Essays

A secondary emotion

I was standing in the airport waiting for a train to take me to my departure gate and I was so angry that I was shaking.

It was just over two hours before I was supposed to catch a trans-Atlantic flight to go visit with my best friend and we’d had a terrible fight within the last two hours. It was 90/10 his fault versus mine (it always takes two to tango), but the truth is that it didn’t matter how much of whose fault versus the other: we were both in it now and I’m the one standing there almost to tears asking myself was it even worth getting on that plane and 100% certain that the last person I wanted to see on the planet was him.

That is true fury. It wasn’t even outrage or self-righteousness, no, because I was justified, and yet, even as I stood there, physically frozen in place, but burning up like a lava pit from my chest up to my ears, there was this other, tiny thing lurking underneath.

You see, anger is a secondary emotion. I’m sure I’ve said that before here, and it is true. Anger, while a good signal that ‘something is wrong’, it is also often a cover, and as I stood in that airport, it was covering, but not very well…

Because more than fury, I had been feeling hurt. Hurt and humiliated. I still am hurt. My best friend had wounded me and my first instinct is never to turn towards that because that makes me feel weak and vulnerable, and I hate that feeling. So I was angry at him for putting me in a position to feel that way and I was angry at myself for feeling that way.

I got on the train to the departure gate and sat in an airport lounge drinking wine, reading the Financial Times, eating dinner, and brooding. I had already texted him that I would talk to him when I landed, but there was a part of me – the spiteful, self-righteous part of me – that wanted to take that trip across an ocean, a trip I had only decided to take so as to see him because I could have gone any other place in the world for my only true vacation this year, and not see him at all.

I was capable of it. I used to say that when I broke up with someone, I took all the thoughts and feelings and emotions and buried it in an unmarked grave in a random cemetery and lost the map.

(It’s not true. Things like that are like zombies: they always come back to get you. Us human beings are silly, thinking we’re actually in control, ha!)

I was capable of trying that and that’s my second instinct: step back and make it disappear. It’s like that saying that the worst feedback to give a book is indifference: if you hate it, at least it got a reaction, and if you like it great, but if it’s meh? That’s damning.

First instinct: get angry and self protect. Second instinct: bury it. Third instinct… well, if you do the first two, there is nothing is to do, right?

But, this is the only silver lining to that night: I couldn’t do it. Not only is he my best friend, one of the people I most cherish on this good, green Earth, but being the person who can just walk away and leave scorched earth in my wake is not who I am anymore. I’m not capable of succeeding at hiding myself. I’m not capable of letting myself believe that it is just anger there.

Brené Brown says that “you cannot selectively numb emotion” and all the changes I have made over the last year, that have brought me real joy and contentment and abundance have also opened me up to true hurt and vulnerability and pain. I can’t ignore the negatives anymore and that’s a good thing.

Before I got on the plane, I sent him an honest message about how I hurt and humiliated I was, not to guilt-trip him, but to actually … ugh … make myself vulnerable towards him. (A part of me is still suspicious of doing this). He responded immediately and asked if it was okay to call me. It was past midnight for him and while he couldn’t sleep because it was killing him, he’s also been with me every step of the way for the last year as I’ve changed: he knew that if he had pushed and called me while I was still working through my anger, it would have ended badly. So, he’d waited.

And I was ready so then we spoke. We both may have choked up a little bit. We both apologized but also acknowledged that it didn’t ‘fix’ anything immediately. We’re okay, but this was not okay, and the hurt that happened will linger for a bit.

But, finally, I could breathe. And the anger was gone, dissipated like a passing mist.

I got on my flight and right now, as I type this, he’s 5 minutes way from meeting up with me. He’s my best friend in the entire world. Why else would I fly 3,000 miles across an ocean in a tin-can?

Of course I can’t wait to see him! It’s already been far too long since the last time. We have words to share with one another.

Good words.

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