Trying to Be Nice
The Monday after I returned from my reclusive month of finding peace in New Mexico, I looked out my window to see a small silver truck blocking my driveway. “Damn construction crews!” It had been happening for nine months. Every. Single. Day.
Most days I wasn’t driving anywhere, so I let it be. I knew how hard it was to find parking in my neighborhood and I assumed that most of the workers were low paid. I wanted to be understanding and I didn’t want them to be burdened with parking tickets or being towed. When the workers and subcontractors from several of the five sites around my house first started parking there, I told them, “It’s fine, just ask me first because then I can tell you when I need to get my car out.”
No one ever asked permission. Every time I needed to pull out or in, I’d have to find the driver.
Then I tried a handmade sign listing which dates were okay to park there. Also ignored. The developer renovating the house next door commented, “You’re a lot nicer than I am. I’d just call a tow truck.”
Then the trash collection company became exasperated with the obstacles to their picking up trash. They towed away the cars. Finally! They resolved the problem without me having to be the bad guy.
The respite didn’t last long.
After nine months, just seeing them out there caused me to want to sprout horns and rain down hail and lightening. I felt disrespected. Every time though I told myself to let it go.
Enough is Enough
But on this day, I needed the car to move so, as I’d done many times before, I walked over to what I was sure was the offending construction site. “Can you guys tell the driver to move? I need to leave.”
Unlike previous times, however, they told me, “It’s not us.”
“Whose is it then?” I asked through gritted teeth.
“We don’t know.”
I knew it was someone from their site – it always was, but just in case I walked to the other four sites. Each claimed their people didn’t park in the alley, and pointed to the site I had originally gone to.
“They said it’s you.” I could barely retain my calm.
A squat guy looked at me. “No.”
“Let me talk to the supervisor.”
The guy looked down and kept working.
I called the city to ask for a tow truck; I expected it would take hours.
I demanded again to talk to the supervisor, but other than a glance at me the worker stayed silently working.
“Fuck you asshole. A tow truck is on its way.”
I asked the other workers who barely glanced at me.
“I’m missing my fucking appointment, you assholes. Find the driver and move the car!”
I fumed as I walked back to the parked truck and noticed a phone number on the dashboard. I called it twice, but each time got a message “that number is not available.”
I wouldn’t make my appointment. I didn’t know what else to do to get them to respect my need to get out of my driveway. The water in my pot boiled over. I slammed the heel of my fist into the passenger door. Then the hood. I side kicked the driver’s door. Tentatively at first, but my kicks got stronger and stronger as I vented all my anger at this fucking truck. I didn’t want to damage it, I just wanted them to see me. To understand how frustrated I was. To move the fucking truck. I walked around kicking it on every side: the doors, the bumpers, the lights. I briefly thought that the driver could report me to the cops – there were plenty of witnesses. I knew I couldn’t plead self-defense from a parked car, but I didn’t care.
The guy still didn’t show up. But it wasn’t surprising, since by then I had grown horns and fangs. I saw a guy down the alley staring at me. I gave him the finger, briefly wondering if he might be videotaping me. I still didn’t care.
Finally, I went inside to wait for the tow truck and when I next looked, I saw the truck had left. One of the workers pointed toward the end of the alley where I saw it stop, waiting for traffic. I sprinted to the truck and pounded on his window until he rolled it down. I yelled at him for parking in front of my driveway, but what I really wanted to know was who lied to me.
“Which site do you work at?” I growled.
He silently stared ahead.
“Fuck you, asshole. Where do you work?”
“What site, you fucker?”
The traffic subsided and he pulled out, I hung on to his window like a crab.
“What fucking site?”
A woman passing by on her bike yelled, “calm down.”
“Fuck you!” I didn’t even turn my head to respond.
She repeated herself—as if telling a person whose head is exploding to calm down works. But I believed I knew her type because I’ve been her. She was a do-gooder who no doubt thought she would rescue this situation and I was some batshit-crazy-angry-bitch who shouldn’t be so angry. Usually I would have felt embarrassed, but I was done caring what she thought. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say in this moment that I was done caring what I thought.
“Fuck you, lady. You have no idea what this is about so butt out.” I didn’t even turn to look at her. Was I yelling at her or at myself? Surprisingly, she left.
The driver stopped, blocking rush hour traffic. He told me that he worked at the site I had originally gone to. I darted back to the construction site.
“You fucking bastards. Where is your supervisor? If anyone parks in front of my house again, I’m just calling a tow truck. I don’t fucking care anymore about being nice.”
