Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Friday, 2 April 2010

The Reds

When I was little, I believed what people told me to believe. There were lots of questions, of course - why, how, what, when, who - but never the right one, which was: really? When I was five, a school friend told me I could get cancer from drinking tap water, and - even though I wasn't quite sure what cancer was - I still held up my glass to the light for at least a month before I drank it, just in case the cancer was floating around in there, waiting to get me. I genuinely believed that there were fairies under the flowers in the garden, and spent many fruitless hours kicking my mum's roses about in the hope that it might 'knock them out of the petals' (sorry, mum). My friend's mother casually told me one day to "always, always wash your face with cold water before bed and in the morning, and then you will stay looking young," and I genuinely thought that she had given me the secret to immortality and eternal youth; not one day has gone by since where I haven't religiously, obsessively and almost violently followed this advice (it's not working, incidentally: it just makes my face go red).

Nothing, however, has stuck with me quite as relentlessly, or quite as powerfully, as the need to control my temper. Prone to furious outbursts since birth - throwing myself onto the floor in Sainsburys at the age of three, smashing plates on the floor at the age of four, punching a little boy in the face at the age of seven - I was told, over and over and over again, to count to ten. I was told to take a deep breath. I was told that it's not very nice behaviour in a young lady, or that is not how you make friends and influence people, Holly Miranda Smale. And then I would be sent into the corner of the classroom, or up to my bedroom, or into the bread aisle of the supermarket, until I could calm down and get a hold of myself. And, usually, given a quick, friendly wallop on the backside while I was there, just to really reinforce how much of a brat I was being.

And so, little by little, it sunk in, in the most literal, childlike, black-and-white way possible. There was no medium ground. It was clear: my temper was bad. My temper had to go. My temper had to be pushed down, down, where all the counting in the world wouldn't pull it back up again; to where the Sainsburys floor would be forever safe from my beating little fists. And, slowly, I managed it. I went from being a very, very angry little girl, to being a sullen but relatively docile teenager, to being a generally sweet tempered and passive early twenty-something who regularly let boy racers cut her up in the car without a word, didn't complain when somebody nicked her wallet and didn't raise her voice when somebody accidentally-on-purpose ripped her favourite dress at a party because it was nicer than theirs. The general public belief, I think, was that I had probably 'mellowed with age', and - apart from a few hissy fits when very drunk - I had, indeed, succeeded. I had finally taken control of my temper. 

Except that now I wonder whether that really happened, or whether my temper simply took control of me. I became so used to pushing it away - that familiar, burning, raging, red feeling that boils at the bottom of my throat and makes everything go a little blurry - that it became second nature to me, and I didn't stop to think about where I might be pushing it to. I didn't consider what happens when you seal a boiling kettle tight shut, block up the airways and then leave it, simmering, for a long, long time: whether the steam will start coming out of - and creating - lots of different cracks when the pressure becomes just too much. Whether what used to be anger will start coming out in other shapes and forms: confusion, tears, stress, indecision, emotional instability. And, frankly, when the boyfriend you love and moved across the world for tells you on the phone that he's been sleeping with someone else for three months, lying to you daily for three months, telling you his 'battery was dead' and 'work was manic' and he's 'surfing with friends' for three months, but 'he's really, you know, sorry', and you respond immediately with "oh. ok. Well. I love you, we can definitely work through this," it's probably an indication that you've finally pushed the anger far, far too deep for it to be any good to you at all. Because sometimes, just sometimes, it's exactly what is needed. It is what's supposed to be there to protect you from being hurt even more. To stop you from 'understanding' them, supporting them, and blaming yourself for their infidelity, which is what I decided to do instead of walloping him one.

I haven't let myself be angry. Months and months of heartbreak and pain and betrayal and sadness, and yet not one single ounce of anger: I've kept it all tied up in tears and understanding and empathy - pushing it away, quietening it down - when really what I should have been doing was throwing things and breaking things and telling him to fuck himself (sorry, grandma, but it needed to be said). Because that would have been the right reaction, done by the real me: the me that punched a boy in the face 22 years ago for much, much less. Instead of pushing the anger down, and pushing myself  down with it. And losing myself in the process, because all that has been coming out of me ever since is steam.

Tonight, for the first time, I locked myself in my Comfort Inn bedroom, and finally - finally - beat the holy crap out of my pillow. I beat that pillow until it didn't look much like a pillow anymore; until my hands hurt and the gentleman next door turned his television onto full volume. I beat that pillow until I was too worn out to beat it anymore, because it's not okay to be lied to, and it's not okay to be betrayed, and it's not okay to be hurt by someone you love, and it's not okay to feel like you can't be really, really fucking angry about it all just because you believe that you should learn to control yourself, Holly Miranda Smale. And it's alright to be angry for yourself, when it's the self that you're protecting.

The pillow is back in its rightful place, now, and I'm calm and serene again, and the television next door has gone back to a normal level. But the minute I get to Nichinan, I'm taking up Kickboxing. I need a safe channel for my anger, that doesn't involve pushing it down so that it seeps out of me and makes me crazy, but that doesn't involve breaking too many things either, because I'm not five anymore. So I've decided to opt for kickboxing. Or maybe karate, if that's an easier activity to find in Japan, what with all the waxing on and off I grew up expecting from this lovely country. Because, when all is said and done, I'm not a calm girl, and I've never been a calm girl. I'm just a secretly angry girl, being walked all over.

So: kickboxing, or karate. The secret to getting the steam out in the right direction, at the right speed, in a safe place. Or - failing that - I'll just have to find another Sainsburys floor somewhere and try and beat that up instead.