Anger Unchained
by Mrs. Davis

Anger Unchained

“When you’re ready to talk, Michele, TALK, I’d be glad to listen.” His eyes were sad; his voice was quiet but stern. “But I will NOT listen to you scream.”

I knew at that moment I needed to change. People talk about chains being broken in their life—seems so cliché’: drug addiction, alcohol or physical abuse, work-aholic, eating disorders, cutting. Could one quiet request break mine?

I remember being 4 or 5. I would throw a tantrum: fists curled, feet stomping, yelling and screaming, “I HATE MY LIFE!” and hot tears would race down my face—the stereotypical young girl tantrum. My mom would not tolerate this behavior and would send me to my room. Lying face down on my bed crying, soon ashamed of my behavior, I’d feel my mom’s hand on my back and she’d recite this poem: “Smiling is fun and feels good. It doesn’t cost anything, so smile your sunniest smile and have a wonderful day.” My dad would stand in the doorway and quietly say, “No harm done, but now you need to pull your britches up and be a good girl.” A smile would appear, appreciative that they still loved me. I knew even then that my anger had gotten the best of me. I'd go to sleep, praying to stop being so mad. I wish I had learned then, that these outbursts were not necessary; I could be mad, but that I didn’t need to express myself so loudly and hurtfully.

Sadly, my anger followed me into junior high, throwing brushes down our hall over bad hair. Anger followed me into high school, screaming words at my mom that made her cry; she’d scream right back. We were quite the pair. Anger even gave me flight at times, taking me on darkened streets on my ten-speed or on foot through unfamiliar neighborhoods. The hair would stand up on the back of my neck from fear, but anger would press my feet to move forward. Anger would step on the gas pedal racing at speeds through the winding Black Hills, speeds I’d never want to admit to my dad. Anger had become more than a bad habit; it was now dangerous and my crutch. “I just can’t control it. I just get so upset. Don’t you think I’d stop yelling if I could?”

I left for college determined only to show what most the world saw: sweet-natured, always smiling Michele. So my anger got stuffed…until my first serious boyfriend. He and I would fight fiercely. Nights of my life were lost to angry exchanges. Again, I’d cry ashamed of my behavior and worried I was choosing someone who was as ugly as this anger inside.

I ended that three-year relationship, switched colleges, and again stuffed anger deep. I met Jeremy and an easy friendship formed. We’d study, laugh, and ride bikes around campus…until anger met jealousy. They formed an alliance and quickly my stuffing-emotion days were over. Jeremy worked at a restaurant with a gorgeous red-head, who was married, and had a mischievous way of flirting with the young college guys. She was 10 years older but certainly didn’t look it. She would call Jeremy late at night, sit on his lap at parties (despite him telling her at every party to get off), and asked for help at her house since her husband had taken a summer job off the coast of Alaska. I should have known better than to think anger was done in my life.

Halloween 1994, I was the Bride of Frankenstein (no irony there, right?) and we ran into the redheaded vixen. I tried to stuff my anger, but jealousy grabbed anger by the hand and brought her center stage.

“Hi Michele,” the red-headed Heather said with a seemingly sincere smile, but then, “Jeremy, do you think you’ll rent the room from me?”

I was stunned and shocked. Jeremy living in her house?! I flew out the door crying with my hair sprayed-gray hair blow-dried up with the infamous bride’s black lightning stripes along the side creating quite a spectacle; I was hysterical. Jeremy followed me explaining that she had offered him a cheap room in her house, just this afternoon at work, but that he knew better not to take it. “I love you, Michele. When will you believe me?”

Screaming, I became my costume (and still surprised to this day that I actually became Jeremy’s real bride); Jeremy turned away from me and walked home in front of me. I ranted and yelled, stomped and stormed behind him. He wouldn’t stop and listen to me, so I grabbed the back of his shirt; it ripped and my nails even scratched his back. Stunned himself and rightfully angry, he stopped walking and slowly turned around to face me. And then came those words: “When you’re ready to talk, Michele, TALK, I’d be glad to listen. But I will not listen to you scream.”

Those sad eyes stung me more than any sharp tongue ever has and thankfully, the fire that anger stoked inside me was extinguished. Every now and then embers will spark up, but these don’t have a lock on me like the chains of anger.

Today, 15 years later, we talk through our anger, give ourselves space if needed, and sort out our problems. I am even the one at work and with extended family people turn to for conflict management. I’ve been asked, why that moment? What was it that made you change so drastically? I truly don’t know. I know that the quiet struck me and I desperately wanted to change.

After washing out the Bride of Frankenstein’s gray hair, I decided that anger would no longer control me; I too could wash it away. Jeremy and I talked, I apologized profusely, but he said that I would have to show him that I had changed; words were just words. It’s amazing to think that I had gone so long feeling such rage and that one moment could squelch the anger, but it did. I can clearly express my thoughts and emotions (most of the time), even angry ones, without hurtful screaming and yelling. I am so thankful for night my Frankenstein broke through his Bride’s chains.