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When I was just a child of 21, I became romantically involved with a man who was 18 years old than me. Soon we were living together at his house in the woods, on a lake, in our home state of Minnesota. I knew exactly what I was doing, and even though our May-December romance presented its share of predictable glitches, I loved the older man so much that I ignored naysayers and shooed away the CPS agents who would show up on our doorstep, dangling younger men and beer bongs in front of me to entice me out. No no, I would say—I’m perfectly fine. I love it here.
One day, “Pa” (as I liked to call my sweetheart) was driving us around to do errands. When we returned to his house, I saw a guy in the backyard—a really cute guy who had been all the rage at the local college I still attended. Evidently he had dropped out and was now pumping septic tanks, more specifically and more importantly Pa’s septic tank right at that moment. This glorious specimen of a young man—a former football player, a guy my friends and I could only dream of dating—shouted a friendly hello and waved from where he stood by his service truck as I sat there in my tizzy, wondering how I was ever going to bring myself to get out and carry groceries into the house: a sure give-away that I was living there.
Suddenly overwhelmed with the stigma of dating a much-older man, which according to me was a private matter and not for super-cute guys my age to know about, I blurted out, “I hate it already!”
Pa, sitting next to me in his car, laughed. He intuitively sensed my displeasure at having been discovered, and he found my frustration amusing.
I don’t often say “I hate it already” anymore. It’s not the right thing to announce before entering work meetings, or any room really where there are new people, like at parties. Now I try to approach challenges with an open mind. However, in stifling my verbal outbursts, I developed a different way of expressing my frustration with situations over which I had no control: I began to growl.
I was unaware of my growling until yet another boyfriend pointed it out, several years ago down here in Arizona. He had just told me that he would be unable to finish installing an irrigation system in my barren backyard before my parents arrived for their long-awaited visit.
“So I can’t buy any trees or bushes to plant?” I asked. “So it’s still going to look like a vacant lot when my parents get here?”
Boyfriend nodded. “Sorry,” he said. “I just ran out of time.”
At that point I must have made my special noise because Boyfriend looked at me and said, “You know, you make the same noise that your mother makes when she’s frustrated.” Boyfriend had met my mother before, so he would know.
“What noise?” I said.
“That humming noise in the back of your throat that sounds like the first warning a cornered dog gives before he bites you. Do it again.”
I cleared my throat and attempted to reproduce the growling sound.
“That’s it!” Boyfriend said. “That’s the noise your mother made at Thanksgiving when she couldn’t get everybody to sit down for dinner at the same time.”
“Well it’s frustrating to make a big dinner for a whole family and then have everybody running around!” I countered.
“I know it is,” Boyfriend said. “I have four children. But I don’t growl at them.”
His point made sense: In fact I had heard my mother emit this mini-growl at times, and I'd probably been doing the same. I didn’t like feeling cornered with no choices, but I'd learned that “I hate it already!” was no longer an option. I had most likely taken to growling as a more socially-acceptable way of expressing my angst.
I never claimed to be perfect.
Since I have gotten my blurting and growling habits under control, it was with few defenses that I sat down at my own kitchen table with a signing agent the other day to officially refinance my home mortgage, getting a 15-year instead of a 30, and a lower interest rate. However, at the last minute, I realized that my monthly payment was going up $200, not down $8 as I had been led to believe. “Up” two hundred vs. “down” eight made me…verklempt.
The signing agent sat there, waiting for me to sign. I knew logically that this was still a better deal than the crazy-bad one I’d had, and I could still afford it, but part of me felt wronged. Maybe bullied. Maybe cornered, again. $208 a month is a chunk of money, any way you cut it.
Suddenly, I snorted. This used to be my father’s reaction to his children’s idiocy—to anything undeniably wrong, but unfixable and out of his control. Like stupid changes at his work.
My father used to snort a lot. It was an involuntary act, just like my mom’s growling. Just like my blurting.
So I snorted in disgust and signed the new mortgage papers, always improving as a human being, always evolving, getting better and better with time.
In my mind.