“You don’t need to talk to the supervisor.” He said incredibly calmly, considering he was talking to a woman with fire shooting from her nostrils.
“Fuck you, you fuck! He needs to make sure his crew stops parking in front of my driveway!”
Finally, some of the other guys on the crew started yelling to the upper floors for the supervisor. They told me they were sorry for what happened. They knew I lived there and had to get out and they didn’t park there anymore, but maybe it was one of the guys working upstairs. They were a different crew. They were sorry I missed my appointment.
When the supervisor didn’t appear in a few minutes, I stormed in. “Where’s the supervisor?”
A guy looked up from his conversation over a set of building plans and raised his hand.
“If I see another fucking car in front of my driveway, it will be towed. I’m not going to come looking for you guys anymore. I missed my fucking appointment this morning and I’m sick of this. Tell your workers, your subcontractors, everyone. I’m done letting it go.”
He stared silently. I wondered if I had sprouted medusa hair and frozen him with my gaze. The guy next to him kept his eyes firmly on the building plans on the table in front of him. He was not getting involved.
I was like a balloon that had been punctured, zooming around spewing air as fast as it could come out until finally all the air was out and the balloon fell to the ground. I walked out.
The High and the Hangover
My housemate laughed so hard when I recounted the story that had she been drinking, the liquid would have come out of her nose. Imagining myself with crazy snake hair flying and flames shooting out as I screamed obscenities, I laughed too.
The exhilarating feeling of triumph zooming through my veins and the weightlessness of not caring what the world thought lasted about ten minutes. In that time, I texted with my neighbor, who had also been subject to the parking problem, about why we’re afraid to be seen as angry. We were going to own it.
Then the shame hit. This was not the loving, kind person I wanted to be. I obsessed about it all week. I considered going out and apologizing. I had visions of going over to the site, sitting on its edge and talking to the guys while they ate lunch. Getting to know them as people. I wanted them to know that’s who I really am.
I felt especially bad about the worker at whom I aimed most of my vitriol. He hadn’t parked in front of my driveway. He just received what I wanted to emit on the driver and his supervisor in his absence.
I couldn’t do it though. No one had parked there since the incident and I feared my apology would lead them to park in front of my driveway again. I saw the benefit of being a crazy woman. I also wasn’t ready to apologize without adding a “but” to my sentence; I wanted him to acknowledge that the situation was really frustrating for me.
I prayed and meditated every day. Over my hurt that I had tried so hard to be kind but felt ignored and disrespected, about my anger, and about my shame. I hated myself for how I had acted. I couldn’t see then that I can be both a loving person, and this person who gets incredibly angry. I defined all of who I was by this one moment and I was definitely not good enough. I waited for an answer to my prayers and continued to obsess, making it hard to work.
On Friday I was discussing the incident with my housemate’s boyfriend who shared his own stories. We watched videos of cars brake-checking semis, presumably to teach them a lesson and ending up slammed into by the trucks unable to stop.
I felt like I was living my own version of those videos except I was both the idiot doing the brake-checking and the semi running me over.
As we talked, I saw an SUV stop in front of my driveway. I couldn’t believe it. I watched for a moment to see if it was going to pull away. It didn’t.
So I walked out the door, down my driveway and into the alley to confront the driver. As I approached I saw the squat guy from the construction site walking away and the engine started up. He had already warned the guy not to park there. I walked over to him.
“Thank you for telling him to move.” I mumbled.
“Yeah. You should call the cops when that happens.”
“I know. And I’m sorry for getting so mad at you. It wasn’t your fault and you didn’t deserve it.”
“It’s the manager. He doesn’t get enough parking spots for us.”
“That’s why I was angry when you wouldn’t get him for me. But that doesn’t excuse how I talked to you.”
“I’m sorry too.” He paused and then asked, sounding surprised, “You remembered my face?”
I told him, “yes” but wanted to say, “of course.” But realized if it was so natural to remember him, he wouldn’t have asked. His question made me even more glad I had apologized. I walked away thanking God for this moment of redemption. I felt buoyant and even giddy.
More Anger? More Shame? When Will It End?
Until a week later when another car parked there and my discussion with the owner ended up again with me kicking the car and yelling as I walked away, “all you had to do was fucking apologize, you asshole!”
After, I thought how much my inability to let these things go was hurting me. I could feel my shame around my behavior corroding my organs. And what if someone had called the cops or I found myself starring in a viral video?
