The Best Revenge: Leaping Buildings in a Single Bound

canstockphoto19248113Sometimes I imagine staring levelly at her and saying slowly, deliberately, with great enunciation, “You are a complete asshole” and then I’d walk away. It would be like a scene from Douglas Adam’s Life, the Universe and Everything when an alien, bitter about his lot as an immortal, has decided to insult the universe – one living creature at a time. He lands on a planet, confirms the creature’s identity on his clipboard, makes eye contact, says “You are a jerk” and then flies away.

In reality, my antagonist would likely look at me, mouth agape, lip quivering. Maybe she’d start to cry. Then I’d backpedal with some excuse about having a bad day and that she’s not really an asshole, but she just did an asshole-ish thing. Or maybe she’d find a few choice words of her own to describe my loathsome character. And before you know it, we’re both blubbering and falling over ourselves apologizing. She’d still be an asshole and I’d still mean it, but now we’d have to hug or something.

canstockphoto0484969There’s a skill in letting things go, in not ruminating and feeding the anger monster within, and in my case, it’s learned, not intuitive. My knee-jerk thoughts, when getting steamrolled by a domineering personality, usually involve foul language and some choice visuals of a mean straight punch, followed by a finishing cross. My brain tends to leave out the bit about being middle-aged and the likelihood of fracturing my fingers, but what’s the point of having a fantasy that puts you in the emergency room?

The revenge fantasy can take on a wide range of forms, from telling off a coworker, to property destruction after a love gone wrong, to avenging bitter teenage years. Every time I think about those popular girls pointing and laughing about my hand-me-down shoes in 9th grade, it bubbles up inside of me. It doesn’t matter that it happened 30 odd years ago. It is burned in my memory, despite the fact that for those girls, high school was the height of their power.

canstockphoto17407787I went to my five year high school reunion. All the same groups of people were in clusters. Since leaving these people, I’d been all over the US and Europe, worked in military intelligence, lost my virginity a few times, learned a language or three – I mean, things had changed for me. But not at that reunion in the hotel ballroom – I still felt like the girl with the shitty shoes. Except now I could get legally and totally drunk, and not care. Which I did.

I’ve never returned to another reunion. If I did, it would be as an MMA Featherweight Champion who had just received the National Book Award (how does she pen such beautiful words right after giving someone a serious smackdown?). If you think this all reeks of insecurity, you’d be exactly right.

When I was younger, I existed in a state of powerlessness. When the dysfunction at home reached its most volatile and dangerous phase, my fantasies of running away morphed into vengeful, violent dreams. As I matured into my twenties, I began to have vigilante dreams, protecting and defending the powerless. I had gone from being my own avenger to being a superhero.

Life began to change in imperceptible ways. Fear stopped ruling the day. I began to make choices out of a belief that I could make things better, that I had some power. I stepped out of survival mode and started helping others more in real life. The insecurity and low self-esteem that had throttled me for years began to loosen its hold.

These days, it doesn’t take much for me to recognize when I’m feeling insecure. I am, at this very moment, as insecure as I’ve been in many years. It’s easier for me to feel small, unimportant and powerless. It’s easier to get angry when I feel like someone is trying to manipulate or control me. It’s easier to imagine giving in to my anger.

Maturity seems never to be able to hold off those moments when I’m vulnerable, when I feel less than. When I’m feeling okay, I am circumspect. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe I push their buttons. Maybe we just shouldn’t be in the same room with each other. I can ruminate and try to untangle the strands of complicated human interaction, and be unflinching in acknowledging my own flaws.

When I’m not okay, say if I’m an unpaid writer with a lot of time that I can’t seem to structure productively, then I can go through an entire day seething about one little interaction. That was yesterday. I felt that rising need to do an I’ll show them and a that’s the last straw, perhaps with a side of fist fighting/ER visiting. I recognized the silliness of it all, even as I worked out scenes where I casually mentioned my Pulitzer and how I could barely move because of all the benching I’d been doing.

Power is, if anything, illusory. We all die. We all navigate and negotiate through a world that provides no guarantees. We have loved those who didn’t love us back, wanted things that weren’t attainable, felt at moments, small and powerless. It’s a big choice to make: churn in our revenge fantasies, do something constructive or laugh at our silliness. Sometimes, if you’re like me, it’s a journey through all three options. Every time this happens, though, I spend just a tad less time imagining unearned accolades and a little more time in bemused awareness of my own fallibility. My superpowers are growing. And I have cool shoes.canstockphoto3350894

25 Comments on “The Best Revenge: Leaping Buildings in a Single Bound

  1. “…but what’s the point of having a fantasy that puts you in the emergency room.” A very good point.

    I continue to enjoy your work, very much. I learn something every time. Thank you.

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    • Thanks, Maggie. I’m constantly learning and apparently not at all embarrassed to let people know what a fool I can be! Still, writing is my way of working these things out.

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  2. I think in this post, you have somehow described something we all deal with and even though some of us do not realize it some of those memories have scarred us for life. Thankfully this life along with those memories are not eternal. Great job thanks for sharing

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    • I’m curious about my behavior patterns that have emerged over the years and am often amazed when I walk it all the way back to high school or childhood. Some stuff really sticks! It’s a reminder to me, too, as a parent, to pay attention to the impact I have on my child. We pass on so much that we’d prefer not to.
      Thank you for taking the time to read and share your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are absolutely right about passing things on to our kids. I am the same very conscious of those memories and negative moments in time but I find that sometimes I’m so desperate to not have my son experience some of the things that I have. I do wonder if that may do more harm than good. I think it’s two fold. Now your post was long but it held my attention to the end and all the better since I could relate.

