I understand The Hulk. In fact, I’m more like him than I want to admit.
For those of you who have studiously avoided television shows, comic books, movies or pop culture references to The Hulk, the character is simply this: A mild-tempered geeky scientist gets exposed to massive levels of gamma radiation and is mutated so that when he becomes angry, he turns into a hulking, muscular, green creature of superhuman strength that sometimes is heroic but sometimes simply rampages until he calms down enough to revert to being Dr. Bruce Banner.
The Hulk is one of the main characters in the recent film Marvel’s “The Avengers” with Mark Ruffalo playing the role of Bruce Banner and, with the help of digital effects, his enraged emerald-skinned alter-ego. Throughout the movie, various characters question Dr. Banner on how he manages to keep from losing control of his temper and unleashing The Hulk for such a long time since his last “episode” (in the film The Incredible Hulk). Some do so in a teasing/needling manner; others in a more curious/concerned/awed manner, but everyone wants to know his “secret” for keeping the catalytic rage bottled up. But what all that foreshadows is an event in the final act of the movie, in which Bruce Banner arrives at the scene of the climactic battle and one of his superhero compatriots, Captain America, tells him, “Doctor Banner, I think now might be a good time for you to get angry.”
In one of the greatest lines of the movie, Banner says, “That’s my secret, Captain: I’m always angry” and then simply wills himself to become The Hulk even though he seemed so serene a split-second earlier.
I know a lot of people loved that one-liner because of its “zing” quality, even if they didn’t really think about what it meant. Others may have thought that the line makes no sense, because if he was always angry, he’d always be The Hulk.
That line resonated with me from the first time I heard it, though I couldn’t have adequately explained why it makes sense until yesterday.
But before we get to last night, let’s start with an admission: I’m a very angry man.
This will come as a surprise to many who know me in person or who know me online. This will likely come as a surprise to most of my relatives, even my Dad (who likely doesn’t read this blog anyway).
This would surprise people because I’m typically calm and laid-back. I’m rarely visibly flustered. I don’t often yell. I’m not mean or petty. I don’t bully people. I’m not aggressive in my words or actions most of the time. I don’t try to get my own way all the time. I haven’t been in a fistfight since grade school, and even then very rarely. I’ve never struck my wife or even verbally abused or humiliated her. I don’t spank my daughter and never spanked my son. I’ve never even punched a hole in a wall.
But what some people know, most especially my wife, my son and my daughter, is that when I hit a limit or when someone is pushing me too far, I erupt. I become a very scary person. I will yell. My cursing, which can already be a legendary level even when I’m happy and simply shooting the shit (see, just did it right there…), ramps up. My voice raises to levels that can shake walls. And while some rational part of my mind almost always reminds me not to start breaking things that would need to be repaired later or that would make a huge mess, I have been known to go out into our attached barn and literally destroy a resin chair (as just one example) in a few strikes against the floor.
Yesterday, something happened.
The details of what happened aren’t important.
They led, initially, to me making a post on Twitter yesterday that read: Damn, that’s a big damned smoking crater. What the fuck is it doing in the middle of my life?
That tweet was preceded by yelling. Later, it was followed by some more angry outbursts, though perhaps far less dramatic. I hurt no one, burned no bridges (may have singed one or two though) and I was not hurt nor did I destroy anything.
But rarely have I been so angry. That anger abated, but it never went away. I did what I have so often done, which is to push it back down. And before you ask, no, I don’t have high blood pressure. Never have. And that’s amazing, when you consider the tweet I made today: The problem w/ making 25 years of deposits in the Bank of Rage is when someone opens the vault door & it gets jammed when you try to shut it
For at least a quarter of a century, I’ve been pushing stuff down. Frankly, I’ve been doing it longer than that, but the most notable examples of burying my rage have happened over the past 25 years. Some of it is is work related, some marriage or child related, some related to other family members, some due to many other factors in life.
I am always angry. Last night, I was more aware of it than most times. Even when I pushed down the anger, I could still feel it flowing near the surface like a river that might burst its banks if another rainstorm arrives.
This morning, my head was throbbing and my eyes burning (how much from rage and how much from the previous evening’s tears of anguish…for anger and anguish are so closely related…I don’t know). I was no longer furious outwardly or consciously, but even today, the anger was still palpably near the surface.
Like Bruce Banner, I am always angry. There is no place to dispose of the toxic waste that is all that anger I’ve pushed down. It doesn’t ever really go away. It has a half-life, I’m sure, so it fades, but there’s so much of it that I know it’s still at explosive levels. Just waiting for the right catalyst to come along, whether that might be a threat to my family, an unwanted life change, an argument or whatever.
Being an angry person doesn’t mean that you are an unpleasant one. It doesn’t mean you never have periods of happiness or satisfaction. And certainly, everyone is capable of rage. But I can tell you that I’m not like most of you, no matter what you might think or how much you might want to console me that I’m a great guy.
I am a great guy to the vast majority of people. I do enjoy a great many things in life. Overall, I am harmless to living things except for pests that forget they’re supposed to live outside the walls of my home.
But I am more angry than most of you can know. Just as many of you don’t really “get” what Bruce Banner said about always being angry, you won’t really “get” how I feel inside. You can’t know what it feels like knowing that I’m a guard outside of a sealed vault that should never be opened and within which the pressure ebbs and flows but never really goes down to non-threatening levels.
I am always angry. I have been so for a very long time. So long that it’s as natural to me as breathing most of the time. And as manageable. But there are times I have to think about my breathing, like when allergies are flaring or something else make me conscious that I’m not getting quite as much air as I need or want. Just as there are times the heartbeat I take for granted becomes something I can’t ignore because it’s beating so fast from exertion or passion or panic.
With those autonomic functions, I continue because I don’t have to think about them and they mind their own business as I mind my more cognitive pursuits, and so it is with my rage. I don’t know that I will ever not be angry all the time.
I can only pray that I get to ignore the sight of that vault that shudders with the tension of what lies behind the door, and forget that I am so full of rage.