"Men have anger." That's a phrase my dad used to say to me whenever he had a random tantrum over losing his keys or an altercation with a meter maid. He would say it casually, after whatever incident had run its course. After, say, I was still struggling to process why my dad had, in short succession: sped in front of a driver who had cut him off, only to then stop short, blocking the other driver from getting away, turned off his ignition, rolled down the window, and dangled his keys out of it as if to declare, "You wanna keep honking, we'll just keep sitting here."
"Men have anger."
I've thought about this a lot as I've grown up and the conclusion I've come to is that:
SO. DO. WOMEN.
At least I do. Here are things I have done in crazed fury, in no particular order:
When I was a waitress and a man tipped me in pennies, I addressed the entire restaurant and pointed at his wife and announced: "I just had to spend an hour, but I'm so sorry you have to spend a lifetime with him."
I tripped my college roommate after I overheard her say she didn't think I was "fun."
At sixteen, when my parents told me I couldn't go out, I pulled two heavy brass sconces out of the wall by hanging from them, leaving only dangling wires in my wake.
I have seriously contemplated driving my car through my home for "effect."
And yet I seem so mild mannered and sweet on the surface. But just underneath, I'm seething.
I didn't always label it as anger. My dad says as a child I was "challenging." A "handful," raved my grandfather. "Emotional," enthused my aunt Ann. I paid no attention to my mom's dog-eared copy of Raising Your Spirited Child. I was too busy firing the fellow nine-year-olds in our neighborhood who hadn't learned their lines for my backyard production of Cats: The Sequel (rights pending).
My parents begged me to go easy on Amy. Her parents had recently gotten divorced, and her dad was living on a houseboat. Did I have to use the word fired? Couldn't she hae some part? "Fine!" I yelled. "She can play the telephone." Amy would go on to dazzle the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, with how long she could remain crouched down stage right with her arm draped over her head as the human receiver and allow me to talk on her. I had — naturally — replaced her in the starring role. Anger, I realized, could mean power.
It could also be exciting. I grew up in a spectacularly heightened household where joy and anger mingled seamlessly. My parents were highly successful, funny, passionate people who taught me life should be lived out loud and all big feelings felt. My mom once tried to throw a dining-room chair at my dad's head, and I barely looked up from Mr. Popper's Penguins. My dad was arrested for screaming at a maître d' because they wouldn't seat an elderly woman. Later, she told my dad that while she was grateful he had stuck up for a stranger, they hadn't seated her because she was waiting for someone. (Oops.)
I'm positive we all went to the movies after both incidents as if nothing had happened. Popcorn and a dark theater: a great post-rage landing spot for our family, even if my mom was often asked to leave for laughing too loudly. Which also made her furious. "We're Italian," she explained with a shrug.
She called it "Italian"; my now-husband called it "actress" when we were dating. And as an actress, anger had actually served me fairly well, as it can be galvanizing and motivating. But I just wasn't sure what I was so angry about. It wasn't a constant state of being — in general I am quite upbeat. Rather, it felt like a tidal wave waiting in the wings that threatened everything in its path. I had no control over it. Did I want to yell to a woman at a Beverly Hills salon who was rude to the valet "YOU ARE DRENCHED IN ENTITLEMENT!!!" Did I want to pen "newsletters" for my neighborhood shaming a male neighbor who wrote me a nasty note on my parking job? Why, yes I did! I thought I was a vigilante! Others thought I was unmoored.