I rode to work on Monday in my husband's truck, a hulky but normal-looking Ford pick-up. I usually drive a hybrid Civic because I have an hour commute but my daughter Sheyanne won't drive the truck so when she is home doing errands for me she gets the car and I drive the truck as slowly as possible to avoid spending my paycheck on gas.
N.B.: as slowly as possible.
So when on Monday the person in a Corolla started beeping whenever I came within 100 feet of her ahead of me I was curious. Was I threatening to her? Would 50 feet of space be adequate in pretty heavy traffic? Apparently no, because what I thought (from my vantage point three or four car lengths back) was her enjoying the wind on her hand became, as we got off the same exit, a very clear message: she was giving me the finger.
And I'm wondering how unpleasant it must be to be driving in the car with her, and enjoying the solitude of my truck, where no one is getting bent out of shape over having a pick-up behind them, or even having the finger thrust in their direction, repeatedly, with enthusiasm.
But since my mind tends to run on multiple tracks I'm also thinking: why the hate? Since I can guarantee you I did nothing other than drive a pickup a respectable distance behind her I figured she had some measure of free-floating fury that was unleashed in my direction almost at random, and that's in fact how road rage starts. Someone who is completely out of control emotionally gets triggered by someone doing something this hate on the highway and they unload. In this case, what I did was drive a big pick-up. This woman did try to slow down so completely on the exit ramp that I nearly rammed her, but then we veered in separate directions when the exit split and I was so relieved. Would she start screaming at me next? Verbal abuse is so much more painful than nonverbal abuse. The finger itself holds little sway over me.
Except this: that was just the beginning of a day full of misguided anger towards me, and it ended badly.
Let me be the first to say that I sometimes totally deserve the anger I draw. I can be snarky, and every time (every time) I'm sarcastic I immediately regret it, being so wrong about what I'm dissing that it's cruel. My entire trip to Disney this year was tainted by my comment about a four-year old and his father--don't ask, I'm still too ashamed to openly discuss it. My husband would say I'm slightly arrogant and self-involved but I would temper that and say I'm confident and self-nurturing, while still caring, day and night, for others. Regardless, I'm imperfect and overly proud and deserve whatever honest set-downs come my way.
What I don't deserve is what happened to me on Monday at work.
I've mentioned elsewhere that I work in a psych hospital. Things get hairy, just to be concise. On Monday they went so far beyond that that I ended up with a concussion and here's how it happened. A young woman who was unhappy with her life in general (being locked into a psych hospital was just the latest in a string of unfortunate events) and with another young woman who coveted her apparent boyfriend and reflexively insulted her mother specifically, decided to take her rage out on the adults trying to soothe and help her. No matter what we did (talk to her, joke with her, help her advocate for herself, call folks who might talk some sense into herself) she was infuriated with us for being involved with the "consequence" for her threatening and charging after that other girl, and was determined to make us pay for making her, at some level, feel bad in acting as her conscious and saying, however gently, that she shouldn't have threatened that girl.
There were punches thrown, as well as phones and everything else on the desk of the nurses' station. She flipped me backwards when I was asking her to calm in the time out room when she suspected (rightly, as it turns out) that someone was in her room removing objects she couldn't have on assault precautions. Her main problem, if I could be presumptuous enough to summarize, is that in our role as caregivers we set limits that she despised.
I am familiar with this concept. I have a son who not only will argue with me until the sun burns out over any (any) limit I set on his behavior but also punish me for trying to do so with standoffs, verbal abuse, cruelty to his siblings and days-long hostility. And from living with him for seventeen years now I know this: unless I walk away and give him the face-saving last word I will have much more trouble on my hands than I desire for the simple reason that his anger, once unleashed, is unstoppable. In order to give him the last word, I have to swallow whatever measure of pride I have (again, my husband and I disagree about what this is), and concede the floor to him, effectively stopping the argument by no longer being there for him to argue with.
And here's where the haves and have-nots come into play. Those who do not have uncontrollable rage have the responsibility for keeping their cool in the face of those who do, to the very best of their ability. Without it our lives would be spent brawling, and we'd all be walking around with head injuries which, I can assure you (from my perspective and that of my family), are gruesome to live with. And, even when you do your best and keep your cool, sometimes those with powerful anger will victimize you. It's the main side effect of rage--others are hurt--though the main effect is what it does to you to live with such rage.
Which is why I mostly feel luckier than the woman who gave me the finger, or the young woman who gave me the concussion. Mostly, I say, because as far as I know they aren't sitting at home tamping down nausea and their own new-found problems with irritability and anger and befuddlement and balance while writing a blog over five days that typically takes them an hour and having to spell-check "mostly" because it doesn't look right. Maybe it's fairer to say that rage in anyone sucks for everyone.