It began as a lovely, lovely day… this past Friday.
The sun was unseasonably warming the New England earth, air and people.
Everyone was happy. Everyone was smiling. Everyone seemed to cherish this unexpected gift.
But one; one man, maybe in his 40’s, in a white sedan on a busy, commercial stretch of road.
I have his face, his voice, his RAGE locked in my mind. I don’t want him in there, in my mind. I wish I could expel the face, the backwards baseball cap, the tank top, the obscenities, the RAGE.
But more so, I wish I could erase all of this from the minds of my sweet, innocent, beautiful little grandsons Ben and Henry… who happened to be with me in my car, with our windows rolled down, too, on this lovely, lovely gift of a day on that busy stretch of road.
I had just picked up Ben and Henry from their pre-school swimming lessons, and we were so happy to head outside with no coats or hats or mittens or anything resembling winter. They had gloriously wet hair… and the open windows let in the warm breeze that dries kids’ hair in the most perfect way.
The boys were debating the grandest dilemma of the day, “Newport Creamery or Johnny Rockets? Johnny Rockets or Newport Creamery?”
I was maybe 5 minutes into the drive in the direction of both restaurants when I saw flashing red lights up ahead. There was some minor activity… maybe an accident, but not the kind of activity for a major problem.
But oh, well. It’s such a perfect day, the windows are open, the boys are laughing, their hair is awesome!
That’s when I heard the HONKing. HONKING. H-O-N-K-I-N-G. HOOOOONNNNNKKKKKIIIIINNNNNGGGG. Relentless. Angry HONKING.
Then I saw an older gentleman in a car to my left, traveling with a tiny lady with white hair in the passenger seat, trying to cut in front of me. He seemed frantic. Hurried. Frazzled. Confused. Harried.
The HONKING was coming from the car behind his… and words. WORDS so incongruous with the lovely day that I honestly couldn’t be sure of my hearing.
(I will abbreviate here) “F-ING MOVE. F-ING MOVE.” HONK. H-O-N-K. HOOOOOONNNNNNKKKKKKKK. SCREAMING. “F-ING MOOOOOOOVVVVVVVE.” Over and over and over.
When the older gentleman was safely in my lane, in front of me, I turned my glance at the ANGRY, HONKING man as the elderly man steered his car into the nearest pharmacy parking lot.
The RAGING man didn’t hesitate.
He didn’t stop when he saw the little boys in my car.
He didn’t care.
(Again, abbreviating) “WHAT ARE YOU F-ING LOOKING AT? WHAT ARE YOU F-ING LOOKING AT, BITCH. YOU F-ING C*NT.”
In that nano-second, I rolled up my window and the windows of the boys.
I turned my glance ahead. Straight ahead. I knew the RAGING man was right beside me. I didn’t turn. I didn’t look. I wondered if he had a gun. A weapon. I had GLANCED at him. For less than a second.
Ben was saying, “Grandma, that man said mean words to you.”
Henry was saying, “Grandma, why did that man say mean words to you?”
I was calling Barry on my cell phone. He was 5 or 6 cars behind me, having just left the pool, too… he on his way back to work, me on my way to a special lunch with my sweet guys.
My heart pounded.
My ears could still hear the RAGE.
I tried to get through the next traffic light. But traffic was so slow, so S-L-O-W.
I told the boys, “The man is angry…”
“But why, Grandma?”
“I’m scared, Grandma… ”
“Don’t look at him. Please. Pop-up said to turn into that gas station and wait for him.”
I waited until the last moment possible and then turned into the gas station. I watched the RAGING man in the white sedan continue along the road.
“Grandma, should you call the police on that mean man?”
Barry was next to my car before I had time to think. “Where is he?” he asked. “Did you get his license plate?”
“He took off,” I said. “I was afraid to look at him or his car.”
By then the accident had been cleared… and the RAGING man in the white sedan was gone.
Fright had suddenly entered this most lovely day. The boys told Pop-up about the mean man with the mean words and how scary the mean man was. We waited for a few minutes… and then I told Barry that this man would not ruin this perfect day.
Barry headed to work. I headed to Johnny Rockets… and talked to the boys about how ANGRY people make others feel so small, so frightened, so sad, so helpless. We talked about how ANGER or frustration can be managed differently. We talked about anger out of control. We talked about how ANGER hurts people even when it’s words. We talked about how frightened the elderly man and woman in the car in front of us must have felt.
A lesson had unwittingly entered our day, and the boys listened.
We headed to Johnny Rockets. We had burgers and french fries and milkshakes. We played juke box music with shiny nickels. We laughed and colored with the brand new crayons. We laughed and talked… but not about the mean man with the mean words.
Maybe an hour passed. Maybe more.
Once we were in my car again, windows rolled down, on the road home, Henry said, “Grandma?”
“I hope no-one else calls you a BITCH today.”
He screamed the word. Like the man. That’s what he heard.
That’s how he heard it.
That’s how impactful and powerful the RAGE was.
Henry not only repeated what was said, but HOW it was said.
He had heard it, internalized it, remembered it.
Henry continued in his sweet, innocent voice, “I didn’t like it, Grandma… ”
I assured Henry and Ben that men like this are very rare… very unusual.
But I wondered at the same time, Where was this guy going? Home? To a wife, girlfriend, mother, child, children, grandparent, pet? Work? A co-worker? To an elderly neighbor?
Where was he bringing his RAGE?
I shudder to think about it.
Later that evening, Audrey called and asked me about the man who called me a BITCH. Ben had told her and Matt about the mean man, too… using the WORD he, too, had heard so clearly, so full of rage, to his Grandma.
In some insidious way, in less than a minute, anger and rage, from a total stranger in a car next to mine on a busy road, had a way of slithering like a poisonous snake into a beautiful day.
Rage is like that… physical, mental and verbal… slithering along, just waiting to strike anyone and anything in its path of poison.
It’s so appalling that I’m left almost speechless.
But I had to purge it… except for the lesson it has left.
And I ask, What would you have done?