I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles…
—William Blake, A Poison Tree
First it was Brock.
Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there was the image of that curly-haired boy with his satisfied, eager smile, and there was the report of unspeakable things he’d done to that poor unconscious woman until two passersby pulled him off and called the police.
That was horror enough. But then there was that quote from his father, asking that his son’s life not be destroyed for twenty minutes’ worth of actions. The mother, begging.
The lenient judge imposed a sentence of six months. He didn’t want one night’s misdeeds to ruin the boy’s competitive swimming career.
Just writing it, my stomach roiled.
A memory churned up.
Fifteen years ago, we lived in another place, a place with rougher, more deeply rural edges, and there were two strong boys who decided to have a little fun with traffic on a Friday night. They dragged a heavy statue of an antlered buck–a statue made of poured concrete, not a thing to be trifled with or blown by–into the middle of a country road, just around a curve where it would jump out at unsuspecting drivers.
They hid so they could see what happened. They hid so they could watch the fun.
What happened was that a speeding car swerved sharply to avoid the deer and crashed into the trees.
What happened was that the driver broke his back and was paralyzed for life.
And what happened to the boys? They got a jail sentence, but the judge put it in abeyance for several months. These boys were star football players, after all, and the judge didn’t want the incident to make them miss their senior seasons.
I wondered how their victim, listening from the wheel chair he’d never leave behind, felt about that.
I wondered if Brock’s victim had anything going on in her life that might have been interrupted by what happened in those shared twenty minutes. (You can read her response to the attack, if you haven’t seen her letter yet, here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.gdVbj073v#.qbGBGMn2N )
I wondered if there is a different justice in this swath of America for young white athletes, and victims be damned.
ButI had to stop my wondering, and I had to stop reading about what Brock did.
I was just so angry.
Then I got a text from one whose friendship has been woven into my life-fabric since we were just girls–one of those essential people that I simply need to always know is there. And the text said, Well at least it isn’t in the bone marrow.
The text said chemo would start at the end of the month and last for the whole sick summer.
I looked at the stupid phone, and I restrained myself, just barely, from flinging it across the room.
Are you kidding me? I thought. Are you freaking KIDDING me? On what planet is this fair?
I was so angry, in that moment, I couldn’t even do what that dear friend had asked me to do, which was pray.
And then I had coffee with another dear one whose life is being warped by authority’s broken word, by a glib and unrepentant taking back of what was offered. It is a mind-boggling betrayal of a promise, blatant and without apology. It is a use of unearned power with only the intent to hurt.
Angrily, I knew that helplessness courses through my veins. Angrily, I wracked my brain to think of one damned worthwhile thing to say.
And then, of course, Orlando happened.
The roots of anger dug deep into my belly, thrusting and seeking. Finding fertile ground. Entrenching. I could not sleep. In the wee dark hours I crept downstairs with the dog. I picked up a book and I put it back down; I gulped a glass of water. I paced the rooms, trying to deal, hoping, maybe, to compartmentalize.
And because it always has to come back to me, I thought: My God, that could have been my…
It could have been my loved ones. And it was somebody’s loved ones.
How will they move forward, those ones left bereft?
What will the world be missing, without those 49 lives?
What about the survivors of that night?
How can a person who is gay ever feel safe?
I don’t like being angry.
I have been taught that anger is unladylike.
I have learned that unreleased anger is self-destructive.
I have seen that once unleashed, the rage does not fit neatly back into the basket.
The roots thrust deep. The poisoned tendrils find a hold.
And if this is what it’s like for me, the distant observer, the onlooker, the healthy one, the one only tangential to the lie, the one whose dearests dodged the danger this time, what is it like for the ones hit squarely by the blast?
How much rage is whipping in the currents under serene countenances, panting beneath exteriors of calm acceptance?
Right now, I hear no still, small voice. Right now, I only hear the roaring wind.
I put a smile on my face. I put my mind on autopilot. I pick up my keys and I head on out.
But all the while, those roots are thrusting deep.