The morning my husband, dog, and I left for our two-day drive to Florida, I got a parking ticket. My husband’s car was parked in our one-car driveway, loaded up for the trip. My car was parked where I’ve parked it since we moved to this house three years ago: out front, mostly off the street thanks to a 3-4 foot wide swath of bare dirt worn into our yard by the previous owners parking there for 20+ years.
At first I thought the ticket, which I might not have noticed before we left if I hadn’t needed to get my sunglasses from the car, was because of the 1 inch of snow that fell overnight. Usually the borough sends out warnings when they want us to move for the snow plows, but this snow surprised us all.
When I saw that the ticket was for parking in a no-parking zone, my breath caught on a long and shocked fuuuuck. I remembered the note at the end of the previous borough “e-update” that said a no-parking area for the south side of E. Crestview had been approved. Not knowing north from south, I assumed they meant the opposite side of the street, where no one parks anyway and where there’s no space to pull off the road part-way. I also assumed they’d tell us when the law went into effect instead of sneakily posting one small no-parking sign at the end of the street where I can barely see it and then immediately assigning cops to hand out tickets.
For more context, our street makes up one side of a little-used horseshoe in a quiet residential area. No one drives on our street unless they live here, are visiting someone who lives here, or are picking up the garbage and recycling.
Anyway, I saw the ticket, and I pitched a fit. It started as anger and some cop-directed insults voiced to my husband, but as we got in his car to leave, all of my excitement about the trip was burned away by growing rage.
I was angry. I mean, really, really angry. It’s a new level of anger for me, one I discovered with marriage and stepchildren (more on that interesting phenomenon some other time), and it feels shockingly powerful every time. I got angry before, sometimes very angry. But lately anger comes hot, with no sense of appropriate gradation, always grossly out of proportion to its trigger.
The thing is, in the weeks leading up to our Florida trip, I’d felt the most centered I’ve felt in a long time. Meditation, yoga, a renewed commitment to writing—all had led to what felt like a sea-change in my approach to life. I could see the difference in my attitude leading up to the trip. I wasn’t nearly as obsessed with packing, cleaning, and list-making as usual. I found it easier to catch the anxiety, to breathe and let it go.
So the anger at the ticket broke my heart. It seemed to negate all that I thought I’d learned, how much I thought I’d improved.
Maybe that’s partly why I indulged the anger, why I let it rip through me and have its way, why I didn’t frantically try to mitigate it, as I usually do.
Maybe that’s partly why I let my imagination do terrible things to that asshole cop. Terrible things involving a sledgehammer and his face, terrible images of his bones breaking, his skin smashing into his hair, his teeth knocked out of his skull, his eyes bowls of bloody pulp. Maybe that’s why I let myself imagine taking an AK-47 into the next Board of Supervisors meeting and slaughtering the lot.
If you imagine the sin, you have committed the sin. Thoughts are more powerful than actions. If you end poisonous thoughts to others, you poison yourself. I know, I know, I know. But knowledge didn’t stop me.
I felt lethal in those moments, recklessly shoving down the fear: what if my imagination makes these things manifest? What if the cop gets a piercing headache tonight? What if the supervisors all die in freak accidents? Is this what the terrorists feel like, the men and boys with guns who go into churches, schools, post offices, mosques?
I have never touched and would never want to touch an AK-47. I stayed awake many nights after watching Game of Thrones episodes, crying, sending healing, and writing new endings for all of the women tortured by Prince Joffrey and Ramsey. I rarely kill bugs.
I have never hit anyone in anger, I have never called anyone a bad name, I have never cursed at anyone. I have never said to another person, I am angry with you. I have tried so hard to be good, to not make anyone feel bad, to not be an inconvenience. I have tried to protect the people around me from my feelings.
Yes, I’m the cliché. I’m Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. I’m the repressed housewife, the goody two-shoes, the teacher’s pet who hates authority even as she yearns to please.
Alarmingly, I didn’t feel guilty about letting my rage-machine churn out its gloriously bloody destruction. I felt powerful. I felt like a bad person who had no interest in being pulled back to the Light. The next morning, I felt shame to have made such an emotional display of myself—but not guilt. Instead, I spent the first hour of that day’s drive emailing a polite but pointed dissension to the Board and texting our neighbors (all of whom agreed with me—“didn’t they even look at our street?” and “that’s local government for you,” etc.).
In Florida, the weight of that ticket hung over me. Just pay the ticket and get it out of your mind, I told myself. But the online payment process didn’t work. The error message kept saying the ticket hadn’t been processed yet. Lazy cop, I thought.
Finally, on Wednesday, five days after getting the ticket, I called the office and explained my unsuccessful attempts at payment. A friendly woman listened and then said, “Sometimes the officers don’t fill out the ticket properly, and that makes it invalid. Looks like that’s what happened with yours. Don’t worry about it. Just rip it up.”
I hung up feeling like I had entered an alternate universe. The real universe certainly wouldn’t let me off the hook after I’d so indulged my rage. It would certainly make me pay for my brutal thought-murders of relatively innocent people. And yet here I was not only forgiven, it seemed, but generously, extravagantly forgiven, forgiven with gifts. How was that fair?
It wasn’t fair. I felt warmed and cared for—and even still, a strange absence of guilt. I felt sorry for my reaction but no rush of love or forgiveness for the officer or the board of supervisors. I hoped they hadn’t been hurt but couldn’t make myself care too much.
Maybe, the universe seemed to suggest, anger is okay. Maybe I could get angry again sometime. Maybe part of “letting the anger flow through me” is letting it engage my imagination, letting it engage my physical response, letting it explode my emotions.
That’s probably not true.
But what I want to learn from this (is that the Universe laughing at me for thinking I have to turn everything into a lesson?) is how to live more freely: to speak, act, think, and feel in ways that don’t leave me bottled up with repressed anger. I want to be able to break rules (just the dumb ones) and not feel ashamed when I get caught. I want to be brave enough to say to someone who has upset me, “I’m feeling angry with you right now.” I want to be able to look them in the eye when I say it.
Just a note of closure: my husband and I and one of our neighbors took our arguments, including visual aids, to the Board meeting. The Board, about 10 older white men, heard our case, sympathized, acknowledged they might have made a mistake, and promised to reconsider. I no longer care too much about the outcome; I park on the other side, and even though I look wistfully at my old parking space (so obviously the logical place to park!), I let it go. Maybe grass will grow there again.