These incidents highlighted a number of places of deep shame for me: over having a privilege – off-street parking; about feeling annoyed in the first place – I should be able to let it go; and over the ultimate explosion of anger – I don’t want to be a person who kicks cars. At no point was I loving myself or respecting my needs, with my shame in the first two instances ultimately leading me to the last.
To resolve the immediate parking issue, I put up official-looking “No Parking” signs. I hated them – they were ugly hanging on my gate and felt so aggressive. I hadn’t needed signs for ten years of living there, so it felt unfair that I needed them now. But they did the trick, and they were far less aggressive than me battering a truck and yelling obscenities at guys just trying to find a place to park. My housemate pointed out that they weren’t aggressive, just assertive. I knew I needed to set my boundaries earlier in these situations and stick to them rather than trying to be the good guy and let the frustration build up until I had exploded. I hoped I had learned my lesson.
But I also realized that the real source of my anger was not the construction workers blocking my gate, but something deeper that had been triggered the day before. More on that trigger next week.
Also published on medium.
Great post. I think there’s also second level shame, or at least there is for me. It’s not the shame of getting angry, exactly–it’s the shame of first getting angry, and then the shame of getting worked up about the entire incident–the shame of being so bothered by your anger is part of that. If you/me were okay with being an angry person, and just owned it, we’d have more time to be happy.
It’s the shame of spending so much time on the quotidian. The mundane. The ugly part of life.
And in a way, you resolved that by giving in, by being bureaucratic, by letting the sign deal with it.
Any way, another enjoyable read.
Thanks Jerry. You hit it on the head. And I’ll be talking more about this idea that I (many of us) need to suffer when I feel like I did something wrong in future posts.
I’m sure you know, good friend, that anger is a secondary emotion masking something deeper. Just watch a mother who almost had her child hit by a car. What’s the response once the child is safe? She spanks the kid and yells at her.
Thanks Tilly. This is something I’ll be digging more into in upcoming posts. Because while it was an annoying incident, my reaction to it was definitely from a deeper place.
Oh Jenny, do I relate. I have been there. When my anger is such, I tell and remind myself that anger really is one, or a combination of, three things: hurt, fear or frustration. Whenever the answer is frustration, inevitably it is either that I wasn’t heard, respected, or validated–after many clear and straight-forward attempts at resolving the issue that is bothering me.
Thanks for commenting Michele. So true. I’ll be talking a lot more about this in future posts. There’s so much to explore around anger.
Whew, so much here with which I can relate. I’ve got a situation at work that’s been consuming me the past few weeks. Actually this is just the latest round of the same kind of situation recurring periodically at work over the past 3 years. Basically another instance of poor boundaries on my part, then feeling angry/frustrated/disrespected/taken-advantage-of, and feeling shame about those feelings. The anger and shame storms are real. Thank you for sharing this…it’s given me more to think about, and further normalized what I’m feeling. And encourages me in my thinking the last few days that it’s time for me to set some clear, firm boundaries.
Thanks Judson. It’s funny to me how the situation only seems to become clear after I’ve hit the anger part. I’m really trying to get better at catching myself earlier, but it’s hard to break those life long habits.
I appreciate how you point out that the situation, as frustrating and concrete as it is, is surface-level — and that there are deep bits of turbulence and cross-currents at play underwater here. (Pardon my making everything a river/kayaking metaphor — it’s where my head is and I find it a useful framework).
I’m also glad that you didn’t wind up in a viral video. Indeed, missing an appointment because of someone parking and blocking you is messed up and wrong, and a boundary violation against you. And the initial “being polite” wasn’t getting you anywhere, so how does one talk/act so that others take your boundaries seriously? Especially in city living: if you don’t maintain boundaries, you get eaten alive, I imagine.
I relate. I’ve been the person trying too hard to Zen though a situation, only to feel ineffectual, dismissed, gaslit and small. I’ve also been the person who reacted with nuclear rage that felt satisfying and cinematic at that time, but didn’t result in righting the “wrong” against me, and even worse, left me feeling compromised, ashamed, and guilty for having lost my sh*t.
Thanks Marcos. It’s always nice to know I’m not alone. And I think these are interesting questions to explore especially as I feel like I see an increasing amount of underlying anger in society these days, which doesn’t put us in the best position when we’re faced with the inevitable frustrating situation.
Congrats on the b;log, Jen. Looking forward to reading more.
Thanks Gina. That means a lot.