A note from my editor says, “Give more attention to your anger. Lay yourself bare in your manuscript.” So in a slow but steady climb up out of my ocean of grief, I am now trying to reconnect with my anger. Where did my anger go? And where did it come from?
As far back as my mind dares to allow me to cower, I remember there was anger at home. Wherever and whatever I called home. I was attracted to it and it followed me everywhere. My childhood ranch house on Long Island, the palace on Ithaca’s West Hill, the homes by the ponds. Anger lurked in the walls, in the woodwork, in the carpets and closets and in every corner. Anger heated the seething spaces between the inhabitants. It was inherited; it was contagious. It could boil and bubble for months. It only rarely erupted violently. But it hissed and sizzled, spat out and spilled over regularly. As my family grew, my own small blaze was suffocated; not enough oxygen to support one more flame among all that smoldering. When I should have been most angry, I lost my fire completely. It was somewhere in the few sad miles and years shuffling my children back and forth between two simmering households. For years I sadly watched the anger grow in my children’s faces. It made my heart sink. My son eventually found it was useful for survival in combat. In Marika, it came out in fierce tantrums or stifled fits of passion. By the time cancer hit home, my anger was already sapped out, dissipated in the raging storms around me. Who or what could I be angry at? Cancer?
The assignment in my Photoshop class at Tompkins Cortland Community College was to restore a damaged, faded historical photo and then add color. So I photographed a favorite picture of my grandmother. In the original photo she smiles faintly at her roses. She exudes peace, grace, and contentment. In her later photos, she never smiles, even as she bounces her grandchildren on her lap.
“Was she angry?” I ask my mother.
“She had a hard life,” my mother says. “They were poor and she worried a lot about my father.” At nineteen, my grandmother sailed away from her family in Poland to have a better life in America. In Brooklyn, in the depression, she was a cabinet-maker’s wife with three daughters. She lost her only son shortly after his birth. My grandfather spent long hours away from home, looking for work. My grandmother could barely speak English.
“Grandma, what did you do with your anger?” I ask her picture. I love the memory of the strong quiet lady who offered me chocolate “lulla-pops” on my Saturday visits. But her life wasn’t a bed of roses. And if I’m to explore my own anger, I’m going to trace it back as far as I can imagine.
I photoshop anger in red all around my grandmother. A fiery red that does not allow the eye to rest. It used to be my favorite color to wear. Glowing red. Three years ago I bought a pair of bright red shoes, little pumps to wear with jeans and dresses. I still try them on every so often and consider, turning side to side before a full-length mirror. But I can never bring myself to wear them.