Tirage: On the Importance of Being Angry

tir-age

tahy-rehyj | noun

  1. the act of being so tired that you’re angry at whoever is sleeping closest to you, usually your spouse, and you wake them up by yelling at them
  2. the sound a baby makes when getting three teeth at the same time, while also trying to drag/crawl across the room to a soothing teether

August 7, 2017

We are coming off a week of family “vacation”, which is really only vacation for the children, and not even them if they are teenagers. The boy wakes up at least once every night, either because he has growing pains, or because he needs to report to me the details of his interior emotional life. The baby is teething, still, again, in perpetuity, with only the tiniest white nub to show for it. And it’s Saturday night. Of course, a preacher’s worst night of sleep is always Saturday.

To make a long night into a short story, cut to me yelling at my poor sleeping husband at 4 a.m. To be fair to me, he sleeps the sleep of death, so it pretty much requires yelling to wake him up. But this was a tirage, my voice pitched to match my rising ire. My alarm will go off in 5 hours…4 hours…3 hours… and I’ve got to preach. Nobody else has to work tomorrow, so why I am the one who’s awake? Every snore issuing from my beloved was a matchstick on my flaming rage.

***

February 8, 2018

The baby is awake and screaming, for reasons indiscernible to me, and I don’t even know what time it is. I don’t want to know. The familiar sleep-deprived anger is already bubbling when I pick her up from her crib, turning my head away from the impossible volume of her crying (how can someone so small be so incredibly loud?!). “You’re okay, baby girl. You’re okay,” I soothe, hoping she can hear me through her tears, hoping her siblings in the next room and below us won’t wake up.

Suddenly, she arches her back with a force that again seems impossible for her twenty-five pounds, and I almost drop her. It’s taking all my strength to hold her now, as she twists and pushes away from me, so I set her down on the kitchen floor and fix a bottle as fast as I can. The sight of the bottle and its movement toward the microwave instead of her mouth sets off a fresh tirage, complete with flinging herself to the floor, whereupon she hits her head on the bottom of the cabinet.

Her anger and mine escalating together, we end up sitting on the kitchen floor, both in tears. It’s now 2:30 am and I’m yelling at her: “I’m so tired, baby. You can’t f***ing be awake all night every night. I don’t know what you want.”

***

I don’t remember being this angry when the boy was a baby, though I certainly remember being this tired. He too went through an awful growth spurt at twelve months that woke him at 4 am every day, ravenous and crying. This little girl is stubborn about sleep in a way he never was, and I’m 40 now, which feels so much older than 32.

But that’s not all. I’m angrier now. Or at least, I’m more comfortable with my own anger. It took me months to get angry after the boy’s father left, but when it came, that burning rage changed me. I realized then that I had bought into the lie that a good woman, a good wife, and good mother should never let her anger show. Sure, I expressed anger at the world’s injustices in my work, but at the injustices in my own life, never. That anger I put away, tucking it firmly beneath the couch cushions of my internal living room, hoping it would stay safely out of sight.

I can see now how foolish that was, and how the anger reappeared as resentment when I least expected it. Unexpressed, it multiplied and came out from it’s hiding spot at the most inopportune times: in the grocery store when once again he’d told me he didn’t care what we had for dinner, only to shoot down every idea I suggested; on the phone with my mother when she mistook something I said as a slight; at parishioners who were only asking what they’d always asked of their pastor. These tiny things would set off flares of anger so intense, I was shocked internally. Where did that come from? I’d think to myself, and what kind of person gets so angry about something so small? Begin shame spiral.

***

When the shock of being left finally wore off, then, my first big learning of divorce was how to be angry. How to sit with the feeling that I didn’t think I should be having and indulge it. How to let it burn off in ways that were healthy and productive, so that I could get at the hurt and sorrow underneath.

I’ll never forget the winter afternoon when I was packing up his things, finally tired of looking at them and accepting that he wasn’t coming back. I’d done everything except his ridiculous collection of glassware that filled three cupboards in the kitchen. I’d been avoiding those, knowing from experience how much work it was to pack them up securely for moving to a new location.

As I moved them one by one from the cupboard to the counter, the creeping rage grew inside me. Not only had he left me, but he’d left me with a house full of shit that was only valuable to him, and now he wanted me to pack it all up so he could move it to the house he was sharing with his affair partner. I was exhausted already from grief, and from the cleaning purge I’d undertaken, and this last injustice was just too much.

It’s taken me almost six years to admit this publicly, but I gave into my anger that day, moving the entire collections of glasses to the garage in boxes, then hurling them one by one into the garbage bin. With every satisfying shatter, a little of my anger shifted. For a few shining moments, there was vengeance for the destruction he’d wrought in my life, and it was exhilarating. The energy of the anger in my body found release in the physicality of smashing champagne flutes and cordial glasses.

The guilt and shame rushed up my driveway as soon as I’d finished breaking things in the garage, but this time I didn’t welcome them in. Like pushing the button to bring down the overhead door, I firmly shut them out, saying this anger had a rightful place in my home and I wasn’t going to feel bad about it.

The tirage is necessary in a life, and a world, full of injustice. Especially as women, we bear the emotional load of that injustice daily, soldiering on serenely because it’s what’s expected, because it’s what’s best for our families, our careers, our reputations. But that load cannot be carried interminably. Not if we ever want it to be lessened. Not if we want to survive with our sanity and relationships intact.

Sometimes the tirage needs to come; we need to give in to our anger and hurl ourselves like so many glasses against the cement floor. Because when we do, we find that it is not us who shatter into a million pieces. Instead, we discover that we are the solid ones and the those floors and ceilings are the ones made of glass.

 

 

 

 

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