April 1, 2020

Staring Rage in the Face When Tensions Rise

Photo by Thomas Jahn

I am not proud of this, but last week I lost my temper at a stranger.

I very rarely lose my temper at anyone. I have to be pushed hard to explode but when I do, it’s not pretty.

I had just put down my yoga mat at the outdoor fitness area by the beach in Santa Monica. Next to me was a personal trainer, a big, muscled guy in a tank top and baseball cap who was chatting with his client. The two were animated.

“… I mean 35 years later and we’re supposed to believe her? Gimme a freaking break … Ruining that guy’s life.”

I didn’t have time to think. I turned around, my eyes blazing and said:

“You don’t know about how trauma works. Why don’t you educate yourself about how trauma works before spouting off?”

My voice shook. I wanted to roar but did not come close. Instead, I trembled like a leaf.

But I still said it.

The trainer and his sweaty client looked at me, as astonished as if a cat had just spoken Hebrew. Neither said a word.

“Have a nice day.” I told them.

They stared at me, still silent as I picked up my mat and moved away.

I was still shaky when I ordered a coffee at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf an hour later.

“How is your day going so far?” said the professionally upbeat barista, who wore a polo shirt with a nametag that read “Zooey.”

I looked at her for a second longer than was comfortable for either one of us. I would have liked to have sobbed on Zooey’s shoulder, or asked her if she felt as betrayed, as sick to her stomach and in her heart this past week as I had. I would have liked to have asked if she felt her own dark memories bubble up like sewage this week as I did, looking on helplessly and amazedly as a shrill and shrieking prince of privilege essentially lied his way onto the Supreme Court.

I wanted to ask her if she, too, had watched as an admitted binge drinker deliberately misled the Senate about the nature of his drinking, and then screamed and jeered at a female senator who questioned him about his drinking habits. Did Zooey watch as a quiet, intelligent, thoughtful woman was disrespected and patronized by the Senate, then mocked by the president of the United States and thousands of his supporters? Had Zooey seen red from rage on the day the sham of an FBI report came in?

“I want to believe that my government has not drowned in the blackest kind of evil and corruption.”

I looked at Zooey and thought all of this and remembered that, in Los Angeles, “How are you?” is more of a greeting than a question. In Berlin, the equivalent “Wie geht es dir?” is not something that strangers ask each other, and if you do utter it, they might laugh awkwardly and say “Warum — why do you ask?” From there, they’ll launch into their recent problems with indigestion or divorce or cystic acne or finding gnats in their kitchen.

“I’m actually really not doing so good.” And as soon as I said it, I realized I had breached the protocol. 

Maybe because this was Los Angeles and not Berlin, or maybe just because Zooey was busy juggling other coffee orders and had a long line behind me, she just nodded and smiled, exactly the same as if I had said “I’m doing great, thanks!”

I want to believe my country gives a damn about my physical autonomy. I want to believe that my government has not drowned in the blackest kind of evil and corruption. I want to believe that it’s all going to be OK. I want to believe the adults will get here soon and fix this. But I cannot now.

In the meantime, I will have a bowl of chicken soup with challah and pet my sweet miniature schnauzer’s soft head and try to focus on what a pretty day it is outside. And I will vote like my life depends on it, because it does.

Sara Hershkowitz is an opera singer, writer, activist and teacher. Born in Los Angeles, she currently divides her time between Berlin and L.A.