Anger’s Fishbowl

I sat next to the large glass window, my food, chips, and Tajin in front of me. I’d describe my mood as grateful and happy.

Outside, a woman with her mom and two children were eating lunch. They’ve joined the two small tables on the sidewalk to make a megatable. Before I’d entered, I could hear the younger mother chastise her son in a way that made me attentively continue listening. He was prancing around the perimeter, his feet tracing a path around a sidewalk pot of beautiful yellow flowers. The breeze was brisk, and the day was a treat. Fair or not, I decided that the younger mother might be an asshole.

As I sat at my inside table, I couldn’t help but watch the four people as they interacted. The two children, especially the boy, seemed to overflow with energy and interest. Grandma didn’t fuss at the children; she appeared to be a little dismayed by the frequency and ferocity of her daughter’s ire at the children, though. While I couldn’t hear the mother as she fired staccato bursts of irritation, her expression and body language were a red flag. Whatever was going on in her life, it was apparent that her kids were the outlet of her anger, which probably was true most of the time. I’d say the girl was three and the boy was five.

I turned away from the otherwise beautiful view of the street and goings-on outside. A few minutes later, the door in front of me opened, inviting in the mom’s grating and irritated voice. “I said stay the eff out here!” I looked to see that she was yelling at her son, who attempted to follow her inside. He flinched and stepped back away from her reach. I recognized the body language from my own childhood. It took me a minute to convince myself to do what I don’t do best: shut the hell up.

What should have been a delicious meal in a beautiful setting instead became a refresher course in the insidious curse of having too much anger in one’s life. I hate it when I notice it like today. I know what the kid’s lives are going to be like. Every ounce of free happiness they have will be squeezed out of them by someone who might not know how angry she really is. Maybe they’ll get lucky. Perhaps the mom will get help.

Here’s why if you look at the picture on this post, you will notice my eyes are a little misty. As the four left the tables and walked to my right, I waved at both the boy and the girl who trailed behind the two older women. They waved back. I finished my incredible lunch, thinking about all the needless anger and unhappiness around us. A few minutes later, mother and grandmother passed within two feet of where I sat, both holding drink cups. Moments later, the two children pranced by. To my surprise, they both waved at me AGAIN as they passed. I laughed and waved back. Mom turned to chastise the children to hurry and catch up and noted that I was waving. She snarled and said something I couldn’t hear. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of, “Don’t talk to my children!” And then she scolded the children, who both stood motionless staring at the ground. Grandma stared up at the canopy or nothing. I’m guessing the mom told them, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

I wanted to duck outside and tell her, “I think they’d be better off with strangers.” But of course, I didn’t. I bit my tongue. The universe will take whatever course of action it is supposed to. That’s the lie I tell myself, anyway. Having earned my merit badge in parental anger, I know too well that it is nothing more than a lottery.

When I left, I took a picture of the corners nearby and then one of myself. I almost always do. It reinforces the idea of the new me, the melted one I still don’t always recognize. I’ve been accused of being vain. That’s not true. I’m trying to convince myself that it really is me. Looking at the picture, I realized I should have wiped my eyes a little. They betray the slight jolt of listening to that mom fail to get control of herself.

I’m not sure I have a takeaway for this little story. Likely, I’ll never cross paths with those people again. I hope the children cross paths with people who find a way to show them that life is not as their mother sees it. Were I one to pray, that might be the one I’d write on my little piece of paper and tuck away into my heart.

Before leaving, I retrieved a piece of chalk from my car and wrote a few words on the sidewalk about anger being infectious.

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