As anyone who knows me will tell you, I struggle with the corrosive effects of anger on my soul. My son, wired very similarly, recently described how he felt after he got angry..."It hurts." And he meant physically, shrugging his shoulders to show the warping that accompanies such turmoil.
There is a constant flowing river of rage running through me, sometimes silently and invisibly, other times it floods up and over the banks and becomes apparent to the rest of the world. It is my only source of regret.
Oddly, the only full-fledged fist fight I've been involved with as an adult was devoid of anger on my part.
Here's how it went down. A friend from high school was having a party. I was in college and it was summer. I was recovering slowly from a break up. And by recovering I mean NOT recovering. This friend's mother was out of town and had given her blessing for a barbecue. Kegs were bought. Plastic bags with frozen hamburgers were dug out of freezers. Perhaps a hundred people were expected.
I arrived early to help set up. I parked my beat up Volkswagen Karmann Ghia at the very edge of the house, at the top of the driveway. This will be important later on.
An ex-girlfriend of mine was best friends with the hostess and we were de-facto hosts ourselves. She'd been a part of the triangle that had eventually caused the ultimate breakup that I wasn't recovering from. We are friends to this day. I brought 30 or so CD's because the hostess had left hers in storage at her college. Someone took The Cure album that had the 'Kiss Me' song on it.
In any case, a day of leisurely keg drinking stretched out. I also manned the grill, churning out burgers and dogs in a white apron. I felt the knot of unease loosen in my stomach. Maybe I would get over this girl after all. Maybe I could enjoy myself this summer.
Slowly it got dark. The hostess' brother arrived. He'd been estranged from the family. His mother had kicked him out of the house. He showed up with a little coterie of fawning midgets. Maybe they only looked like midgets because he was quite tall but the image remains in my head of a ropey six two dullard surrounded by midgets.
This caused a rope of tension to tighten around the property. A wooded acre, the house sat atop a yard which sloped away from it. Directly at the top of the driveway a stone wall came up to chest height and followed the descent of the yard. Tucked at that corner of the house was the propane tank that kept the house warm. Next to that was the grill I'd been working.
All the guests were high school friends who'd gone off to various colleges. Dave the Angry Brother had dropped out of high school to join the Army. He felt like an outsider at his own home. He thought everyone at the party looked down on him for not going to college. I avoided him.
I went out to check on the grill. I saw him down at the end of the diminishing stone wall. I smelled gasoline. The entire wall was doused. Somehow my presence aborted his bizarre mission and he and his giggling buddies abandoned their sabotage and set about antagonizing party goers again.
Then I saw him about 20 yards down the driveway. The woods encroached immediately so he was shrouded by tree shadows and actual foliage. He had made a small pile of wood near the line of cars that stretched away from the house. He was now pouring gasoline over it.
I immediately went to his sister who was inside the house and trashed. I told her what he was up to. She and my ex-girlfriend asked if I would go talk to him, because he'd always seemed to like me more than any of her other friends. Why I agreed to this I'll never know. But I did.
I purposely grabbed a beer and a burger so that I wouldn't seem as if I was threatening him. I strolled as nonchalantly as I could over to him and asked him what he was doing.
Of course he said it was none of my business. It was his property and he could do what he wanted. I merely stated that some people were getting nervous with all the GASOLINE being poured all over the place.
That was when he grabbed me around the neck, calling me 'College Boy'.
Everything went slow motion and quiet. He was strangling me but my hands were free. Like I said, he wasn't the brightest bulb on the tree. In fact he was so stupid he was trying to burn the bulbs and the trees.
I took both of my hands and thrust them upwards into his chin. He seemed shocked that I had responded at all and he backpedaled, confused. Then he REALLY got angry and rushed at me open-armed. I wound up and punched him in the mouth with full extension and power.
He fell backwards, blood spurting from his lip. My hand was bleeding on the knuckles. By now a crowd had gathered. He was woozy and his little midget goons took him into the house to clean him up.
I immediately wanted to leave. But my car was blocked by a line of at least 20 other cars. I tried to mobilize people into moving their cars. I was not confident that further confrontation would be as painless for me as the first had been. He was much bigger than me.
Just then he burst out of the woods behind the group I stood in and sucker punched me in the back of the head. I then rushed at him and punched him in the exact same place, reopening the cut.
A strange melee ensued in which 60 people were unable to stop the twisted will of 1. He tackled me. My cheek hit a rock on the ground and I had a hard time thinking. We were tangled up. I felt his hand on my face and he clawed at my eyes. The next day I would have Cleopatra bruises from the corners of my eyes almost to my hairline.
As we tussled, I felt his fingers just above my hip on the love handle. He pinched me. I laughed. I asked him, "Are you pinching me?" He said, "Yeah, I'm f*#cking pinching you!" I got on top of him briefly and managed to hit that same spot a third time. Neither of us looked too good at this point, but my cheek was already swelling a good bit and the bloody eyeliner he'd given me was truly creepy.
Finally people intervened. I always wondered why it went as far as it did. People like to see a fight, I guess.
I wasn't angry in the moment. I am now actually fond of this memory somehow. I have never been in anything even remotely resembling a fight since. I'd had scraps on the playground in elementary school and bullshit shoving matches in frat houses and off-campus bars. But a full on fight? With a disgraced pyromaniac Army son?
He later menaced my sister as she drove my Karmann Ghia. He was on a bike. I left a message at the home threatening to kill him if he ever spoke another word to anyone in my family other than me. This was in the days of answering machines so I don't even know if he ever got it. Oh, I was angry then! You don't mess with my sisters!
But in looking back on it I'm struck at how calm I was while I fought him. He was bigger and stronger than me which gave him enough of an advantage to do me serious damage. His frenzied clawing left a hole in my retina that allows me to see in the dark.
If I'd been angry I wouldn't have gone into slow motion and seen his lip with a big bulls eye on it.