I’m perched on the edge of the light blue air conditioning unit trying to see into Freddie’s room through the slats of the Venetian blinds. My bare toes rest on the metal grill no more than a few seconds at a time as I alternate between feet. It’s so hot and I want Freddie to play in the sprinklers with me outside.
I tap lightly on the window. Freddie’s mousy brown-green eyes the same color as mine, under a mop of mousy brown bangs also the same color as mine, peek through the slats. She squeals with happy surprise. I gesture for her to open the window and she does, a rush of air conditioned air pouring out and cooling my flushed cheeks.
“Sneak out and play with me,” I command.
“I can’t. Daddy said if I leave this room he’ll spank me so I can’t sit down for a week.”
I roll my eyes. “He just says that. He never does it.”
“He never does it to you. I’m the one who gets spanked.”
I’m willing to take the risk that her bottom will be tanned just to have a playmate for a while. I try again. “Come on. I’ll sneak you out through the window. They’ll never know.”
Freddie’s eyes widen. “No way! We’ll fall!”
“Will not. I’ll catch you.” I smile persuasively, comfortingly. I’m not worried. She always does what I want. I reach out my hand to her. “Come on.”
Freddie reaches her hand out to my moist palm. The Venetian blinds pull out and slap back against the wall as a new rush of air pushes into the room. Freddie looks behind her startled. I chill and see that Mother has caught us trying to be sneaky.
“Close that window immediately! You’re letting the cold air out!” Mother yells, shrilly.
Freddie’s grabs the window’s metal edge and slams it shut. On my fingertips.
I am instantly enraged and pull back my hand, glancing at it for the briefest of moments before ramming it forward through the double-paned glass.
The window shatters over my sister’s dress dropping shards in her bed sheets. I look at my hand, the skin cut cleanly through on the pinky and over the knuckles. Later I’ll need nine stiches over my small hand. The glass fragments make my hand sparkle red in the sun. Freddie is crying fearfully and my mother is yelling for Dad. I’m even more angry – angry now at the mess, at the pain in my hand, at Mother catching us. I start cursing as proficiently as my 8-year-old vocabulary allows.
Such a ridiculous event, getting one’s fingers caught in a window. Dad has a similarly volatile reaction whenever his head is hit. Once I tapped the back of his head with a wand, intending to knight him. It elicited an instantaneously violent reaction involving him spinning around, grabbing my arms, and pushing me to the floor away from him. I hit the back of my head against a chair which seemed to bring Dad out of his ill humor. It was almost biblical. Instead of an eye for an eye, it was a head smack for a head smack. Dad seemed appeased and apologized. That was really no big deal. Fifteen years later, I was helping Dad split wood. Tossing a cut log onto the truck bed, I misfired and the log came down with a thunk on Dad’s bald noggin. He pulled a .357 Magnum on me before he checked himself.
Believe it or not, Dad and I are pretty level-headed people. Challenges are there to be managed. A problem at work, my son’s temper tantrum, an unexpected pregnancy or job loss, an accidentally bounced check, a struggling marriage. No matter how big the obstacle, the only way to proceed is to break it down into manageable chunks. First, ascertain the cause, if possible. Determine the desired alternate outcome. Then, figure out what elements or qualities cannot be changed and what can. Build a plan for doing it. Finally, do it. Five steps. It always works. It’s Niebuhr’s serenity prayer built into a process and put into action.
That approach works for the big stuff. But what about the small stuff that causes so much sweat? Getting hit on the head, fingers caught in the window. When my senior thesis was corrupted by a virus that hit campus, I threw the keyboard against the chalkboard in the (fortunately empty) computer lab. It was strangely, although fleetingly, gratifying. When teaching my son to read vowel combinations, it frustrated me so much that afterward I sent him off to his bath while I spoke words of hate to the mirror. Going to the gym for a class and learning it’s at capacity sends me to the pit of despair. Without an outlet for the energy I’d planned on expending at the gym, I took it out on myself. There’s nothing new about these incidents. If someone made a map of the nicks, scars, and discolorations on my naked skin, all but a handful would map back to incidents of self-inflicted punishment from moments when composure failed. The five-step plan? It never had a chance.
This makes last night particularly amazing.
It was ridiculous really. However it happened, the result was that I purged the content from my contact folder and calendar when synchronizing the laptop and phone. I felt the twinge of despair. I checked the recycle bin, I checked the phone, I checked the archives. Everything gone. I took a deep breath and felt the clench in my gut that always precedes a bout of rage. And then…it was gone.
No turmoil. No rage. No panic. No hyperventilation. No hitting. Disappointment? Sure. But otherwise, just a light current of irritation underneath a relative pool of calm. Is this personal growth or just the pleasant side effects of regular intake of little pink pills to modulate my anxiety?
My husband wanders in. “What’s wrong?”
“It looks like I just lost all of my contacts, calendar, and e-mail.”
“Oh, no! That’s horrible! What are you going to do?”
I pause. “Meh. I’ll just rebuild it. No biggie.” I leave the office, turn off the lights, and go read a book before bed. I’ll fix it tomorrow.