… some Fury
… rages through your brain -
I can see the flecks of blood inflame your eyes!
But vengeance comes – you’ll lose your loved ones,
stroke for painful stroke.
– Aeschylus, The Oresteia
Before me stands my four year-old daughter, eyes narrowed, elbows jutting. Responding to my request, she insists that, “NO,” she will not. “Never, ever, never, never, never, never, NEVER, never. Never.”
My jaw locks. My hands clench toward fists. Toward self-defense. My anger is so present as to be almost visible. Not a shadow, although it can be cast. A balloon bulging within. A mass of tumorous tissue.
She does this on purpose. She deserves my anger. When I yell, she’ll stop. These are the lies I tell myself.
Five minutes prior, I have made a simple request of my daughter—to take her empty plate to the kitchen. Often she will comply without protest, this girl of mine, her thick fawn hair cut in a bob that swirls when she dances. This girl whose sea-green eyes alight like a sudden break of sun. When, in quiet moments, she tells me in a dulcet voice that I am the “best mom in the ever world,” I believe her.
But this time, she has tucked her chin like a bull. And onward she presses, “Never, never, never, never, never.”
With each repetition of refusal, I stew. I feel my anger swell, simmering toward rage.
“Never, never, never.”
I swallow her anger; add it to my vengeful stock. My lungs beat and swell. I want to nick her balloon. A voice inside whispers, No. But I cannot look away from her eyebrows, arched with naïve conceit.
“Take your PLATE!” I scream. Rage, with its initial sting, is delicious in my mouth.
Her face crumples. I watch my fury deflate her. And I like it.
My daughter’s head is hung, her hair hiding her downturned face. Her shoulders collapse toward her core. My mind shears as I remember: I too have tried to disappear.
I was three, four five. My mother yelled; my father snapped. Sometimes at me, mostly at each other. My chest would cave, my voice sink into the pit of my belly.
Now, my mother tells me that, when I was that age I would also run circles around her, that I would dart forward and leap back as I chattered. She admits her panic, how she yelled at my father, “Why’s she doing this to me?!” to which he replied, “She’s only a child.”
Before I had children, I swore I would never, ever strike, with my voice, like lightning. I vowed to acknowledge the feelings I thought my parents had denied me. But, in these moments with my daughter, I do not allow for her complexity. She is not even a whole person, just a hiss of will. I am my mother, threatened by the thing before me.
I want her to stop.
I will do almost anything to make her STOP.
After the fury comes the fault. Between my daughter and me has appeared a palpable cleft. I want to drop into this chasm, to fall beneath the sick heat filling my gut. But I also long to stand with my daughter, our backs to the breach, eyes ahead to smooth terrain.
My daughter appears shrunken before me. To make my body of her scale, I sit and invite her into my lap. She accepts. Her body feels soft and strong. I hold her eyes with mine and say, “I am sorry,” easing from us both the burden of shame. She rests, tense against my chest.
I let breath leave and enter my lungs. I sense the earth beneath me and hope that, to my daughter, my body feels as solid. I wonder how to accept the imprint of her anger without making an impression of my own.
The used dish forgotten on the table, we sit in silence. I breathe, and I wait, for her body to unwind and lean into mine.