Cowardly Lions

I find myself bewildered by belligerent individuals who first escalate but then refuse to discuss a problem.

I’m someone who consciously avoids conflict. When forced to argue a position, I find that problems are more often solved by calm voices making their points with firm resolution, as all parties involved allow the other(s) to speak while listening wholeheartedly and carefully and asking for clarification.

So I find it absolutely bewildering to be viciously verbally attacked by a gutless ass who then storms away, refusing to discuss the problem, darting into his home to avoid doing so.

Yes, I said “his”. Because each time this has happened to me, it’s been some male who behaved in this cowardly manner. Women, I’ve found, if they aren’t amenable to calm discussion, tend to stand their ground, shouting and gesticulating.

But men (at least when confronting women), throw a genuine hissy fit before storming off to sulk in their dens like old lions. Or such has been my experience.

Two examples of this behavior spring strongly to mind. The first was the neighbor of “There’s Always One” fame (if you’re interested in that bizarre little story, you can locate it in the Archives, dated April 29, 2020). The incident recounted in that essay was only the opening gun in his on-going practice of picking insane quarrels with me. One memorable event was the occasion when I went helpfully about to pick up downed branches from the backyard trees following a severe thunderstorm. There being no trees around my own condo, I heaped all the detritus into a single pile, mixing them with the downed limbs from the tree behind his condo, innocently supposing that, since the mess would have to be cleared by the contracted yard workers, it would be helpful to have all the scattered branches gathered into one place.

Bad assumption on my part, apparently. Much like the thunderstorm that had brought down the branches, Grumpy Neighbor stormed out, roaring at me for having intermixed the neighbor’s tree limbs with his own, before escalating into a shouting harangue about where I placed my garbage bin at the curb for weekly pickup—which, he proclaimed, interfered with his ability to exit from our conjoined driveways. Wondering to myself why the old fool hadn’t just calmly mentioned this problem to me earlier, I began to reply coolly. But my words died on my lips as, rather than hearing me out, Cowardly Lion turned and stomped back into his den.

The very next week, however, the old crank intentionally placed his garbage bin where it would make it impossible for me to exit my portion of our joined drives. Meanwhile, I, ever the little peacemaker, had trundled my own bin all the way down the drive and sidewalk to the grassy verge. The joke was on Cowardly Lion, though, for previous to his temper tantrum I’d been the considerate neighbor who’d thoughtfully rolled both our emptied bins back up to our garages. No more to that nor any other helpful practice. When the post office sent notice one snowy winter that mail would not be delivered if the street in front of our boxes was not cleared of drifted snow, I dug out my own mailbox only–and considered, but didn’t follow through on piling each shovelful in front of his post box. The shrub between our two condos remained beautifully trimmed—on my side only. (Never let it be said that I do not have a full grasp of the joys of passive aggression!)

But dealing with Cowardly Lions never ends, I find.

Parking is an adventure on my daughter’s one-way street in an old area of town. There being no driveways or attached garages, cars of both residents and their visitors line both sides of the road; only the spaces marked by handicapped signs are unusable to the general public.

I’d found a single open space across the street from her home one Saturday afternoon, but, upon leaving, discovered that I’d been boxed in by someone who’d parked much too close to my front bumper. As I crouched down to be sure my car hadn’t been scratched, the homeowner stormed out of his front door, shouting, “Not even close!! But if you ever park in front of my house again, I’ll beat you!”

Shocked, I nevertheless started to reply calmly, but he thundered back into his house. Still hoping to discuss the problem, I walked over to knock on the screen door, but the main door was slammed in my face, as Cowardly Lion went to sulk in his den.

Prevented from resolving the problem, I merely sighed and stopped by the local police department on my way home, reporting the incident and his threat. The police sighed, too; it wasn’t their first encounter with Mr. I-Own-the-Street.

Reflecting on these and similar incidents, though, I find myself bewildered by belligerent, irrational males who first escalate and then refuse to discuss a problem, instead storming off to hide after a display of unwonted aggression. I will never comprehend such behavior, never. Just something to do with that Y chromosome, I suppose.

