This week, Sharon and I have gotten hooked on a long-running British crime show called “Midsomer Murders”, thanks to my booking agent and his wife first sharing the program with me. The show was acquired by Netflix, and has been running since the 90’s, with 19 seasons available on the website. We call it “Murders”. More than once this week, our text messages have read: Hey! Wanna watch a murder tonight??
I’ve also been wrestling with my emotions lately: homesickness, a little depression over having to skip out on workouts to rehearse the FM songs until my brain can’t take it, and anger. I might be hormonal; maybe I’m tired, or hungry; it may be for no reason at all, but I’m mad nonetheless.
When I was younger, before feeling any sort of comfort in being myself, I resisted getting angry, or showing any hostility toward anything or anyone. Getting angry wasn’t for classy ladies. Girls were supposed to help, support, and encourage. Most importantly, if I were to lash out or talk back, I ran the risk of losing the love of the person against whom I was acting out. Heaven forbid I say something I might come to regret. Because…what if I never saw them again?
Maybe it came from Sunday school, or from the summer church camps I went to every year. I recall how much the concept of death was discussed in church, and of having no second chances (unless Jesus got your back). This was especially true in the times of Moses, when the Passover claimed the lives of firstborns whose doorways weren’t coated in lamb’s blood. In fact, the first VHS tape I ever bought with money I saved up—$20—was The King of Egypt, an animated musical depicting the life of Moses (featuring the voices of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey on a featured track duet…epic stuff). Mostly, I longed for the stuffed camel included with the purchase. But I still remember a shocking amount of the movie nearly two decades later.
Anytime before I was self aware, I remember getting furious with my little sister time and again for childish, immature reasons. It was a blissful period of life, most likely stopped short with the crack of a belt. Like it or not, a lash on the ass shuts a kid up real quick. After a certain age, I still asked questions, and sure, people got angry with me, but I didn’t raise my voice. I didn’t give them a look and I didn’t storm out of the room. I didn’t hang up the phone, or look them in the eye and call them out. I waited until I was alone, and do one of two things: Cry, or scream.
The fastest way to shut me down, and I believe this to be true even now—is to yell at me. Maybe it’s my hearing, but I just freeze. It plants my feet so deep into the ground that I can’t seem to move. I look around for the exits like a lost hiker in quicksand. If I flail, I just sink further down into the mire. Am I shocked at being yelled at? Am I trying to prove I’m the more righteous person by enduring avalanches of dissent? Or, am I just a shamed little girl hoping to win back the love of someone before they turn around and disappear out of my life forever?
Boyfriend after boyfriend…teachers, friends, and dental hygienists. People far and wide to whom I could never speak my mind, for fear of a poof, and I would never hear from them again. The more love I was shown, the more open I became: my unbridled, teenage emotions, and my untethered, kooky thoughts on British comedy and how awesome Phil Collins was(is). If I loved you, that made it even worse. Not only would I never get mad at you, but I’d do everything I could to make you happy, somehow forcing the screw tighter without realizing I was stripping its lining. I’d become a loose screw in the machinery, eventually cast aside dented, bent, and exposed.
I remember countless fights with men long past college, after I’d moved to Nashville, and well into my touring years. I would stand in the living room while they yelled, telling me to leave or that this just doesn’t work anymore. I’d cry. I’d beg. I’d bite my lip or hold my tongue. Please, please. Don’t go. Don’t leave me. I love you.
And sometimes, the worst thing possible would happen. They stayed.
A while ago I told you about Him, when I lost the song contest in New York at Lincoln Center, and followed Him upstairs to the green room, after he had once again made a pass at me so many months after leaving me windblown on the asphalt for what seemed like the hundredth time. He tried to make me feel wanted, until his girlfriend showed up at the contest finals the next day to stare at me while I sang a pitiful, heartfelt song about the man to her left.
So I followed him up, with all of the anxiety and the fear and the hurt mixing together with my hate, my disappointment, and yes—my anger. I cornered him in a dark empty room, much like he’d done to me prior to that evening. He once had preyed on my insecurity, and the knowledge that I’d never have the guts to stand up for myself. I took a step forward, threw back my shoulders and screamed in his face for the first time since childhood. I screamed for that girl who kept her mouth shut. I screamed for the woman I wished to become. I screamed for myself, the only thing for which I had never screamed.
When I met C, things went very well for a long time. Now over three years later, between then and the eve of our marriage, there have been fights. There’s even been some yelling. And yes, there have been times when I worried he’d walk out the door and never come back. But never again will I worry about what it’s like to stand alone in an empty room.
There were some days this week when I was just mad. I was probably hormonal, or hungry. I found my way on a dreary weekday afternoon into Trader Joe’s for a quick grocery run, and stopped in front of the soy sauce section on a busy aisle, angling my cart close enough to the side so as to not block anyone’s path. A stocky woman with long, spindly gray hair and large coke bottle glasses began walking down the aisle. She snuck around a column, but rather than change course and walk around, she decided to put both hands on the front end and move my cart forward on her way back to the middle, bumping me.
”Sorry” she said, halfheartedly.
I turned to her, furrowed my brows, and cast her an unapologetic look of disgust. Even as I did it, I wondered why my face was making that face.
“SORRY!” She then angrily yelled into my face. I said nothing, but kept my expression of stony, dispassionate angst. She moved on from me, and I continued shopping, unmoved.
Sure, maybe that wasn’t nice. Maybe I could’ve bowed, scraped, or simply said “no problem!” and left it at that. Most of the time, that’s exactly what I would have done.
But sometimes, I just feel angry. And when I realize that’s what I’m feeling, I smile. You might call it weird, but when I’m angry, I think it’s a good thing. I take it to mean that I love myself enough to stand up for myself, and be who I am in that moment, regardless of what anyone else thinks of me. And a true lady loves herself, no matter what.