WRR 4.4 1 AUGUST 2007
The Triple Goddess Trials
“Let no one think of me as humble or weak or passive... let them understand I am of a different kind, dangerous to my enemies, loyal to my friends.”
From Euripedes, Medea
“Make me laugh, make me cry, enrage me, just don’t try to disengage me.”
A Brief History
On a cloudless November day, I found myself simultaneously cursing and swerving out of a Northern California parking lot with the radio blasting. I was twenty-four and I was more than mildly pissed off.
It started out innocently enough. My boyfriend and I had made plans to go for a hike in Armstrong Woods amongst wild mushrooms and thick, red, fairy-tale trees. Said boyfriend announced sheepishly that morning that he didn’t want to go. He wasn’t sick or injured...he just didn’t feel like it! I could have gone alone, but it was a long drive and we had talked about it so many times and... well, it was the second or third time he had bailed on me.
And it wasn’t just that. I wanted to be there, in that place where my heart lifted as high as the branches on the thickest tallest tree with him the guy who only weeks ago had looked me in the eyes and gravely, so deadly seriously, said, “I’m in love with you.”
At the time, I must have looked like a deer in the headlights frozen in utter terror. So, with a wounded look he had quickly added that I didn’t have to say it back.
That was hardly the reason for my silence. After all I had been completely shocked that someone like him (elegantly cool in the extreme) even liked me (nervously talkative in the extreme) in the first place. It was more that his words felt like the equivalent of a loaded gun or jumping off a bridge and there would be no turning back once I made my inevitable reply.
But our proclamation of love seemed to herald in a strange era of dissatisfaction and confusion. For me, it meant hiding the self that I most enjoyed, based on who I thought he’d want me to be. And for him, it usually meant checking out emotionally, but showing up in person (though not when I wanted to go hiking). We broke up and got back together so many times it became a running joke among my friends.
And so, alas, there would be many more foolish parking lot scenes to come, within which my inner beast would climb in front of the steering wheel and let out her angry unappeased roar.
The fact is Medea makes me nervous.
At first glance, her story seems straightforward, but it’s also dark, twisted, and violent. A smart beautiful woman falls in love with a famous soldier and devises various schemes to secure his undying affection. Obsessed, Medea commits horrible deeds in order to bind Jason to her eternally. Or so she thinks. A few years later after they’ve married and had children, Jason abruptly divorces Medea for a more politically beneficial marriage to could it have been more predictable? a princess.
Can you imagine Medea’s dismay, when in an ill-timed moment, Jason promises Medea he will keep (and enjoy) her in reasonable accommodations as a favored consort? “Surely, you understand it’s for diplomatic reasons, honey,” not the brightest of our characters insists.
Medea focuses so completely on her single-minded goal to ensnare the simplest of men that she loses sight of all else that is precious. In a cloud of rage, she lashes out in revenge destroying her own children (and here it is impossible for me not to cringe in disgust and sorrow at the madness of her violence).
A philosophical pause
Anger. Is it a useful emotion? When is it necessary? In what manner should frustration and even Medea’s fury be properly digested or exorcised? For, though her rage was not without provocation, we know Medea made the wrong choice.
But before we rush to judge the instructive hyperbole of Medea’s myth, it might also prove useful to pause and conduct the most uncomfortable of self scrutiny. Can we ourselves navigate the quick blinking blur of emotion and free will unleashed when we feel fundamentally wronged without doing any harm? And, in doing so, can we avoid the most dangerous type of anger, buried deeply in the dirt (but carefully guarded) in the heart-closing habits of the long-term grudge? Are there perhaps damaged seeds here that not only pollute the soil, but block growth itself?
On the other hand, I’d like to know if rage can be safely wrapped up and put in a box for appropriate occasions... (Please email me instructions if this is at all possible) For surely injustice must be fought. And I do believe that disrespect should be met with a clearly enunciated verbal smack-down...
Yet, in my experience, anger releases a flame that flares rather unpredictably once the initial match has been struck... What of temperature control? What about more petty offenses and the importance of proportion?