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        • I agree with you – sometimes we want to protect them from unpleasant experiences, yet some of those experiences are ones that give them the tools of resiliency.

          I’m generally merciless about cutting down posts, but am finding lately that I’d rather work on readability and structure. It’s likely to have fewer readers, but that’s okay – I’m happy to have any at all!

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  3. I’ve often wondered if those popular kids ever feel this way too. Some of them, with their nice clothes and piano and horseback riding lessons, were terribly insecure. Like they thought it would be just so easy to lose any love they might have. They hid it a bit better, but I think, really, it is always there.

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    • I think it’s pretty easy to surmise that most people have some form of insecurity in their teen years. Mine was about being poor and introverted and in a small town where everyone knew our family business. Unfortunately, circumspection and looking at things from a rational standpoint never seems to erase the impact of those experiences. And wisdom always comes in the form of hindsight!

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  4. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were both naked in any circumstance to deal with our arrogance on a more personal level? Then the sexual tension and our pretensions would be easy to see and easy to reconcile, finding the good in each other with no secrets at all.

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    • Well, if you’ve ever been in a women’s locker room, you’d be surprised how obnoxious naked women can be – you’ve got the strutters, the oglers, the averted eyes and super-fast changers to avoid being seen (that would be me). Any state that you imagine would be a great equalizer, humans will find a way to “humanize” it.
      Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun, has a great audio teaching series called “Getting Unstuck” and she talks about learning to acknowledge what hooks us. I think this practice of seeing our own foibles and vulnerabilities goes a long way towards being more open and compassionate to others and definitely raises one’s ability to let go of anger.

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  5. I love this post. You have no idea mow much of it I relate to! Being human’s such a challenging journey, and so rewarding when you start to get it right.

    “It’s a big choice to make: churn in our revenge fantasies, do something constructive or laugh at our silliness.”

    I am like you and go through all three, though less and less these days. It is such a relief that I get to laugh at my silliness more often as the first reaction. But I certainly do not have cool shoes 🙂
    Alison

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    • Laughing at oneself is a gift that keeps on giving. Once we’re able to be more compassionate about our own silliness, we are able to extend it more often to others.
      And Alison, you know the coolest shoes are the ones that you’re most comfortable in – you’ve got ’em.

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  6. Great post. I hope your shortened time in the revenge fantasy room is full of great colour and imagination. Enjoy it while you’re there..

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    • Thanks, Anne. As I get older, I’m less a sheriff in the old west lassoing bad guys and more an author at a table signing books. But it gets lively when in line is every ex-boyfriend or human I’ve felt wronged by. And each time, when they approach the table, I act like I have no idea who they are – completely forgettable. I’m very smug in my fantasies!

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  7. Reblogged this on maney smiles back and commented:
    What a beautiful post; just what this human needed to hear: “It’s a big choice to make: churn in our revenge fantasies, do something constructive or laugh at our silliness.”

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  8. Let me first say that you have so much writing talent! And the timing of this particular post is remarkable to a recent event in my life. I am forced to contend with unnecessary drama from time to time by the unfortunate presence of an unpleasant family member. Such an event occurred just last week. This very, VERY unpleasant woman decided many years ago that I am incompetent in nearly every way, as she and I disagree on how life should be lived and how children should be raised (she has none). While I have tried to keep the peace as much as possible, she continues to behave as one of those high school snobs, complete with two-faced, back-stabbing nonsense spewed to anyone with whom she hopes to form an alliance against me. Over the years, I vacillated between the revenge “cup runneth over” and the “letting go” high ground. I too often engage in the perfect scenario in which I have her rapt attention and say something so perfect, so profound, that she has no choice but to accept her fault and offer a “crawl at my feet” apology. Never going to happen. So weary of it. On the upside, she doesn’t live close enough to make it a frequent occurrence…allowing me, too, an appreciation of my awesome shoes!

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    • I’ve come to realize that certain personality traits just put me on edge and I feel a visceral reaction. But you’re exactly right, no revenge fantasy will play out like you imagine or will give you the satisfaction that you want. It all boils down to being cognizant of one’s reactions and setting reasonable expectations when you know you have to be around specific people. I still haven’t mastered it, but my irritation is predictable so I limit my time and my words around people who I’d really like to push off a pier.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  9. Your writing is brilliant and I love your witty humor. Thank you for a great, and honest read! It’s refreshing to read your work. Have you ever considered writing a book and getting published? I would so read it! My apologies if I have missed somewhere, where you have posted that you are already published. Any who, I absolutely enjoyed your blog!

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  10. Loved this one, Michelle! Your humor, the distance from where you observe, and your incredible writing skills. All of it.

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    • Thanks, Helen – I’m glad you enjoyed reading this. I’ve been having some sort of odd writing epiphany lately, worrying less about length and more about finishing a thought. This post helped me get out of my head about something I’d been grrrrrrr-ing about too long!

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  11. That last paragraph is a real victory lap. One of your best posts, Michelle: wise, witty, real. Peace, John

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