Last week I risked bodily harm to prove a point. It was not my finest moment.
I was in the left turn lane at an intersection not far from home. Four or five cars ahead of me turned left on the green arrow, but as I approached, the arrow changed to a solid green light. I inched into the intersection, waiting for oncoming cars to pass. After maybe ten seconds, there was an apparent break in traffic, but I hesitated and lost my chance to turn.
That’s when the guy behind me drove around my car, on my left side, into the nearest oncoming lane, from which he made a sharp left turn. I gave him the finger but he made his maneuver so quickly I doubt he noticed. Luckily nobody got hurt. I made a left on the yellow light, fuming at the sight of his tailpipe.
In full macho mode, I felt compelled by an unconscious, Darwinian force to chase after the guy. Of course, he was the first car at the next red light. I pulled beside him and rolled down my window.
Shit was about to get real.
“Why did you go around me?”
“Why the fuck did you go around me?”
He laughed. Words poured from his mouth, but I can’t for the life of me remember what he said. He kept lifting and lowering his arms like a giant battery-powered action figure. Before the light changed, he summoned the strength of just enough brain cells to string together a heartfelt piece of advice.
“Why don’t you learn how to drive, you little bitch!”
I was shot back in time, twenty years erased in the blink of an eye. I wasn’t 35, but 15—an awkward collection of bones and hormones trapped in a high school locker room. I’m a mama’s boy. A pussy. A dumb jock’s little bitch. To top things off, this all took place in front of my old high school, a place I was forced to leave during junior year because of a bully who threatened my physical and emotional safety.
As adults we bear the scars of adolescent wounds. I struggle with the thought that I’m not manly enough and therefore don’t deserve respect. Although I’ve learned there are many ways to be a man, I still see the buff, hyper-aggressive alpha male as the prime model.
But I was extremely aggressive in confronting this reckless driver. He triggered memories of the anger I’ve tried to conceal, my latent capacity to lash out and hurt others. He had insulted me as a driver and a man—two roles intimately linked in American culture—and I felt the need to defend myself. I could’ve been shot. He might have been on drugs, unaware of his actions. What if he had followed me home instead of driving on without looking back?
Anyone at any moment has the potential to be a perpetrator or victim. Often we are both at once. Either way we suffer the same. As we battle inner demons, it helps to consider what monsters the other guy might be fighting.