Just a little warning; this gets graphic.
I was working on what I had procrastinated most of the last semester of my undergrad work, shortly after I got my four year-old son through his bedtime routine and off to Sandmanland. The routine was anything but ordinary, but for my special-needs boy it was what we did.
His mother and I were home in opposing temporal contexts, minimizing as much as we could having anyone other than the two of us taking care of Berrett, which might explain why our marriage lasted as long as it did. I had the night shift, and though that might make it sound like a bad thing, it certainly wasn’t. I cherished that time together.
The routine was a bath, jammies, a breathing treatment and percussive respiratory therapy, gravity feeding by g-tube (a catheter that passes through his abdominal wall into his stomach), a bedtime story and a lullaby, usually in that order. His bed was elevated to alleviate back strain on us caregivers and beside it was a solid oak bar stool upon which we lit for bedtime feedings and stories and singing.
With all things satisfied on the Berr scale, I went back to the phosphorous green screen of my 8088 and continued pounding out my senior thesis. It was around nine o’clock.
Berr had a way of gaining attention on a number of levels, the most extreme being honking. He’d reach his little hand up to his nose and pinch it off, and with his mouth open would force air into his nose which would be diverted out his mouth making his uvula vibrate at frequencies that could attract Canadian geese. This sound resonated in any context and draw an immediate response from either parent no matter their proximity.
By nine fifteen, he was honking. I ran into his room to assess the matter. (More backstory here, due to his limitations, Berr seldom had regular bowel movements. He’d go days, four, sometimes five before vacating.) And at that moment, he had vacated. Pampers does not make a product that can contain the pounds-per-square-inch pressure of a week’s worth of poo bursting past the confines of the fecal vault. Those little elastic leg bands are rendered decorative, channeling poo at ninety degree angles to the chute. It’s on the wall, all over the bed, on the carpet, the cat’s trying to shake it off; it’s poo-a-rama.
This became routine, too. The Berr is extracted and cleaned first, bath, diaper, jammies, then anything that can be removed is taken to the driveway for an initial rinse and then to the laundry machines to work their miracles. New fitted sheet, new bumper pads, new blankie, new quilt. Next, wash down and disinfect the walls, steam clean the carpet, the cat, the curtains, reintroduce the very relieved boy back into cozy clean-smelling bed, story, quick lullaby, and he’s back to sleep.
It’s eleven and I have a paragraph. I’m up to a couple of pages before the honking starts a second time. Poor little guy.
I can smell it before I get to his room. Not poo, but stomach acid. Not vomit either because Berr had a nissen fundoplication, a surgical procedure that kept him from regurgitating into the back of his throat exacerbating his chronic reflux. It was the contents of his tummy after he pulled out his feeding tube. Making this worse, the little balloon that inflates to keep the tube in place inside his stomach had not deflated. He managed to pull the whole catheter out, scoring the tissue around the tiny stoma that accommodated the tube. Ooze stomach acid onto that and it’s very painful, even for a boy with pain tolerances that make me look like a little girl.
All his bedding was saturated, his jammies and diaper soaked, and fluid still oozed from the hole on the side of his body. We had a routine for this, too.
A departure to that routine, though, was getting angry. This emotion began seething in my chest, not at Berr, not for keeping me from getting done what I desperately needed to do, but for the cruelty of his condition, one that he had well fought now for four years.
I put him on clean linens, washed my hands and arms, got a new catheter, syringe, tape, gauze pads and other accessories, cleaned and prepped the site, lubed the tube, placed it in his tummy, fill the balloon, and dress the site. He’d hold so still. I pitied him, adding to my anger about the situation. New feeding tube in place, another bath, another set of bed linens, new jammies, another feeding, another breathing treatment, another story, another song and my tired little soul of a boy slept while I got angrier. No child should suffer so.
My anger has manifest into tears at this point as I sat there in front of my dinky computer. I felt like I was kidding myself.
I pounded away a bit more, maybe an hour and the honking started a third time. The angst pressurized me into his room to see what it could be this time.
Another blow out, this one loose stool, a colloquialism for runny, tarry shit, absolutely everywhere. Berr looked at me, an apology in his eyes, as if he had something to do with it. He didn’t.
I blew. I clinched my right fist and slammed it into the top of that solid oak stool at his bedside, and it disintegrated into thousands of shards and toothpicks. I was baffled by my response and its effect. I looked at Berr who was both impressed and frightened. I took a deep breath and felt a rush of endorphins as if I’d run a marathon, flooded with an incredible sense of release and pleasure despite that I had just scared my little boy.
I’d felt that way one time before, when I drilled a pair of vice-grips through the trunk of my Fiat X1/9. If you’ve ever owned one of these cars you’d understand completely.
I’d also felt that way a number of times when I reached orgasm, and this was problematic.
Studies have found a distinct correlation in how men feel when they release their anger in a fit of rage and when they release themselves in orgasm. The aftereffects stem from the same endorphins, the same levels of escalating serotonin and plummeting dopamine, in essence the same or very similar responses to two different, yet tragically combined contexts; anger and sex.
While there are no absolutes, there are patterns of male behavior in response to anger that become caustic to relationships. When a couple is in deterioration, chances are no one’s having orgasm, at least not in a coupling. Men, who like that feeling very much, find it when they can pop off in anger, that building frustration fed by the mind in all its entitlement, building to that inevitable rage-induced explosion manifest by a fist through a wall, a slammed door, a kicked dog, or much, much worse. The hypothalamus kicks in and regardless how heinous the manifestation of the anger, it feels pretty damn good after.
And this is so incredibly dangerous, because it can become addictive and so easily satiated, much easier than sex. All he has to do is find a reason to get mad.
That’s what I did. Years later in my marriage while we were feigning happiness, I’d find reasons to get mad. I wouldn’t manifest violently, just yelling or giving the silent treatment, or beating the hell out of a Fiat was enough to satiate me, a cycle I’ve since broken. But I scared my wife in the process, distanced my kids and realized too late for my marriage that anger is destructive. It has no purpose.
Well, maybe except for two; anger begets anger and fear. It does have its side effects. Anger makes me stupid. All rationale, any critical ability upon which I pride myself, especially in conflict, would evacuate me and be replaced by nothing more than paralinguistics befitting a Chihuahua. Not very flattering.
My second spouse is the antithesis of this. She’s smart to begin with, but when anyone pisses her off, she gets dastardly brilliant, wickedly eloquent. Sometimes I’d hang out in potentially volatile situations just to watch her and learn.
Anger truncates communication, retarding any attempt to stay within the parameters of an effective argument. Conflict, handled well, meaning without anger, advances relationships through a rhetorical, critical process, especially if both involved have defined for themselves the rules of engagement when it comes to conflict. Anger turns conflict into confrontation. It gets nasty, personal, defensive, selfish, attacking, physical, violent, abusive. If you’ve used any of these words to describe how you feel about your companion, particularly your husband, your relationship, if it hasn’t already, is dissolving.
Guys, sorry, I’m kind of slamming you here. I don’t mean to paint with such a broad brush. While there are certainly exceptions in the female gender, when anger is a deteriorating influence in a relationship, I’d put my money on the man.
Berr, my sweet buddy, I’m so sorry I scared you.