1. Grandma Anonymous
“You don’t have enough sense to raise pigs,” Grandma Josephine wrote in a letter to my mother just after I was born. Signed, Anonymous.
Another time, Grandma Josephine told Mom that her kids look just like her and that’s why she finds her grandchildren so repulsive. Signed, Anonymous.
Despite the author’s halfhearted attempt at a concealed identity, Mom swore she recognized Grandma’s handwriting from Christmas cards.
We guessed she signed them with her alter ego Anonymous because she wanted to express her anger, but thought signing her real name might make it awkward when she showed up for dinner the next evening.
“There’s not one person I want to see every day of the world,” Mom would gripe while baking Grandma Josephine a pie. “Not even my own mother, and she’s dead — if she clawed her way out of the cemetery, I still wouldn’t want her sitting on my couch waiting for dinner every damn day of the week.”
2. Baking Powders
Every evening, Dad drove his coal truck home from work with his Jake brake rattling our holler for a mile before he parked in our driveway.
Not fifteen minutes later, Grandma Josephine would pull in behind him in her Chevy Caprice.
Mom always had deer stew or baked chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy waiting. Dad was as incapable of complimenting Mom’s cooking as if he lacked a mouth.
“Tastes like it’s got too much baking powders in it,” Dad once said of Mom’s gravy. He looked at Grandma Josephine. “Don’t this taste like it’s got baking powders in it to you?”
3. The Demons
Mom had a temper, and she hated an ingrate.
When Grandma nodded with Dad in agreement, I watched Mom get up from her seat, a large wooden rocking chair that creaked under its own weight, and flip it across the room so that it landed upside down at Grandma’s feet.
Later, Grandma Josephine told people she saw “the demons” dancing in my mom’s eyes that day. She probably did — demons of resentment.
4. Angry Lady Seeks Dog
“Our studio apartment is too small for a dog,” my fiance says.
“I want one anyway,” I insist.
“We wouldn’t be able to travel without finding a sitter, and we live in the middle of a city where he wouldn’t get to run around. On top of that, I’m allergic as shit. I really don’t want a dog. Can’t we compromise on something else?”
All of his points are valid. I feel a rage rise up inside me. Who is he to tell me what we can or can’t have? Marriages aren’t a partnership — they’re a struggle to the death, and I should just be glad his mother isn’t here to back him up.
5. Daddy Issues
I slip into gladiator mode.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” my fiance asks. In his mind, this is just a disagreement about what pet we should get.
“Like what?” I spit. In my mind, he’s dead to me. I’m so angry I’m ready to go scorched earth. I assume everyone feels this way when they fight.
“You’re looking at me like you don’t know me and you hate me anyway.”
He’s right. My body can’t tell the difference between friend or foe. I know he’s my partner, in my head, but in my bones, he’s my father who can’t be trusted to be on his wife’s side.
6. A Professional’s Opinion
“You’re ready to end the relationship because he doesn’t like dogs?” my therapist asks me.
I roll my eyes because she so doesn’t get it. “I don’t want to end it, but I wonder if I’m supposed to end it — like am I letting him run over me by staying in the relationship without getting a dog?”
She squints. “Have you considered you might be running over him with your anger if you force him to get a dog?”
7. Anger is a Weapon
Although I routinely flew into rages, I’d never identified myself as an angry person. I’d never thought about anger at all actually. What was anger?
Anger is best expressed in passive-aggressive backdoor dealings like smalltown rumors and nasty letters. I learned that from Grandma Josephine.
Anger is best bottled up and released on your enemies like a face full of acid. I learned that from Mom.
No one ever said it, but they didn’t have to: “Anger is a weapon. Don’t think about it — just use it.”
When I don’t understand something, I read a book about it. In my attempt to understand what anger is and why I felt it so intensely toward those closest to me, I read The Language of Emotions. The author depicts anger as a half-sentry/half-sage.
“Anger sets your boundaries by walking the perimeter of your soul…If your boundaries are broken, anger comes forward to restore your sense of strength and separateness.”
— Karla McLaren, M.Ed., The Language of Emotions
As I read, I remembered how Mom’s boundaries were encroached on for decades. She became a housewife at sixteen to a man with a mother who thought she’d made off with a prize — her only son. Grandma Josephine showed up every day to reclaim her territory and fired shots into Mom’s encampment by mail.
But that was Mom’s battle, and even though being a spectator had lasting effects on the person I became, my own story is different.
My boundaries as an adult, if drawn out on a surface, would look like the worst case of gerrymandering. Their lopsidedness reflects the hangups of my parents and isn’t relevant to my current life situation.
I’m in a loving relationship where I have equal say. My future mother-in-law lives three thousand miles away and is too polite to show up for dinner uninvited even if she lived next door.
10. Anger is a Message
Grandma Josephine sealed her anger inside of envelopes and sent them out into the world like bullets. Mom expressed her rage on anyone unlucky enough to be in the blast zone when she erupted.
I’m learning to do neither. When anger presents, I have to ask if the boundary that’s been encroached upon is real or inherited. More simply, I’m learning to respect my partners’ needs without feeling taken advantage of.
I’m lucky enough to have someone who is patient, if allergic to some of my favorite furry friends. (And in the meantime, we’re adopting chinchillas.)
Want to know more about Mom and Dad and Grandma?
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