There’s an asshole in the rear view mirror.
I can see an outline of his face, vague colors and shape, but his anger is focused like a high-powered camera lens. It shows itself in the way his mouth is moving and his arms are flailing a generic halo of hate. His two front lights are almost inside my vehicle, breathing down the neck of my exhaust pipe, one sneeze or darting squirrel away from plowing me down.
I can’t hear him, but I know what he is saying. Would you fucking drive? The slew of obscenities probably pouring out in the privacy of his own car: Bitch, Whore, Puta, the possibilities are endless. The words don’t really matter, because they all spin together as he is shaken up like an unopened can of coke, bubbling with trapped rage.
I continue to drive at the speed I am comfortable driving. I am in a rush, with two little girls waiting for me by a white screen door in the Bronx, slightly off its tracks. But I am so careful, because of two little girls waiting for me by white screen door in the Bronx, slightly off its tracks. Some days, I look around the roads and see all the different color and shapes of vehicles, all moving pieces in a puzzle that can combust at any time. I have to trust every single one of these people, and that’s hard, because it’s ridiculous. All these imperfect humans around me trying to stay between yellow lines, while holding their coffee or cell phones in one hand, my life in the other.
So this man behind me, alone with his rage, hating me with his hands and his unheard screams, he makes me feel some type of way. What the hell is his problem? I find myself thinking. But what I’m really thinking is: what the hell is his problem with me? I’ve put myself in this hateful equation, him the hater, me the hated, in turn making me the hater, right back at him. Now, I begin to boil too. What does he expect? Where does he want me to go? Why is he treating my life like it’s disposable, like it isn’t precious, and to be cared for? What the hell is his problem?
Inevitably, he will find a pathway to speed around me. He won’t use blinkers. I’ll stay in this angry partnership even after his bumper isn’t riding on mine, thinking what an asshole. What a total Fucking Asshole.
Until I see, moments later, he is up ahead riding someone else. Hands flailing furiously with the same petulant rage.
It’s the same exact story I was living, only suddenly I’ve been removed.
This- seeing this–is everything to me.
It helps me see so much about life, and conflict, and resentment, and angry people. Seconds before, I thought I was engaged in war. Someone hating me for something I was doing, and me reacting and feeling a certain way back. But this man in the car, he shows me that this was never about me. He’s been flailing and screaming long before he found my bumper, and will be flailing and screaming long after he sped around and left me in the dust.
7th period, study hall. Five students, calmness, a rainy afternoon.
Luis picks up my five pound hand-weights by my desk, does a few curls. Damian was waiting for me in the bathroom, he tells me. He won’t leave me alone.
Luis, the sweet 9th grader who is getting picked on. Damian, the asshole 10th grader, who gets a different write-up everyday.
He puts the weights down. I’ll never get strong enough to beat him up, he says.
I can’t help but laugh.
Here’s the thing: Teaching high school is like watching the same movie over and over again, year after year. Same main characters, same plot, same endings.
I have had what feels like hundreds of Damians in my career, seen this film endless times. I’m a fortune teller; I can see the future.
But poor Luis, it’s his first time at the theater. You can explain a movie to someone, but they won’t really understand it until they’ve seen it for themselves.
So I decide to tell him about the driver on my ass. The flailing hands, the danger he put me in, the rage I felt in return, his fast pursuit of the next victim. That’s Damian, I tell him. He’s the asshole in the rear view mirror. He rode someone else’s ass last week. And next week he will be on to the next.
It feels like the fight is between you two, I tell him. Right?
It’s not, I tell him. It’s between Damian and the world. And you don’t have to worry about lifting those weights. You do not have to worry about beating him up. You know why?
Because he’s going to crash, he tells me.
So I’m going to try not to worry about all of the angry assholes in the rear-view mirror. Instead of imagining I’m part of the war that they are fighting, I’ll just move out of the way, and let them deal with their demons on their own.
I’m going to just keep driving, until I arrive at my little Bronx back door, hug my girls, and call it a day.