A pack of snarling wolves, a jaw snapping pit bull, a charging bull, a fiercely pecking hissing goose; I have felt like all of the above at one time or another. My dad was the carrier. Perhaps not patient zero but he is as far back as I have personally witnessed.
If you were born with the anger gene you know it. You have felt the rage take over. It washes over you like an ocean wave that is hot and blinding. It also reaches inside your head, replacing all rational thought with pure blind rage and the need to inflict serious pain. Those in your inner circle quickly learn to recognize when anger takes control. They back away, fervently battling conflicting feelings. First, hoping they are not the target; second, pity for the actual target; third, a guilt inducing joy upon discovering themselves not to be the target this time.
Sometimes there are physical warning signs. The telltale signs my dad demonstrated involved his eye color changing from blue to almost white, as the skin on his face seemed to tighten, drawing his mouth into a fierce grimace. I am not sure about my own physical changes but my daughter, who is certain the gene passed to her, bites her lower lip. She had no idea until her kids pointed it out. Since my family can see it coming on me, I suspect that it is visible. From inside it feels like I become washed in blood like Carrie at the prom.
On one occasion a grocery clerk made a smart remark that activated my anger gene. My young daughter just slowly started to back away as I turned to the clerk. She told me later that her thought was “Man, you don’t know what you just stepped in.” When she told me this I felt kind of proud and outlawish, like a suburban Bonnie Parker or even a domesticated Courtney Love.
When the anger gene is present one learns to make sure there is always a graceful exit close by. My rule in the early days of my working career was to never have more belongings in my office than would fit in my purse. You can’t storm out and look fierce while holding a lamp in one hand. I have tried. And failed.
The gene seems to diminish with age. I can feel it taking hold, but the heat is not as fiery and those once uncontrollable urges can be tamed. More like a tropical storm than a hurricane, it subsides meekly.
My Dad died before he reached the age I am now so I don’t know if the progression I am experiencing is unique. Not long before he died the gene surfaced and it was just as scary as it ever was when the color washed from those blue eyes. Today I am uncertain of my feelings about his last days. Would I want to see that capacity for anger fade away as just another thing the cancer replaced? The fact that it remained to the end allows me to remember him as a fierce, fiery man who died too young. It also makes me remember the terrifying times the anger was directed at my siblings or me. The sting of blows has faded but his words remain, permanently and painfully tattooed on my heart.
We often laugh about that final glimpse at the anger gene surfacing. The old man still had it, right up to the end. And yet we all loved him and miss him. It is crazy how that works.
For me, I’m happy to finally be mellowing a little. I read that Willie Nelson said, “The highs are not so high anymore but lows are not so low either.” So is it an inverse relationship? It must also apply to the anger gene. It is not so strong now and yet my ability to love and feel joy is magnified. Perhaps that is the magic of grandchildren? Or, perhaps this is one of the few good parts of aging? I just know that on those occasions when joy washes over me, just like the blood that poured over Carrie, I am thunderstruck that any one woman could have such a life.