I carried my anger everywhere. This hot lump of rage, tucked into my shirt pocket. I liked to have it near me. I liked feeling its warmth. Then one day, I lost it. I reached for it, and it wasn’t there. It must’ve gotten away from me earlier that day. Probably downtown, when I was with Leah. Maybe at the coffee shop or record store.
I retraced my steps and spoke with the barista. I asked the cashier and customers at the record store if they’d seen my anger. I asked the homeless guy around the corner. I asked the tourists taking pictures. I asked a police officer writing a ticket, and I asked the woman receiving the ticket. A group of my friends joined the hunt later that day. We paced the sidewalk up and down, fanning out like a search party. We crisscrossed the area a dozen times. My anger was nowhere to be found.
Back at my apartment, my friends tried all sorts of unconventional methods to jog my memory. They went to great lengths to find some clue as to the whereabouts of my anger. They stomped on my foot. They spit in my face. They called me a worthless piece of shit. They got personal. Really brutal.
Such as: You make fifteen-grand a year and live in a studio. What the fuck, dude? You’re thirty! You should have a real job now. You’d be better off working at a sandwich shack or something like that. Do something with your life. Your dipshit brother is doing better than you, and he just has a high school diploma. What was the point of all that graduate school? What the hell do you do all day? What do you contribute to society?
Also: Your teeth are crooked. And we all think your droopy left eye is creepy even though we don’t say it to your face. And you’ve got too many wrinkles for your age. Seriously, take better care of yourself. Use some moisturizer for fuck’s sake. Iron your fucking shirts. You’re a wreck. We’re embarrassed to be seen with you.
Followed by: Nobody thinks your jokes are funny. You need to stop that shit. We all hate being around you. You’re selfish and not-too-bright, and you’re always mansplaining shit that makes no sense. And why do you have to be so fucking condescending all the time? It’s like you think you’re better than everybody. And how come you’re crying? Get mad! Get angry! Come on! Where is your anger? Try to remember. You need to get angry.
When the personal insults didn’t work, they ratcheted up the physical violence. It was really sweet of them. I appreciated all the effort my friends put into this endeavor, but it was useless. They stuck thumbtacks in my thighs. Nothing. They tossed firecrackers at my face. Nope. They slapped me and punched me. They threw tchotchkes at me. Toward the end, they merged the psychological and physical approaches, hurling insults as they kicked me to the ground. Nothing helped. I just couldn’t find my anger anywhere. I thanked them for their help anyway. We could try again tomorrow, they offered, smiling.
After everybody else left, Leah thought of a new tactic. We looked at news reports of suicide bombs and drone strikes and gay bashing and white supremacist rallies and puppies locked in cars and global warming and on and on and on. Come on, she prodded, doesn’t all that shit make you angry? As the images kept flashing in quicker succession, I felt a little something. Maybe it was a small piece of leftover anger. I don’t know. All I know is that I didn’t like it. I preferred feeling nothing. So I told Leah it wasn’t working, and I asked if maybe we could just try insults and physical battery again. Sure, sounds fun, she said. She swung a lamp across my jaw and knocked out one of my crooked teeth. Yeah, I think that’s working, I lied. Hit me again.
James R. Gapinski is the author of the novella Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press) and the flash collection Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks). His short fiction has appeared in The Collapsar, Hobart,Juked, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and other publications. He lives with his partner in Portland, Oregon. Find him online at http://jamesrgapinski.com a