me as he continues screaming angrily: “What the fuck is your fucking problem you little shit? If that had been me, I’d have cold cocked you!” He suspends me, so I spend the next week at home, punching holes in my walls and throwing knives at my door.
Other memories flit in and out, but I can’t share them either. I try to form meaningful words but falter. How does one tap into such a fountain and find a way to share?
Mercifully, someone steers the conversation into less dark waters. I force a smile.
Over the years I’ve learned to control my anger. I’d like to say it’s a fully subdued part of me, but I’m not that naïve. What control I have has come largely through the fear of lawsuits. And don’t be fooled, there’s a ton of bat-shit crazy people out there just like me.
So the next time you look into someone’s eyes and see a war raging, proceed with caution.
Else fall victim to the cray cray.