My knuckles are turning purple beneath the redness. I wonder if I’ve hit hard enough for them to turn black. It’s too soon to tell. There’s a rug-burn hole in the first layer of the skin on my middle knuckle: a bad punch. Rounding out my wrist again. Shouldn’t have quit karate. Shouldn’t have done a lot. Shouldn’t have, shouldn’t have been so stupid, so stupid, so —
When I watched my coffee come up on the bar this morning, this is not how I would have predicted my day would turn out. The steaming hot mug of pure black coffee, the only hope I have of getting through my day, was so full of caffeine potential. The coffee — dark as a cup of crude oil — did not ensure this. This morning, I felt ok. Not great, maybe — too much anxiety for that, as usual — but not bad, either. But fuck that idea, that naive idea of a good day because I’m stupid, stupid, so stupid and nothing ever works everything is bad and wrong and nothing ever just works, and now I’m here, hurting. All because of something as simple as a poster on a bulletin board: eat burritos, support local high school. Tuesday at 5 pm.
Now, I was early to the burrito joint, but that was fine. Not great, but fine. I killed some time in my car. I sat cooped up in my little Corolla with yet another cup of coffee — hot and comforting, though decaf at this hour — and watched the clock tick, tick, tick, and patiently waited and relaxed and it was fine. It was fine. I was fine. The clock finally said 5.
But I don’t trust my memory, so I had to check, be sure. I pulled out my phone. I looked at the picture of the poster I’d taken. 5 pm, yes. 5 pm.
. . . Wednesday.
Not Tuesday. Wednesday. I was wrong. I waited here for nothing.
You moron you useless moron —
Why can’t anything ever just work?
Why is everything always wrong?
I turned the ignition, put my foot on the gas. Pulled out of the lot. That’s when the screaming started.
Throat-shredding shrieking and sobs. So much anger at everything because nothing, nothing worked nothing was right everything was bad I was having a good day this always happens when I have a good day I am not allowed to have good days nothing ever stays good — I couldn’t get it out, I was exploding I couldn’t I couldn’t I couldn’t, there was so much it’s so awful I screwed up everything just gets screwed up I’m stupid and nothing works, everything, everything turns bad and I couldn’t get it out I can’t.
I hit the steering wheel. Make it a good punch, you dumb bitch. Straight wrist. I hit it again and again, hard uppercuts, liking it better when it hurt. I kept at it until I was sure I fractured something, then went a little harder. Every strike smashed soft tissue between the leather-wrapped metal of the wheel and my bones. But it wasn’t enough. I hit the roof of the car as I wound up to punch. Scraped a knuckle across the upholstery. Made it bleed. Finally, I made it bleed.
That was twenty minutes ago. Now I’m sitting in the car in front of my apartment, waiting for my face to dry so that I can pretend to be normal for the neighbors, staring into my swollen, hurting hands. I wish they hurt a little more. I still haven’t broken all the bad-feeling out of myself, that horrible pit in my chest. It eats and eats and eats at me. Maybe next time I cook I’ll put a hand down in the sauce pan. Let it scald, if only for a second. A bright white blinding pain. Maybe that will let it out. All the angry hollow hurt.
I go upstairs, and get in bed still wearing my clothes. I wrap the entire duvet around myself, forming a fluffy human cocoon, though I don’t know what I expect to turn into. Still, it feels a little better to be like this, as the pit in my chest gets bigger. I let the pit swallow me up, unable to escape it — to do anything — I shut down, numbing to unconsciousness.
In the morning, I will start fresh. A fresh cup of coffee. A fresh set of emotions. But my hands will still be swollen.
And three days later, before the bruises have even had time to fade, it happens again. This time, as I’m standing in the kitchen, and all because I forgot to make some copies, and will have to come in to work a little early tomorrow. Fucking copies. Fucking me. Everything — bad —
I smack my wounded hands down across the counter as hard as I can and shriek. Pain splinters through my bones. Metacarpals mapped out by screaming neurons. The sauce pan calls again. Put a hand in it. Burn the rage out.
I can see it in my head: I drift into the ER, stone-faced and pale, and hold out two shattered hands, one scalded, throbbing from handling stick shift and steering wheel to get here. Of course I drove myself. I tell them I broke my hands.
“I knocked over the sauce pan and smacked my hand on the counter.” Over and over.
“In that order?” Sure.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you tell me the truth. What happened? Were you in an altercation?”
“Only with myself.” Weak laughter.
Next stop: psych ward. I can see it.
So I choose to eat out. Get my breathing under control, look normal for the cashier as I order my bagel and coffee. Look like someone who didn’t just have a meltdown over copies. What is wrong with you this week? What is wrong with you always? Look like someone who wasn’t tempted to send herself to the hospital, if only to bring her some calm.
To think that someday, when I look up these episodes, I will find that the medical community simply calls them “irritability.”