Dawn Perry is the culinary content editor at Marley Spoon. Before joining the startup, she developed recipes in the kitchens of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, Real Simple, and most recently at Bon Appétit, as the digital food editor. She teaches classes at the Natural Gourmet Institute, the Institute of Culinary Education, and the Community Roots Charter School.
When I tell people I have a terrible temper, they don’t believe me.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to be nice, so just be nice,” I’ve been known to say. Dad jokes inspire genuine laugh attacks that reach deep into my belly. (“Two peanuts walk down the street; one was a salted.” HA!) My friends have come to expect my spontaneous Michael Jackson-inspired sidewalk dance sessions.
So I’m generally a jolly person, but really, truly, I have experienced unpredictable outbursts of anger my whole life.
My childhood tantrums are legendary: I was benched for giving lip to an adult basketball referee; I clobbered a friend who woke me up at a slumber party (I think she was trying to do that stick-my-hand-in-water-to-make-me-pee trick); that slightly burning hunger feeling, something all humans experience, resulted in meltdowns. It might have all stemmed from my smallness—I was especially tiny until age 14, after which point I about doubled in height and ended up terribly skinny—and a need to assert my power. (Everyone talks about the small man complex, but girls have it, too!) Like acne, I thought my temper was something I would outgrow, but no such luck in either department. I’m 36, and the rage monster is still with me.
Nothing makes me feel more alone than spending time with the rage monster.
I’ve engaged with all the wrong people, all the ones my mom begs me to avoid. From the middle of the street, I’ve screamed at an Uber driver who complained I shut his trunk too hard. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” I rained fire until he got the fuck out of there.
A few doors down, a neighbor quietly swept his front steps. As I tried to unlock the door to my building, hands still shaking from the residual rage coursing through my body, heart racing with embarrassment over the scene I had made, I sheepishly made eye contact with him. “You go girl,” he said. It was kind of him; I knew he was shocked and, frankly, a little scared.
With my fist, I’ve slammed the window of a car that nearly clipped me. I’ve approached another driver expressly to call him a cocksucker after he sped through a crosswalk. “No no, you go, you dick,” I’ve dramatically ceded the way to a man on a bus full of morning commuters. For whatever reason, he had called me snotty. For whatever reason, my reaction was characteristically extreme.
“Dawnie, they could have a gun,” my mother warns. I realize she’s not wrong.
Right after the top pops, it’s a pure adrenaline rush. At the climax, I feel wickedly strong—I have no fear—but then I catch my breath. What have I done? What have I destroyed? Who have I destroyed? The pieces come back together as if I’m crawling out of a blackout, and what I learn about my own behavior with every inch forward bewilders me. Back down a dark and lonely shame spiral I go.
Last Halloween, my fiancé Matt and I attended a black tie masquerade ball. It was a grand affair: Each room in the building was themed out (everything from "80s-era South Central L.A." to "old-timey butcher shop"), magicians performed wild tricks, and burlesque dancers slinked about the building. Round about midnight, the DJ kicked into high gear and Matt and I shimmied our way to a clearing on the dance floor. Then I felt an elbow in my back. “Don’t push me!” I heard.
The rather strong arm belonged to a petite, wild-eyed woman. I clutched her wrist. I called her an “alcoholic cunt.”
Matt pulled me off her arm, off the dance floor, past a horn section, past Eric Ripert, and into a quiet room. “That was Jeff’s Mom,” he said, his face flushed pink. As if the shame of losing my temper in a crowd full of industry people wasn’t enough, I had just called the host’s mother a cunt. We sat there for a few minutes as I deliberated what was worse: to leave guilty or stay guilty.
Standing on the subway platform amongst sexy kittens and back-from-the-dead brides I thought, This is where he leaves me.
When I regained my voice, I started to apologize with the usual “I don’t know where that came from; I was having a good time; I don’t know what came over me.” Matt listened and nodded. Now in tears, I apologized again and again and again, made promises again and again and again.
He seemed to recover faster than I did, going about his hangover with typical resilience and good nature. Sure he was faking it, I started painting mental pictures of what it might look like to call off two engagements in one lifetime. (This time, though, it would be my fault.)
After every episode, I’m sure it’s the end: of my relationship(s), my sanity, my employment, and my reputation as a peace-loving woman. In preparation for what I assume will follow a mass exodus of everyone from my life, I hide away in a dark and lonely place where I can punish myself, and while I’m there, I plan for the worst. If he leaves me, I can go live with my parents. If I get fired, I’ll become a teacher. I can start over in a different city if I have to.
There are no grounds for this line of thinking. I was never disciplined inappropriately for getting mad as a kid, nor was I abandoned. I grew up happy and lucky, which makes these rageful episodes all the more confounding. Similarly, I’ve tried to examine the triggers, but they remain ambiguous. The only thread I see is that I tend to lose it when I’m either accused of being something I’m not or doing something I haven’t: slamming the trunk, absentmindedly stepping into the bike lane, being a pushy broad. Don’t they know me?
When I’m coming down from a blowup, challenged to reconcile who I think I am with the person who did the screaming and whatever else, it occurs to me that I might not know me.
My therapist once asked “In a fantasy, what would it look like to get really angry?” Without a pause, I said, “Have you seen Falling Down?” In it, Michael Douglas plays a disgruntled and, now that I revisit it, racist veteran who essentially burns down Los Angeles in a one-man, weapons-fueled rampage. It’s especially disturbing given today's landscape, but I admit it’s still a satisfying fantasy. To napalm the city would make it known that I can be violent and destructive just as well as I can be the cheerful Dawn everyone thinks I am.
The realistic solution is discipline, I guess; to get less angry more often so I don’t have to spend days in isolation recovering from my quarterly episodes.
Why do I have to get mad to get less mad? It pisses me off thinking about it.
So, yeah, I’m working on it.