The kid, Erin, is angry that nothing is the same. Most of her books, stuffed animals, art supplies, games, mementos, dress-up clothes and half her regular clothes are in storage. Her best friends, Margaret and Kate, are in Brooklyn. She likes her new school, except when she’s mad that it’s not her old school. She says that Mom and Dad are always busy now, dealing with endless renovation details or shuttling to medical appointments.
Erin neglects to add that she shuts us out of her room most of the time. Sometimes, I listen at the door. If I don’t knock, I get a scowl and yell of protest. With my ear to the door, I can hear, over and over, the audiobook version of the Percy Jackson series, about a kid who changes schools a lot and just thinks he has dyslexia and ADD but turns out to be a demigod, the son of Poseidon. Right now, Erin is obsessed with Percy Jackson, the Lightning Thief. Life is tough on Percy Jackson: His stepfather is a jerk. He has an omnipotent, absentee Dad. He’s always the new kid in school. An endless parade of monsters pop up and try to kill him in imaginative ways. Percy gets angry quite a bit.
So does Erin these days. She’s mad that a stomachache and a vague “unwell” feeling do not add up to sufficient reason to stay home from school. Once or twice or three times a week, we have this discussion, actually “argument” might be the more accurate word. Symptomatic controversy made us late for school again today. She’s mad that she can’t eat Halloween candy for breakfast. She’s mad that Mommy is sick. She’s mad that our Halloween decorations were AWOL this year. She’s mad that we haven’t signed her up for piano, or ceramics, or horseback riding, or ice skating, or any of the other things that she normally does after school. She’s mad that we’ve been in housing limbo for almost three months. She mostly hands her anger to us. “Will you guys just LISTEN?” “Why don’t you UNDERSTAND?” Here, you take the anger.
My husband Pete receives the brunt of her anger. It’s scary to yell that you hate your Mom when she has cancer. Pete’s a good sport about being Erin’s anger sponge. But like all “easy-going” people, his even temper comes at an internal price. He’s angry too, though he doesn’t talk about it much. Irish-German parents taught him not to complain, and he doesn’t. But he’s angry that I’m sick. He’s angry that the stress seems to just go on, and on, and on. He would never make a big deal about it, but he’s angry that we’re still not settled. He’s angry that he has to ask HR for yet another extension on what he calls the “stay-free, mini-pad.”
He’s angry that the contractor’s girlfriend suddenly decided she and their daughter had to move back home to Guadalajara NOW. We didn’t hear from the contractor for several days.
Then, “Where are you, Rojo?”
“I’m driving back from Mexico.”
Pete’s angry that chemotherapy has side effects. He’s angry that our renovation is holding true to the cliché: It’s costing twice as much and taking twice as long. He’s angry that furniture is not free. Here, you take Pete’s anger.
I try to receive his anger, to massage it away, to tell him that everything is going to be OK even though I’m not really sure of that. You see, I’m not really angry. Well, of course I am. But I just don’t have the bandwidth to acknowledge it. I could be angry that cancer is so unfair, so random and so scary. I could be angry that there’s no real remedy for cold sores when your immune system is depressed. I could be angry about the knot in my right shoulder. I could be angry about my mother’s once-crazy alcoholism and her now more gently crazy dementia. I could be angry about the utter inadequacy of the kitchen gear in this temporary apartment. I could be angry that the developer thought it was a good idea to make everything black and white, necessitating endless wiping and sweeping. I could be angry about the complete implosion of my industry and the uncertainty about work, if I was well enough to work much. I could be angry that a couple years ago, we seemed to have finally hit our stride and settled into the comfortably prosperous East Coast media establishment, but now there is never enough money.
But what would I do if I got consciously angry about all those things? I would cease to function. So I just send the anger deep down into the repressed recesses of my psyche. I send it up high, out into the universe. Here, universe. You take my anger. Take Pete’s anger. Take Erin’s anger.
Erin has her first meeting with a child psychologist this afternoon. Maybe he will help her learn how to get off the anger merry-go-round. Maybe we can learn about it from her. Erin likes to be in charge, so she would like to be the teacher, I think.