“She is a good girl,” my third-grade teacher said to my parents. “She never gets upset, and she doesn’t disrupt the other students. She is a pleasure to have in class.”
It didn’t matter to my teacher that I was non-disruptive because I did not speak a word of English, or that I never got upset because I learned the consequences of upsetting authority before I learned to walk. It didn’t even matter to her that the “parents” that came to my parent-teacher conference were not my real parents but long-time family friends that stepped in to shield me from child-protective services. My real mother worked a 16-hour flight away, and my father left because he preferred a son to a daughter.
What mattered to her were only two things: I was quiet, and I didn’t disturb the classroom’s harmony. A grade of B+ for social behavior. Not outstanding. Not delinquent. A pleasure to have in class. She shook my “parents’” hands and asked us to wave the next set of parents and child in. She did not remember my name by the time I left for my next school at the end of fourth grade, and she never met my real mother.
High school came, and with it, the debate club. I watched as a competitor-turned-peer-turned-friend, award in hand, and gave a fake Oscar speech, complete with tears, in front of a crowd of cheering fourteen year-olds. A new core lesson was unlocked: in high school, emotions were everything. Extravagant displays of emotion were how you won debates, teachers’ recommendation letters, and friends. Everyone wanted to be beside an ever-pollyannaish paragon of teenage cheerleader-esque altruism. A pleasure to have in class went from quiet to loud.
I picked up a stack of sociology books at the local public library on my way home from the event. At the next conference I attended, I laughed and cried and shouted with the best of them. Each night, I put my new award down next to my shoes by the door and went back to my monotone. Photos from the day I graduated high school show me laughing and joking for hours with my friends and teachers. My search history from that day shows me taking four different self-tests for psychopathy.
In the first year of architectural design, students are taught to break down everything they think they know about architecture to unlearn assumptions of what is “natural.” Only when you wipe the slate of preconceived notions clean can a new, truer understanding be learned. For me, rage was the first of those notions to be wiped clean. I learned how to control my temper before I learned to stop myself from crying or laughing. I learned how to laugh and grin. I can even make myself cry from time to time to release those vital endorphins that serve as an emotional shot of five-hour energy during the worst days of finals. Rage, the first to go, is the last to be rediscovered, partly because it is difficult to get a positive feedback loop on anger - no one craves being the target of rage, experimental or not. And partly because the discovery of true rage necessitates a surrender to the ecstasy of the sentiment, and that is in direct contrast to a polished, learned methodology,
In an effort to find rage, I slam my hands on the keyboard.
That was a lie.
I picked each of these letters out, one by one, with enough variety that it would pass for randomness - randomness vanishes when the human mind is able to create a pattern from nothingness. Enough balance of capitalization and lowercase to reinforce the forcefulness of the lack of statement without creating a norm, enough symbols to imply that it is a full keyboard, without breaking up the cohesive line format. Long enough to fit across the page and short enough to avoid making a second row. Spontaneous expression borne of years of reading on emotions. And then I will hand this piece to the editor with this line highlighted to verify that the false rage is contained enough, yet artistic enough, to merit being published. If this paper isn’t, all it would trigger is a sigh as an elegy to lost sleep, a quick rescheduling for rewriting, and a courteous email thanking her for her comments.
I wonder about the girl I cannot remember who wears my face and bears my name, who had every reason to be angry before she let third grade take her words and high school teach her new ones. I wonder what she would write, if you asked her for a line about what rage is. Perhaps it would be GGGGHGGGG, a string of letters that she did not learn to pronounce properly until years later. Perhaps it would be RAGEANGRY in the shaky hand of a beginner. Are these arrangements of letters, far more controlled and less randomized, any more of a representation of rage than the learned key smash? At what point does rage simulacra eclipse rage as a feeling?
Or perhaps, she will write nothing at all, for writing is already a feeble attempt at defining the undefinable. Perhaps she will tilt her head back towards the sky and allow the emotions to sweep over and spill out until they tear her vocal cords raw and lock her muscles in a stone-vice grip. Perhaps, just perhaps, that will finally allow an older version of herself to speak without the fear of consequences for upsetting authority.
I tilt my head back and open my mouth. All that comes out is a yawn. It is 2:47 in the morning on a Wednesday; all around me, the campus is quiet. My suitemate is in the next room, sleeping to recover from her midterms. Even if I am still capable of screaming after a decade without, she would, in her kind-hearted concern, come knock on my door and ask me if I am alright because this behavior is unlike me. I never get upset, and I don’t disrupt the other students. I am a pleasure to have in class.
I wish that if I told her that version of me was a lie, I would be speaking the truth.
Because although I believed and hoped that I had once been capable of rage before unlearning it, the truth is that I remember nothing about ever having been truly angry. I look at the girl that wears my face and bears my name; if she could rage as much as she wanted to, would she?
Art by Selena Yao