Scroll down to the Archives to find “There’s Always One” from August 29, 2020.

The Many Faces of Hate

§  To wear the mask of a stranger is to see merely unimportant specks on the rim of the mask’s limited vision.  §

While a young woman, I had a coworker—let’s call her Angela–who endured troubling memories of her paternal grandmother. At the time I knew Angela, I’d just begun re-establishing a close relationship with my own paternal grandmother; years of family squabbles had kept us apart. So I was shocked to hear of the treatment this likeable woman had received from her grandmother.

Angela explained that Grandmother absolutely despised Angela’s mother—had hated her from the very day Mom and Dad began dating. It’s been 40-odd years since our conversation, but I still recall the troubled expression on Angela’s face as she told me that her mother and father tried countless times to heal the sorry situation. Sadly, nothing had ever worked.

But Grandmother’s hatred extended to, when they arrived, the children of the marriage. She never put aside her contempt for her daughter-in-law for the sake of her grandchildren, who were, after all, her son’s children. No, in ways both overt and subtle, Grandmother made certain that those youngsters knew that they did not measure up to her other grandchildren.  Her favored offspring were not “contaminated” by a birth relationship to the despised daughter-in-law.

Angela recounted Grandmother’s worst insult, which centered on the kids’ school photos. One wall of Grandmother’s house displayed her grandchildren’s school pictures.  But the photos of Angela and her siblings were not flaunted among the rest. Instead, they were hung in the bathroom, facing the toilet.

Hearing the ache and indignation in Angela’s voice as she described this stinging memory, I felt heartsick on her behalf. To be the victim of such spite and cruelty from a person who should have loved her unconditionally—well, it stunned me.

The memory of that conversation has never left me. Many times after our discussion I daydreamed, inventing scenarios to bring resolution and revenge to my coworker’s bitter experience: Of all the Grandmother’s children, only the marriage of  her son and despised daughter-in-law thrived. The marriages of all her other children failed, and bitter divorces meant that she was separated from her favorite grandchildren.   Or:  Mean Grandmother lived out her final days quite alone and helpless in a substandard nursing home, visited by no one except the despised daughter-in-law.  Or, best of all:   Those other, favored grandkids all grew up to be ungrateful little wastrels who scammed Grandmother for money, became drug addicts and alcoholics, and were jailed for multiple crimes. Meanwhile, Angela and her siblings lived quietly successful, happy lives, but obviously never bothered with the Mean Grandmother who had treated them so badly.

That’s not the way life works, of course. Mean Grandmother probably wound down her life warmly surrounded by the love and attention of the children, in-laws and grandkids she preferred, smugly self-satisfied with her contemptible treatment of her reviled daughter-in-law and unloved grandchildren.

Hatred can wear so many faces! It can be disguised as the face of a grandparent or an in-law; someone who should be both loving and beloved, but is instead malevolent. It can wear the face of an abusive spouse or parent, or even a job supervisor.  It can focus on skin color, or ethnic origin. It can manifest as religious or even generational intolerance. It can be masked in passive aggression, calling itself teasing when it is in fact intentional torment and insults.

Or it can wear the face of a total stranger.

This last really struck me, and is the reason I recalled my former coworker’s sad little tale, as I sat one recent morning watching a video examining the causes and motives behind the many mass shootings of recent times. Unlike the malicious Grandmother, these cases so often involve total strangers who go on a rampage, wounding and murdering innocents with whom they have absolutely no connection. Is it easier, I wondered, to do so? To harm those with whom a person has absolutely no relationship? To wear the mask of a stranger, and see, not other human beings with lives and loves of their own, but merely unimportant specks on the rim of the mask’s limited vision? Is exterminating unknown strangers guilt-free?

Or does it all—murdering strangers or murdering the spirit of those who should be loved ones—come with consequence?

I have no answers. I only know that I clicked off that video, and sat, remembering Angela’s long-lasting emotional wounds. Then I sighed and selected some financial work I needed to do on my computer. But as I tapped the mouse, I noticed in surprise that my face was wet, and that tears had splashed onto my keyboard.

I had not even realized that I was crying.