A monster lives inside of me. It is ugly. It is powerful. It is a wall. A wall with claws and teeth. It protects me and hurts me at the same time. I have spent most of my life trying to tame, cage, or hide it.
My monster’s name is Rage.
Tuesday night I somehow found myself standing on a pickle ball court facing the one person I promised myself never to play with – or against – again. This person spends her court time berating her partner for errors. Even if her opponent hits a winner, in her mind it is her partner’s fault. If she thinks her partner is not listening, she assumes an exasperated stance, often delaying the game in order to make her point.
It is not all that surprising that she isn’t very good at pickle ball. I was her partner – twice. I have played against her a handful of times. But whether I am the partner being berated or the opponent listening to her berate someone else, my reaction is the same.
I grew up playing tennis on a grass court in my side yard. As early as I can remember I heard the axiom “tennis is a gentleman’s game”. Grace, poise, and good sportsmanship were ingrained in me from before I ever even picked up a racket. Over the years I have run into many people who did not learn any of these things. I have at times been frustrated over cheating and other unsportsmanlike conduct from opponents. But never have I been triggered like I was on Tuesday night. I watched the woman’s partner take the incessant abuse without so much as a word. This alerted me to an important truth: my issue with this woman is my issue, the pain I feel is inside me. She is not the cause of my anger. Her words and actions only provided the spotlight to expose the monster already inside of me.
Because I have lived with this monster my entire life, I have become fairly good at containing it, at least from the outside world. Inside the monster rages whether I let it out or not. The first indication of the monster’s arrival is a wall – an emotional barrier originally intended to ward against any verbal attack I perceive around me. I have learned over time that all a wall really does is keep ME trapped inside, silencing my own voice. But building walls must have worked for me at some point because people only do what pays them. As a child I learned that letting my angry, defensive words escape only escalated the verbal attack. So I learned to keep my words contained where they could only cut me. Walls are indiscriminate animals. They do not know the difference between friend or foe. At some point connection became more important to me, marking the beginning of the end of my wall’s effectiveness. Like Bruce Banner, there is a point when nothing can hold back the monster’s escape.
I may as well tell you the rest of what happened on Tuesday. After the second bad call, I lost it – a flurry of curses escaped with everyone on every court watching. How could they not? A monster was loose. That’s the danger of caging the beast – left to fester, it grows out of proportion. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be off the court as quickly as possible. I considered forfeiting, something I have never done in simple consideration for my partner. Mercifully, we lost the game two points later. I made a beeline for another court without even a backward glance. I did not approach the net to thank my partner (or hers – he probably could have used a hug). Of course, she confronted my back but I did not stop. I simply reminded her that I really couldn’t care less what people think of me (a bald-faced lie).
The ugliness of the beast that escaped on Tuesday still gives me physical pain two days later. But what really bothers me is that the scene I lived out that night could have been avoided altogether.
… I would honor my body. I might have felt the wall beginning to rise the first time she criticized me on court.
… I was not afraid of conflict. I might have quietly encouraged her not to speak to me in that way.
… I was not concerned with other peoples’ opinions of me. I might have left the court the second time she pointed her forked tongue in my direction after calmly explaining that I will not be the butt of her abuse.
If only… any of the above, the wall would not have risen. The monster would not have been given a chance to grow. It would not have escaped to infect every other relationship I have within the league.
This week I am living with my monster. It is out in the open so I may as well look at it. We have been having chats. Very painful ones. My inner child hides behind that wall, afraid of what might happen to her if she came out. I see her glaring at me with smoldering eyes, telling me to get my shit together.
I look back at her sadly and shrug. If only.