The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
I’m not used to being angry all the time. It feels weird. I don’t like it. I’ve been walking around with a low-grade headache since last year. No amount of water or food or rest or medication will make it go away. So it stays with me.
Anger is useful in small doses. I get it. It’s like the cold-plunge after a hot soak. I’ve done it before. It’s one of those spa treatments. Sit in a hot tub for 20 minutes. Jump into a freezing cold tub for 2 minutes. Magically, your body is invigorated. Your pores snap shut, your cells go into overdrive. There is nothing wrong with a little shock to the system, they say.
They don’t say what happens if you sit in the cold-plunge for a full year. That’s the way my anger feels now.
My systems are shutting down.
The world looks hazy.
I watch the angry people get angry faster and more often and with greater depth of feeling. I don’t want to be like that.
Maybe I’m like the Hulk. I’m always angry.
Maybe there is another way.
I am angry and thankful.
I’m thankful that I have the privilege of anger.
I’m thankful that my voice that used to be silent is finding ways to be heard.
I’m thankful that I feel comfortable making other people feel uncomfortable. It’s new to me. This angry me, I like her.
I’d still rather that we all get along. I’m thankful for the moments when I sense another person’s happiness and peace. The opposite of anger is rejoicing. I used to do a lot of that. I am trying to do more.
A man on the street asked me for spare change. I couldn’t give it to him. I never have cash on me anymore. He was a person I passed regularly. He’d asked me for change before. Once when I was flush with cash I gave him a single dollar bill. It was all that I had in real paper money.
I felt angry at being asked.
I felt angry at a world that left him behind.
I felt angry at that unease I always feel when a man approaches me on the street.
I walked a few blocks further and another man approached me. He was younger than the first, barely a man.
“Could you buy me dinner?” he asked.
He didn’t ask me for money. He looked very embarrassed to be asking me for help.
If anyone ever asks me for food, I will do what I can to find them food. I don’t mind feeding someone.
It’s hard to explain to my kids that handing someone cash is dangerous, but buying someone a sandwich is not. Everything we do is dangerous. Caring. Loving. Turning a blind eye.
We walked into the nearby deli. The man looked at the ground.
“Get what you want,” I said.
My daughter stared at him full blast, but did not say a word.
“Can I get 6 wings and a piece of fish?” he asked me not the man behind the counter.
He didn’t want fries or chips or a bottle of water. I told him to get the extra food. He was thin. I’d never seen him before. He looked at me with tears in his eyes. I realized his embarrassment was asking for help in front of my child.
“You’ll need the water,” I said. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Even with all the trimmings he didn’t spend $10. The guy behind the counter looked at me with kind eyes. He nodded, but didn’t smile. He threw some mints into the to-go bag.
I didn’t wait for the order to be prepared. I paid and turned toward the door.
The kid said “thank you” in that way that pierced my heart. Who knew what kind of home he was returning to if he was lucky enough to have one. His words made me pause. I knew he wanted to give me a hug. I can spot a hugger from a mile away, but instead he raised his hand and gave me a high-five.
My child smiled and waved goodbye.
Whenever I feel anger, whenever I feel the anxiety of a thousand years crawling toward me, I think back to that young man on the street corner who was embarrassed to ask for a meal.
I think of his eyes that wouldn’t meet mine. I think of how he wouldn’t ask for more than the little he needed. I thought about the bike he walked down the street and how polite he was to the staff in the deli. I am thankful for that moment. I am thankful for that chance to stop and look and see the things that really need fixing in this world. Anger won’t fix anything.
I will find things to rejoice in.
I will count the blessings I see when I walk down the street. The blessing aren’t mine. They are for all of us. I have asked the anger to stay away from me. Only to return for 2 minutes of my day, but not all day. Not all year. Not anymore.
I want thank that kid who asked for me for some food. I’m thankful that he asked.
He wasn’t angry at all. Why should I be?
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.