She was startled. She stared at me as if I had stepped on a hidden bomb and my body burst into hundreds of pieces.
In a way, I had tapped into something dangerous: my anger. As I unleashed my fiery response to her complaint about me, instead of defending herself or fighting back, she did something unexpected: she apologized.
And then of course, I did the same, said I was sorry; sorry I had cursed and lost my temper. But truthfully, part of me wasn't sorry at all. In fact, I felt triumphant, like an athlete who vaulted the finish line.
If this had been the only time I had acted so brashly, it wouldn't be worth recounting, but she was the fifth person in recent months who was the recipient of my wrath.
In each case, the scenario had been similar: the other person (four women, one man) had said or done something that offended me. Instead of ignoring it, or responding pathetically, I battled back, intent on letting them know that their behavior, or words, had consequences.
The heat of these events quickly cooled, as if a passerby had grabbed a fire extinguisher to quell flames. Again, there were apologies offered in all directions, and peace was restored.
In one instance, it wasn't fury that described my behavior; more like revenge. My voice was calm, as opposed to the rage of the other confrontations. This person, in a position of authority, had angered others, but none had challenged her. When her actions stymied a plan I had underway, those with grievances urged me to go over her head, to report her to a superior.
"I'm not going to do that," I said, believing that if I bypassed the perpetrator, I would be acting cowardly. I strode to her office and laid out my complaint. But, when I included nameless unhappy persons who corroborated my feelings, she began to cry. Mortified; I apologized. As for her response, instead of fortifying her case against me, she backed down and my plan went smoothly ahead.
Now, after these five dramas, I'm wondering what has happened to me? Did someone snatch my body and replace it with this volatile broad?
At first, I thought it was my second tattoo -- recently applied for a milestone birthday and accomplishment. Did this additional art turn me into a salty sailor? Was I on shore leave, ready to take on all comers?
But now I think it's something else: my age. You see, this year I turned 80 and with the accumulation of those decades, I feel a gift of permission. While others (maybe even you) typically envision a person of my elder years bent over, wispy-haired, wobbly old woman, I see myself as powerful; in a way, obligated towards truthfulness. It's as if I added a layer of armor that repels slings and arrows, and better yet, reverses their trajectory and lands instead on my adversary.
I'm blaming, nay crediting, this new tougher me on my advanced age because a flip of the pages back in my life story displays no evidence of anything but a compliant, genial girl. Certainly there were wounds in that chronicle, but instead of reacting with honesty or anger, I filed my feelings in a folder we'll call Passive Aggressive. The folder, for a visual let's imagine it stained with tears, also included another method for quelling indignation, Gossiping About My Foe. If could find a willing shoulder, I'd lay out the scenario, always positioning me blameless, somewhat pathetic, and as saintly as Mother Teresa. Friends would console, and add their own episodes of unfairness. Thus comforted, I found no need for eruptions, no need for candor, no desire for an improved relationship with my antagonist.
From my earliest memories of dear Mom choosing my wardrobe and criticizing my pinchable body, to my Dad sending me off on an errand that put me in harm's way, to my first husband's unhappiness that translated for me into indifference, to children whose invitations didn't come swift enough, all would go into the folders, accessible when feeling sorry for myself was my reward.
With the entry into my 80th year, my pitiful recollections became to me obnoxious. I could no longer abide that person in the mirror who was a mockery of the woman I had grown to become. The change to Tough Old Broad hasn't been deliberate; instead it is a slow shifting that has gratefully become more comfortable each day.