As some of you can imagine, it’s not easy recovering from a difficult, drama-filled and impoverished period of life. Even when things are going great, there’s this sense buried deep in the heart or mind that it won’t last, that something bad will happen to take away all of the gains that you have made in your life. You can also develop some coping strategies that become good habits when kept in balance, and nasty ones when out of balance with the rest of your personality. It can make a person who really isn’t all that complicated look almost psychotic, depending on the circumstances.
I can attest on a number of occasions becoming angry and difficult to talk to when pushed into a corner by friends and foes alike. Not to the point of violence, but certainly to the point of dropping any notion that my knowledge of the English language extends beyond hanging out with winos in Washington Square Park in the middle of July. A friend of mine from my Pittsburgh days knows all too well what can happen when I lose control of my mouth in anger. It was the ’92 NBA playoff series between the juggernaut Chicago Bulls and the upstart New York Knicks under the great Pat Riley. As those who read my postings know, I’m a big, die-hard Knicks fan, one who has suffered in NBA poverty for years as a result. My friend — who grew up in Philly, mind you — hadn’t become a basketball fan until Michael Jordan became an NBA champion the year before. All before the series began, my friend went on about how the Bulls were going to wipe the floor with the Knicks. I admitted that the Bulls were heavy favorites, but I also hinted that he shouldn’t be surprised if the Knicks give the Bulls a battle.
And they did give the Bulls all they could handle and more. Patrick Ewing made his first ten shots in Game 1 upset of the Bulls in Chicago. After losing the next two games, the Knicks won Games 4 and 6 at home in New York to send the series to Game 7. The Knicks continued to battle, and they were only down 58-51 at halftime of the big last game. Then the Bulls finally blew them out, going up by 29 by the middle of the fourth quarter. It was a deflating end to a hard-fought series, and I was in no mood to talk to anyone after watching that game.
Not a minute had passed from the end of the game when my friend called me up to tell me what a bunch of losers my team was. He went on and on about Jordan and Pippen and how Ewing and Starks sucked. At that point, I lost it. I told him, “This from a guy who didn’t know what a basketball was two months ago.” Then I yelled, “You need to shut up at get off my f–king phone!” as I slammed the phone down on the receiver (back in the pre-cell phone era). It took me two days to apologize, and even then, my friend said, “I thought that it was just a game.”
This might not be the best example. Folks get into brawls over the teams that they are fans of, much less a war of words. Heck, people have beaten up their spouses and killed the opposing teams’ fans over a loss. Those are examples of rage beyond the pale, rage that can leave us in need of Dilantin.
But there are other examples, recent and fresh, distant and still a bit painful or embarrassing to think about. Like telling a rude Asian woman at a CVS who told me that I didn’t sound Black that “the only reason you’re with a Black man is because you think he has a big dick.” Or just being downright surly at my wife’s family reunion because a couple of her cousins had about as much organizational and communication skill as Rush Limbaugh two minutes after taking a bottle of Vicodin. I’ve always had reasons, some of them really good ones, to say and act the way I do when I get into an almost irrational state.
Reasons aren’t rights, though. There are plenty of other examples, other situations, where I don’t lose my cool or I’m able to oil my duck feathers and let the waters of ignorance, bigotry, disrespect and betrayal roll off my back. In almost all of my work history, as well as in my educational experiences. Growing up, at 616 and in Humanities. With police offices and perfect strangers asking me if I play basketball. With librarians and cab drives complimenting me on how “articulate” I am. In most of my dealing with people, I’m polite, nice, even friendly and joking almost all of the time.
Yet there’s an issue here that I’m still struggling with after all of these years, even with Boy At The Window. I’m someone who can remember on a nearly day-to-day basis what’s happened in my life since the month before I started kindergarten, when Nixon resigned from office on national television. That’s great, I guess. To memorize dates, facts, figures, faces, ideas without even trying. To know that I was born on a Saturday, that my first kiss was in April ’76 with a classmate named Diana, and that I officially lost my virginity on Saturday, June 14 of ’91. But it also means that every ugly thing I’ve been through in life is etched in my memory, at times as if it happened a moment ago.
While I’ve gotten past most of this for the most part, I also know that I don’t fit easily into the typical American easy-going lifestyle that allows for a “live-and-let-live” mentality. That’s good in a way, for it means I care about injustice, equality, diversity, educational improvement and economic balance. It means that I want a better world for everyone, regardless of who they are. At the same time, it means that I sometimes take the view that I’m not taking crap from anyone. Not strangers, not authority figures, and not even friends and family. After all, I spent most of my growing-up years doing just that.
Among my goals at this stage of my life is to find a way to enjoy good moments, to not allow the realities of my past drag me back into the past when I need to be thinking and doing in the present. For my sake and for my family’s sake. Another critical piece to that goal is to balance my anger and occasional rage with the temperament that enable me to overcome my past in the first place. How to feel without losing myself in that feeling. It’s a difficult balance, and in my case, I have no expectations of perfection in this area of my life. Yet even a moderate amount of success in this part of my life would mean a peace I haven’t known in all of my life. Hopefully, I’ll finally be able to exhale soon.