I’ve been in a bad mood for forty-two years, give or take a year or two. It might have set in when I was eighteen, but sometimes I think it was when I was closer to twenty. Yet when I think deeply back to the time I left home for college—literally the month after high school graduation—I have to say it probably began in June 1972. My then-best-friend, Mike, and I both went to Austin to start college in the summer session. We rented an apartment for the summer, but planned to move into a dorm and share a room in the Fall.
Within weeks after we moved to the apartment, I hated him and all of his childish, moronic friends from the Midland-Odessa area. See, he had moved to Corpus Christi just a few years before from Midland, and his friends from Midland moved en mass to Austin at the same time we did. They got loud and drunk every night, from day one. And one of them, his best buddy from the old days, essentially moved in with us and slept on the sofa. In short order, I suggested he sleep on the twin bed I slept on in the bedroom and I would sleep on the sofa, with the proviso that the two of them stay in the bedroom from eight in the evening until early the next morning. They thought it was funny that I found their drunken howling upsetting.
If I had done what I wanted to do, my bad mood might not ever have begun. I might have enjoyed college and become a social creature. But, contrary to an almost overwhelming longing in my heart and every bone in my body, I did not slit their throats and drink greedily of their blood, giddy at the thought that the apartment might become a quiet refuge. Instead, I seethed. My blood pressure rose to boiling. The veins in my forehead and neck bulged and throbbed. My head ached. I was angry, but I kept that anger tightly sealed inside my head; ultimately, though, the anger exploded in a volcanic rage.
My rage, coupled with my declaration that I would sooner die than share a dorm room with that SOB, put an end to the friendship (though, in reality, it had died almost immediately after I realized my “friend” was utterly without compassion and completely self-absorbed).
The experience of bottling my anger up inside me and then—without warning or authorization, releasing it—became my way of dealing with frustrations. I’ve despised it ever since but have been mostly unsuccessful at changing it. But there are positive signs.
A few mornings ago, after hearing a loud “bang” and then discovering the mask pictured above broken into a million pieces on the floor, I was disappointed and frustrated, but I was surprisingly calm about it. I figured it was my fault; the epoxy I had applied (poorly) to the back of the mask to serve as an anchor for a wire hanger had failed. When I saw the broken shards of mask on the floor, I simply sighed. I thought I had finally come to accept frustration. Since then, I’ve proven to myself the switch had not simply been flipped, but I do see progress. There’s just more to be made. There are more pieces to the puzzle of how to be a more serene person. A million pieces.