When I asked my mother if she thought I would ever stop feeling angry at the people who have hurt me most, she compared the holding of the anger to the holding of a stone. She said that someday, I’ll simply choose put it down.

It sounded nice, I must admit, the simplicity of this analogy. Sure, I can put down a stone. What a cinch. Watch me go. Here I am picking up a stone and putting it down. I can even pick up other things and put them down. Here’s some laundry. Here are my keys. No problem.

But when I got to thinking about how much harder this quote unquote letting go process has been, I came up with a different and, in my opinion, superior comparison. Here goes:

I got stabbed in the gut, emotionally, and when I doubled over in pain I got kicked in the ribs. Then the bitches (yes, plural) pulled my hair, called me fat, and (here’s my favorite part) acted like I had somehow been the bully. I got the shit beat out of me and my anger is the wound. It is not something I can put down, but something I may or may not be able to heal from. I can’t just go to the hospital and say, “Doctor, I’d really like to let go of this broken leg, do you think I’m spiritually capable of that?”

So now it’s almost a part of me, this little anger beast. It wakes me up sometimes, in those quiet, unlit hours of night, when minds (or my mind, anyway) seem incapable of remembering that there are other topics of thought. Why is that? Why is it at 3:27 AM, a year later, I still replay the conversations in my head, shouting to these bitches the things I couldn’t say to them then? Why not think about what to make for dinner (split pea soup in a slow cooker? Baked chicken? Shepard’s pie?), or what it is about the second chapter of Anderson’s Ohio that seems impenetrable, or my son’s chubby little knuckles, or a million other things that are productive and/ or pleasant? Once, in one of these middle-of-the-night-anti-fantasies, the blond bitch asked, “do you really still hate me?” This is not something she had ever actually said to me, so I was sort of startled that my subconscious had assigned her the line. Still, I responded. “Hell, yes, I hate you passionately. How could I not?”

Put down the stone, Sarah,  just put down the stone.

It’s true, things are certainly better than they were when I endured daily exposure to that venomous pit of bitches. I don’t wake up every night with my blood pounding through my veins, hearing the ice queen’s voice degrade me for my incompetencies. Truly, I have never met a person like the ice queen. She seemed to get an almost sexual satisfaction out of finding a victim for her verbal abuse. Her husband had the same disposition, like those people on the highway who ride your ass in the left lane as you pass a slower semi-truck on the right, then, before giving you a safe chance to get in front of the semi, they pass you on the right and flip you off.

Please note: this is NOT the ice queen
Man, I thought I had anger issues. These people are serious rage-aholics. I saw the ice queenat the health food store once and thought, “honey, all the wheat germ in the world won’t neutralize poison you’re full of.” In any case, when I was in the thick of it, wondering every day who would yell at me next, and what heinous crime I had committed that warranted such treatment, I would hear the ice queen’s voice (in my head) every time the phone rang. Which meant that every time the phone rang, I had diarrhea. Like, literally.

It really is better now, a year after leaving, as far as vital signs go. I shit as a regular person does and I don’t have to breathe into a paper bag when I get a phone call.

But it’s hard not to wish everything had turned out as planned. This isn’t how my life was supposed to look. I was supposed to stay there, to prove I could succeed at an impossible job, to remedy the shady underpinnings of the finances, to inspire staff and children, to laugh every day, to be loved by the community. When I was accepted to graduate school, I asked for deferment and then, when a year had come and gone, passed it up all together. Why would I go get another degree when I had such a perfect job? And it was perfect, before I was promoted. It was family- friendly, which was clearly the heavens' way of telling me to start a family. Sigh. How could everything point to yes when the right answer was no? A year after leaving I still haven’t financially recovered from the lost income of a full-time job, though I suppose financial instability is a reasonable price to pay for my mental sanity?

Please note: these are NOT the actual bitches
The worst part of the whole ordeal, I think, is that I really was trying my hardest to do a good job. When my staff complained about what I was doing wrong, I truly did my best to hear them and to change based on their feedback. I was under the impression that I was friends with these people, these feeble-minded small-town racists who I happened to work with.

