Something really pissed me off a few days ago. Hot damn, was I mad. After weeks of repeated failures, I was trying once again to master something that I just couldn’t get. Knowing how to be bad at things with grace is, I’m certain, a valuable life skill. That I have never learned. I hate being bad at things, especially when it’s in front of other people, and I am most certainly not gracious about it. My emotional toolbox is narrow and deep, and barbed all through the topmost layers with “fight” feelings like anger and frustration. My “flight” responses live in the bottom, rattling around next to old, bent nails and that one receipt that’s so faded you can’t read it but you know it was important once and so you’re afraid to throw it away. Way down there, where the light doesn’t reach, is where you can find my embarrassment and shame and fear. They’re like my antisocial cat; they only come out when no one else is around, usually at night when they keep me up with their burrowing and fussing. Under the view of others, they run away. Under the view of others, they let MAD do all the heavy lifting.
So as I was failing, once again, to do this thing that I hated, I was already seeing red. But I’ve spent enough time on inspirational Pinterest boards to have pep talk material for days, and I was forcing myself to focus and work through it: “You can’t quit, because the very next try may be the one when you get it! You don’t always have to be the best, you just have to give your best effort! If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you!”
Kind of sickening, actually. But whatever. I’ve done less dignified things than indulge in sappy, encouraging one-liners. Whatever gets you through, man.
Only then, there was this guy. Oh, this guy. This one obnoxious guy who decided he just had to plant himself five feet away and shout passive aggressive commentary on how much I sucked at this stupid thing I wasn’t doing right. The same guy who’s done the same thing to me before, those times I didn’t say anything and then wished I had. That guy.
So, naturally, as I stood there seething and thinking of the things I should say, the observations I’d made about his insecurities, the devastating words I ought to scream in order to make him feel just as bad as he was making me, I screwed up all of my courage… and said precisely nothing.
Trust me, there was a whole laundry list of things I wanted to say. Or do. Mostly do. It was long and itemized and started with smashing him in the face and ended with smashing him in the face, and nowhere on it was there even one asterisked footnote about being ladylike. But what I knew to be true, in that moment, was that from the great stew of anger and frustration boiling inside me, there were two possible outcomes. Two. And only two.
- Slash-and-burn, baby. Epic verbal smackdown. There would be throwing down of heavy things and me being all, “Bring it, motherfucker,” with the crazy eyes and gang signs and every last survival trick I ever learned from years of being on the wrong side of the poverty line and living in dangerous neighborhoods.
You’d think I’d have at least 50/50 odds of pulling off #1. Especially since I have rocked that response a few times, when I really had to, and it worked. But those were full-on Danger, Will Robinson! moments, not just me standing there feeling frustrated to hear someone’s unkind words, and somewhere deep inside my emotional makeup, that makes a difference. I don’t know how or why. I wish I did. If I could find the switch that turns on my inner badass and turns off the part of me that cries, I’d be flipping that sucker all the time.
But there’s no switch. And I knew that if I said anything, even just one thing, I would cry. Not the sad cry or the hurt-feelings cry. No, so much worse. The righteous anger cry, the one that blubbers around words that should be perfect but are instead all squeaky and wobbly. The one that takes my beautiful, red-hot fury and turns it into an impotent, pathetic caricature, complete with the ugly sobby face and wheezing and snot – oh, God, so much snot, and I never know whether to excuse myself from my own tirade in order to get a tissue, or swipe at it with my hands, or what. Which just goes to drop an entire new, confusing layer of uncertain etiquette on top of a situation that’s already not going my way. And at the end of the day, I’m just really and completely not a fan of this whole eventuality.
So I stood there. Saying nothing. I laughed a little, I think – the incredulous chuckle that comes when you realize that some unthinkable situation really is happening. A bitter little huff, me marking a moment in time, a moment I need to remember.
Because though I said nothing, I am sure as hell not going to do nothing.
I’m going to learn to do this stupid thing I hate.
I’m going to master it. And then I’m going to get good at it. Really, really good at it.
So good at it that one day – maybe soon, maybe not for a long time, but undoubtedly one day – this guy is going to look at me and say, “Good job.”
And I’m going to look back at him, in this moment when I’m not all anger and frustration soup, when he will be acknowledging that he was wrong. When he will implicitly be learning a lesson about betting against people and kicking them when they’re down. When he will be humbled and hopefully do better in the future as a result. I’m going to stand in that moment and appreciate it as a profound learning experience for us both.
And then, in this wonderful, shared moment of personal growth, I’m going to look him right in the eye and say: “Fuck you, you stupid fucking asshole.”