I’m always the bad guy!, you’d scream, veins bulging at your temples plus the one in the middle of your forehead, the one that looked like a snake writhing just beneath the skin.
I’m always the bad guy, always!
You repeated it over and over, as if daring us to agree. We, your family, would stand around you in tableaux, watching your red face warily, waiting to see what you would do next.
They say that God knows every drop of rain that falls, that His eye is on every leaf in the forest and on each of us too, from King James all the way down to the lowliest brown sparrow.
You were the god of our household, controlling our emotional weather. We waited to see where your eye would fall, each of us praying that this time, it would be someone else.
That’s ironic, isn’t it? Silently praying for surcease to the god who raged before us.
That’s what you think, isn’t it? I’m always the bad guy!
Even when I was young I could hear your tone, and understand it. You genuinely thought you were making a point. You’d consulted some oddsmaker in your head who said nope, not possible, you can’t be wrong all the time.
I CAN’T ALWAYS BE THE BAD GUY!
You lowered your head and looked up at us from under your wiry black eyebrows. You looked like a bull and when you breathed hard through your nose like you did when you wanted us to think you were trying to control yourself (but were in fact giving yourself free rein), you sounded like one too.
I survived it, we all survived it. I went away to college and I studied statistics and I ran market research departments for companies whose brand names are on products all over your house, I learned all about probabilities and choice modeling and discrete variables all while living safely – geographically and financially – out of the reach of your ever present rage and now I finally have an answer for you.
Yes, you were. You were always the bad guy. You were always angry. You never listened. A disagreement was always an argument, the dissenter an enemy to be vanquished, utterly and totally.
You wielded your tongue like an axe, never caring who it cut, or how deeply. Maybe you didn’t know – but you should have. You left us bleeding and dazed in your wake.
When you were angry, you had two volumes, loud and louder. The veins writhed in your forehead and temples like worms eating your brain, crazing you with rage. The dog hid.
What were you doing? you’d scream in your enraged relief when I came home five minutes late.
You were scared. I see that now. Scared of failure, your family of four so close to the edge. Scared of our changing minds and bodies. Scared you couldn’t control us, scared the world would get us. Scared of your powerlessness.
What’s wrong with you? you’d shout, punctuating with slaps to the face, slaps to the butt, not terribly hard but stinging with humiliation.
We moved away, quickly, without regret, without looking back. Without an audience to torment you with expectation, your anger leaked slowly away. From a distance, I was glad.
So there’s your answer, after all these years. Yes, you were, at one time – at that time – always the bad guy. But eventually you did beat the odds.