David didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. In fact, David thought he’d played it perfectly. Well, not perfect–nothing is perfect–but as near enough as he could imagine, uh, performing. Yes, he was annoyed that Jessie had spilt juice all over the sofa. Actually, he was seriously pissed that Jessie had spilt juice all over the sofa, especially as he had warned her to be careful with her glass so as to NOT spill juice all over the sofa. Sure, she’d said, hopping back and forth between kitchen and living room. No problem, she exuded. Oh shit, she then said as a stream of juice shot out from the glass looking like a frog’s tongue spearing a hapless fly. Sorry, she immediately said, looking sheepish, her shoulders hunched, already seeking a cowering pose. Goddamnit, David exclaimed with an air of bitter knowing, followed by a martyred sigh. Stay calm, he self-coached. Don’t lose your temper. Too late, some would say. Anyway, Just…be quiet. That’s what he said, what he thought. Best to not say anything more.
Still, can’t continue with the game. The game, the second game of—whatever it was that he and Jessie were about to resume playing—that was over. “Forget it”, he said. He figured they would. The next day, Patty, Jessie’s mom and David’s fiancé, was curtly disgruntled.
“What’s your problem?”, David asked.
“I don’t know”, Patty initially lied, gauging him it seemed. Then she plunged in: “Think you were a little harsh last night with Jessie”.
“What’d I say?” David asked, calling for evidence.
She replied evenly: “do you want her to be afraid of you?” Patty glided airily about him, casually dominant, like she needn’t outline a case.
“That’s exactly what I was avoiding”, David retorted, forcing a righteous surge. It was in his chest mostly, he noticed, building up a head of steam but stilled, like it was stood at attention facing a locked door. “That’s why I hardly said anything”, David added.
“Well, you said enough”
“Was I supposed to say nothing?”
Patty had a response: a verbose, sprawling instruction with a rosy prescription as its climax: “just be cool”
Somehow that didn’t resolve matters. David stirred, wondering how he’d gotten this wrong though not really thinking he’d gotten it wrong. He’d followed once tacit but later made explicit rules about having time outs when one is hot under the collar; to give space for everyone to calm down. Meanwhile, the objects of his suppressed rage were meant to respond in kind, not poke the bear. How much space, as in time? He didn’t know. A day or two maybe? He was vaguely aware of contrary instructions stemming from mythology and psychoanalytic folklore. His one-time analyst had told him the story of the Wolf man, a patient of Sigmund Freud who once had a dream of wolves perched in a walnut tree. They stare outwards, stilled in every sense, yet in their stillness they carry the menace of their hidden potential. The other mythic figure in the mental midst was Frankenstein, he of Mary Shelley’s creation, longing for human contact but exiled to the arctic due to his irredeemable monstrosity.
Silence is a compromise: an expression of dislike and a threat but also a pulling back that bespeaks the terror of the monster. And in our literature, our mythology and dreams it is ever a monster, a beast—some displaced contortion of ourselves—that has or will do the deed. And yet there is a window of opportunity for another compromise to take effect. It’s a therapist’s prescription, an “if you could just tell the (offending person) X, then…” —well, something will be averted, it is presumed, or hoped. It’s a sound idea, of course, this would-be declaration of truth, this proposed scything through the gaslighting moment; this potential capturing of truisms while the doors are still locked, the temperature set and poised in a mild-to-moderate range. However, it presumes a desire to repair and convey love and not hate; it suggests a willingness to sacrifice pleasure, the discharge of aggression, in order to preserve order; it gambles upon impulse control, frustration tolerance, or the containment of fear, but also the exercise of something deeper. It’s parked a bit lower than the chest you might notice if you’re familiar with the somatic derivative. It is bilious, guttural, nursing an old resentment that has yet to feel justice. It might help to realize that the once antagonist is no longer around, and that displacing onto substitutes will not satisfy for long.