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  • When I was a little kid in Catholic school, scary old Sister Lourdes, an amazon in a death-colored habit and robe, once poked a bony finger at the front of my navy plaid jumper, right in the place where my heart would be--and my soul, too, I guessed--and hissed the words that would forever be etched in my brain:

    You have the devil in you.

    It was a frightening thing for a fourth grader to hear.

    My temper, which was legendary at home, was not well-established at school. So how did she know? I was the loner, the quiet, slightly weird one. Unlike some of the others, I wasn't loud or disruptive or disrespectful. Had she and Jesus had a little heart-to-heart? Had he told her?

    I suppose she saw in me a defiance the other kids lacked. I would grit my teeth and stand my ground. I was not about to let her pull me out of my chair by the hair like she did Kevin Sanders or let her pummel my shoulders like she did poor Kyle who got held back a grade. I rarely gave up on something I truly believed in and that included a fight.

    I learned as a child, after some experimentation, that it was not OK to hit people but that didn't stop me from taking my frustrations out on the inanimate. Over the years, I have smashed things, punched things, kicked in doors, broken toys. There is still a phone-shaped indentation in my kitchen wall from my bad divorce in 2007. (I always say it like that, too: the bad divorce. As if it wasn't the only one, as if there were any other kind. Maybe I just say it like that to mitigate the impression on the wall.) That divorce took a toll on phones. Four in all met a grim demise against my laminate floor, a splattering of battery packs and splintered plastic as conversations with my ex devolved into arguments and the arguments into war.

    I've learned now not to break things that belong to others and not to break anything with sentimental value or stuff that would cost too much to replace. I'm trying not to break anything anymore, period.

    I'd been doing so well.

    I knew, though, the second the words left his mouth that night that I would lose it. This boy's foot-in-mouth stats are pretty staggering so I should have been used to it. But he'd violated some unwritten, unspoken post-coital interlude by bringing up another girl. That sacred time that should be reserved for talk of me or him or preferably us, the kind of us with a capital U.

    The toxic words were still hanging in the air like a dust mote when I sat up abruptly and chopped him off mid-sentence with a clipped, I have to use the bathroom. Not that I'd heard much of the story anyway. When my brain overheats, entire zones shut down and voices just buzz with no meaning, the way the adults always sounded on the Charlie Brown specials, only instead of wah, wah, wah I heard cute girl, cute girl, cute girl.

    The hallway is maybe six feet long, not really much of a hallway at all, just a thoughtful little space between the loft and the bathroom, but to me at that moment, it was a tunnel getting longer and narrower, the walls kind of woozing in and out, although that last part probably had more to do with how many drinks I'd had and the speed at which I'd gotten up.

    The door became my shield from this wretched man's verbal arrows and I shut it with deceptive softness. The wave of numbness began to fade and some of the zones were lighting up again, mostly in that ragey part of town.

    It's interesting to me that many people say they "see red" when they are angry. Maybe because of increased blood flow to the brain and behind the eyes. I see nothing. Maybe because the cords in my neck seize up to form a defensive barrier that clamps out all the oxygen.
    Maybe because all the blood flows to my fists.
    Maybe crazy just doesn't have a color.

    The deep breaths I took only ignited more fire and loosened my tongue that before had seemed paralyzed. The glassy eyes darting around the room met their reflection above the sink, took in the storm cloud that was my face, the vein pumping in my neck, the furrow between my brows, and concurred with my newly-formed assessment: he's an asshole that ruined the moment, the night, maybe my entire life!

    What came exploding out of that room must have been my evil twin hopped up on steroids. She looked like me and even sounded a bit like me but with a louder voice and much better verbal skills. She was slicing him to pieces with crisp, efficient, hurtful language while throwing on some shorts and a tank top and fetching an empty beer bottle from the nightstand. I wasn't nearly so good at multi-tasking.

    I--she--both of us--were down the stairs in a flash; the momentum seemed to fuel a fresh wave of indignation and I--we--hurled the bottle into the kitchen sink at a bunch of other bottles that were minding their own business.

    I haven't been bowling since I was a child but that's what I thought of. The sound of impact and the scattering. Glass was everywhere.

    And then it was over. Those broken fragments somehow ruptured the thing inside me that had swollen and taken over. The anger was gone. A popped balloon. I was completely calm as I set about cleaning up the mess.

    The muscles in his face had gone slack and he gaped at me in horror and bewilderment from his place in the doorway. I told him he should go, thinking that his face looked just like scary old Sister Lourdes' did that day when she jabbed me in the chest and told me about the devil inside.
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