The headline crowded the screen of my phone. I hadn’t meant to check the news, but it was there when I swiped for the weather. These things always take a moment to sink in.
I didn’t do what we are supposed to do when we hear of another horrific mass shooting. I didn’t run to hug my children or sit quietly with them; I didn’t soften and I didn’t seek softness. I put my phone down and snapped that they were going to be late, that they weren’t doing enough and they weren’t doing it quickly enough.
“We are going to miss the bus! I told you this!” at my son. At my daughters: “Why are you fooling around when you have things to do? Do I have to do every single thing every single day? Come on!”
I didn’t forget what I had just read. That the many dead were children and parents and loved by other someones burned in my throat as I continued to scowl and bark. I thought, as we do, of desperate loved ones calling and calling and all the phones going to voicemail.
But yelling at my older daughter to get the clothes off the floor because you can’t leave your room like that and you know better was safer; Why is the cat eating plastic again does anyone else see this but me was better company. The energy of anger felt better than the dizzying waves of despair.
I have thought a great deal about anger these past few years. I have struggled with it, written about it, faced it, been humbled by it, occasionally brought it down. Most days I am overwhelmed, frustrated, exhausted–and somehow, clinging to a last thread, in control. I know I have changed the way I react to my children, that our life is stable underneath the chaos. But sometimes I miss the anger; I miss its promises.
Anger is a great buffer. It is a cushion in front of fear. It promises a broken sort of power, and I believe it when it says I’ll save you from the loss you are afraid of. Stay angry and nothing can hurt you. Be angry enough and you will stop caring. Be angry enough and no one will care about you. You will have nothing to lose.
I huddle back with that rage when nothing else can be done. So little makes sense in the aftermath of inexplicable horror, and there is always more to lose. There is no distraction great enough, no bright side, no grace. I cannot hug my children hard enough to make anyone whole again. I cannot hug them enough to make it bearable.
There is everything to be angry about now. This outrage fuels determination and resolve, but for a long time my anger was only destructive and defeating, aimed at myself and taken out on my family. I was an animal in a cage, running in circles and banging the bars to drown out my terror.
That kind of anger is an intimate relation, a comfort against injury, real or imagined. Sometimes I just miss the anger. When I am scared and helpless and so far into love that it feels like fear, I miss it.
I hurried my son out the door, walked him to his waiting school bus, held his hand; we discussed the plotting nature of neighborhood squirrels. “Those squirrels are my arch enemy,” he declared. I laughed, but agreed. I placed his red backpack on his shoulders, and he squeezed me around the waist before turning to board his bus.
Back inside, I put penguin ice packs in the girls’ lunches. I kissed and hugged my daughters and wished them luck on various things and a good day and reminded them I’d pick them up after school, as I do every morning. From the door, I watched until they got into the elevator, every last second of them.