But there’s another more complicated version of Medea’s story.
A young woman wades through the ocean her hair in dark wet salty knots. Tender fierce Medea paces the shores looking for amulets. She doesn’t remember exactly when she became the enchantress to whom villagers flock for cures and potions when they are injured or dying or in love. But oh, oh she remembers the first feeling of sweet swordless power that transformed her, how it blew flames of life into the eyes of old men and women, drew healthy breath from pale children and awe would tear through her widening veins, one minute her heart a butterfly’s wings, the next... The next she would always stand exhausted and alone, watching the bright sun shine through her hands. The way it reflected pink skin through the cracks of her palms before the hard loud sea, polishing its endless stones and shells. Every night she felt her power grow, the same red hunger seeping from animals’ eyes constricted but radiant in her throat.
And then that very morning a man from out of town saw Medea. And it wasn’t how he looked or what he did, but how he saw her that sent her scrambling for her potions. They talked for hours. What she could give him! What he could show her! So, when he coyly invited himself into her rooms, she revealed (with proud uncharacteristic giggles) the most potent of her concoctions and spells, and at the end of the night, when his lips climbed from the back of her hand to her mouth, she smiled deeply.
But slowly, slowly, months, years, voyages sailed, battles fought, after she had borne him children, she noticed something vital creeping away from her, unseen, unheard, like a slow wicked snake. Honor. Dignity. Words he batted around loosely with his fellow soldiers but what he denied her wounded her more than any infidelity ever could. Then his callous news... draining the blood from her face like a leech... it wasn’t the princess, but the careless words with which he dismissed Medea’s finely honed powers the pulse of her spirit plunging down and down. It was dignity he stole and it seemed to her in that moment unacceptable, unbearable to meet him with anything but the full force of her rage. One dark cloudy thought rose to her teeth and in the prickliest of voices she spoke plainly, “He will remember my power.”
Parking lots: Part II
In a weird way, I trust Medea. But before you gasp in horror, let me clarify that I trust the place where her fighting instincts begin, not where they actually travel. For there’s nothing like overreaction to discredit one’s entire case and enter the realm of the wrongdoer oneself (in any court). But Medea’s rage is real. It rises from the raw frustration of not being taken seriously when, on merit, she really should have been.
I mean what transpired after I eventually drove back into that California parking lot marked the beginning of a self-denial in which I began my own set of bad choices. His apartment was lit by candles and half-meant apologies when I sunk into our kiss of reconciliation. So I buried my doubts even as I felt a knowing spark in my eyes dampen and sink. And instead of staging a metaphorical destruction and lunging for that temple in the hills, I held on even tighter.
Of course, the more I tried to merge my life with his, the more I acquiesced to his moods, the less I was listened to, the less I was taken seriously. But, I was too young (or obstinate) to understand that natural law.
We had both moved to New Jersey by the time of our final round of breakups a few years later. One fateful night after a strained conversation about whether he would come with me to a wedding or some such event, I simply said, “okay” and walked to my car, driving away calmly. I could feel him watching, waiting for me to slam the car door shut, or run back into his arms, but the Autumn moon was deliciously full, and I let it guide me all the way home (where there was already a message from him on my answering machine). I felt better than I had in years.
Though I’d like to claim differently, over the years I haven’t overcome my innate temper. But, I do understand its limitations more.
My husband and I fight about things like the weather, among other petty, yet pervasive topics. Somehow, somewhere his native London climate and the humidity in my Garden state have become our respective responsibilities.
He’ll pose leading questions like “How can anyone want to live in New Jersey during the summer?” to the only other person in the room who happens to like living in New Jersey during the summer.
I’ll rise to the bait pretty quickly launching into a heated defense of my favorite state. What about the lush July smell of trees after a thunderstorm or even steaming asphalt and grass emanating their chalky perfume? What about the starlike flecks of fireflies? Or crickets? The words come bubbling up faster than I can enunciate them, and I’m sure my husband partially enjoys (and is equally annoyed by) my predictability. It doesn’t matter, I always state my case... and I usually avoid heading for the parking lot.