(See, now I’m just being mean. This is like the opposite of putting the stone down. I do think the bitches in question lack some general self-reflection skills, but I do not, I repeat, do not want to be the kind of person who takes cheap shots when I’ve got the mic. After feeling the victim for so long, this is my first opportunity to fight back. And to be honest, the cheap shots don’t feel so great.)

We had been friends before I was promoted, so surely they would be sympathetic to the awkward demands of my new position, especially as I tried to figure them out for myself? But the blond bitch, the leader of the pack, had already made up her mind. And when a bully latches on, she doesn’t let go. Everything was my fault, and her followers (the fat bitch and the Indian bitch) agreed. I couldn’t defend myself because that would turn into an argument and then everybody would stop talking to me. This is not an exaggeration. Have you ever actually received the cold shoulder from every single one of your colleagues? It is truly miserable. Five minutes pass and another gray hair grows.

I remember explaining to a friend once that I felt like I was just eating all this shit that "my" staff dished out.  In order to avoid conflict, I felt like this was my only option, because even the nugget of conflict, even the hint of disagreement would lead to an awkward, continued silence pointed hostilely in my direction.  As I told this story I made the motion of gagging and my friend warned, "careful with that, Sarah.  Pretty soon you'll have digestive problems."  Did I mention the constant diarrhea?

Please note: this is NOT actually me
Even now, as I defend myself to myself, I hear the bitches scoff. I was always the perpetrator in their eyes, and any version of the story that did not validate their stance was dismissed as biased. If my attempts at conflict resolution didn’t end with me confessing what a shit job I had been doing, or what a shit decision I had made, then it didn’t end at all. When I reached out to board members, they gave conflicting advice or were too busy (they were all working parents, after all) to respond at all.  I had no allies.

There was only so much expectation of failure I could fight against, especially given the steaming pile of (business-related) manure I inherited. As one of my mentors said, “the more other people second-guess your decisions, the more you start second-guessing them, yourself.” 

When I tried to explain to the board of directors that it wasn’t awesome to receive verbally abusive phone calls twice a week from the ice queen herself (whose paying job must have been insufficiently challenging, giving her enough time to micro-manage everything in my world), and that maybe she could check with other board members about the validity of her complaint before she berated me, the Jewish bitch said the organization needed a leader who wasn’t so sensitive. I nodded and agreed. “Okay,” I thought. “I’m just being sensitive. I need to work harder so the ice queen doesn’t have a reason to scream at me.” I reserve a special brand of hatred for the Jewish bitch.  And I'm Jew... ish!

Breathe, Sarah, and drop that fucking stone.

The surprise discovery in this whole yucky story is that I have a remarkable understanding for why women stay in abusive relationships.  The soundbytes we hear when we learn about what women tell themselves sound so different when they're being narrated in your own voice in your own head.  After working in hell, I now deeply empathize with the self-talk that binds us to our perpetrators:  maybe it is my fault, maybe I should just try harder, I don't want to be a quitter, I'm afraid of leaving.

So I suppose the question is: what now? Now that I walked away from a job by calling in sick, showing up at the doctor’s office, and confessing that I was afraid I was going to drive into a telephone pole if I had to step foot in that place one more time. Now that I have stitched together a series of temporary part-time jobs that I wish would last longer. Now that this little anger pet I seem to keep feeding mostly lives in a kennel in the garage and only rarely jumps into bed with me. Now that I’m thirty and without a graduate degree in a shit economy in a small town. I ask the heavens in passionate honesty: what is my purpose here? What am I meant to contribute?  Who am I meant to be?

This is a more difficult set of questions than I would have imagined. It’s impossible to answer without remembering (and consequently reflecting on) why I am where I am, and not where I was quote unquote supposed to be. I am underemployed and underpaid for the work I do. I am pregnant. I am relatively poor. I am (or feel like I am) unemployable.

But also: I am happily married to my favorite man. I have a beautiful son with chubby knuckles. I am pregnant. I am healthy. I am thoughtful. I am less angry today than I was last year. I am creative. I am capable. I am willing to try putting down the stone. 

And if I can’t do it today, maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.