The other night I came home to a whirlwind of fury.
My husband had arrived home about an hour before me and found that our kitchen was covered in a white dust. Our neighbors on that side moved to Florida several months ago and sold the apartment. We haven’t met the new neighbors yet; they’ve been gut rehabbing the space which involved, a month ago, some noxious fumes that worried me that we had a gas leak in our kitchen. That dissipated, replaced by highly invasive activity that later turned out to be asbestos abatement, thanks for the warning. Now they are doing demolition in the kitchen, which somehow translated to a fine white dust that covered the counters, stove, sink, floor, the pots on the hanging rack, the dishcloths and hot mitts hanging on the oven door, the olive oil pitcher, salt, and pepper grinders, the wine glasses that hang over the sink, the dishes on the dishrack, the vitamin bottles lined up under the overhang of the breakfast bar, and all the pieces and parts of the fondue pot and the food processor that had been washed and left out to dry on the counter beside the appliance garage.
My husband, who had been vacuuming for an hour when I got home, was furious. The word furious stems from the Furies of ancient Greece, a hoard of angry, stingy flies who relentlessly pursue their victims, their victims being murderers, most famously, murderers who kill their own parents. There is no escape from the furies, the same way that there is no escape from mosquitoes on a hot summer evening by the water. But mosquitoes are insidious: you kind of know they are there, may feel a bite, but don’t recognize the true punishment they’ve inflicted until the next morning when you wake up with welts on your ankles or neck. Flies, especially stinging flies, make their presence known immediately, as if acid has been dripped onto your skin. There is no escaping the furies.
And when the emotion of fury consumes you, it does not easily let go. My husband was irreconcilably furious at the dust, the disruption it caused his evening. Partially it was the surprise – he had other things planned that he had to cancel. Part of it was fear – what was this dust and how had it invaded our apartment. Part of it seemed to be indignation – as if the people next door had invaded our space, come in without permission and spread their dirt and debris into our lives. Every new contamination set off another round of shouting.
“Look at this! Look! It’s all over the glasses.”
“I’ll clean the glasses,” I told him, calmly. I would do my part; he didn’t have do it all himself; I’d carry my part of the burden.
“It’s all over the glasses and the dishrack!”
“I’ll clean it.”
“I’m just shouting because I’m upset! I’m not shouting at you. You don’t have to raise your voice at me!”
I had not realized that I had. A couple of weeks ago, he had been upset that a restaurant had messed up our dinner reservations, reservations for an important dinner with his whole family in honor of his parents, that he had been in charge of arranging. The family, spurred on by his father’s anxiety that blossomed from a cognitive decline that prevented him from remembering what my husband had reassured him multiple times, had been checking up on my husband, demanding that he confirm and reconfirm. Which he had done by phone, by email, through an app. And yet, when he had followed up in person that afternoon, the reservations had been wrong. And he had been furious. In that case, I made the mistake of trying to calm him, reminding him that he would need to let it go, that he had to be in a good mood for his parent’s sake. And I had gotten my just rewards for denying him his feelings – when one is feeling so deeply, one does not want to hear logic. I had finally left him on his own, to feel his anger until he had finally calmed himself down.
With that in mind, I didn’t try to talk him out of his anger this time. I just started cleaning. Eventually the fury burned itself out, smoldering and reigniting from time to time, whenever he thought or talked about the dust.
I could feel compassion for his fury. A week earlier, I had discovered that a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner – toxic brew – had eaten through the plastic bottle it had come in, soaking the inside of the bathroom cabinet. It had taken me several days to figure out what the odd smell was in the bathroom so it had plenty of time to wreak havoc. It took the finish off the side of the cabinet. The shelf it had been sitting on absorbed the full brunt of it and is unusable now, resembling cardboard that had been sitting in paint thinner for a week, twisted and blistered and – because it had been carrying the weight of all the bathroom cleaners in the house – sagging in the middle. The liquid had dipped through that shelf onto the contents of the shelf below, soaking the toilet paper and the candles and the base of the cabinet.
In that case, I had been the furious one. Removing every bottle of bathroom scrub and handwash; discarding the unusable things; removing the shelf to dry. And I still feel little spurts of fury when I think about it. Partially indignation that a company that produces such products wouldn’t use non-degradable bottles to house them. Partly irritation that we had such chemicals in our house. Partly irritation that we had so many bottles of things that we never use – that we had purchased as the holy grail for keeping the bathroom clean and then, disappointed, put aside and purchased alternates for. And partly remembrance of how much I hate that cabinet, which the contractor had painted the wrong color at much expense to us, and then refused to repaint the color we had specified; and anger at myself, for how I had not stood up to him, to my great regret even many years later. And partially dread that I will now have to find a new shelf the right size to fit in the custom cabinet because we need the storage space in our tiny apartment.
In that case, it was my husband who was the calm one, the reasonable one. And I was the one who could not be calmed.
Because fury does not like to be calmed. It must spin itself out, like a hurricane, in waves, until the energy is gone.