Photo: Mr. Angry by Robert McBride

Photo: Mr. Angry by Robert McBride

The first time I truly raged was after Andy Sussman beat me up at the bus stop.  We were in the 2nd grade and Andy was smaller than me, but he was mean when he got upset.  My dad yelled at me for not defending myself and he hit me.  In my room it happened and I totally lost it.  Yelling and screaming, I threw objects against the wall.  My older sister teased me about getting beat up and I got punished for the damage done to my room.  I didn’t take my anger out on others.

My family moved before third grade and the change of location changed the way my family acted.  They were all busy with the new location, and I had time to wander around the new neighborhood.  My friend Wesley lived close by, so I would walk to his house and hang out over there.  Life was relatively peaceful , but the rage hadn’t disappeared, it changed into quiet anger.  School was hard for me and I did poorly. The only place I received respect was the playground, there I was king. 

Sports was my release, and being the best tennis player in my school gave me a feeling of importance.  Unfortunately I would lose my temper when I played with my Mom or Dad.  Each missed shot was like fuel for my rage fire.  Eventually my racket would be thrown and I would be punished again.  No matter how I tried, my emotions always got the better of me.  I still was a talented athlete and I wanted to prove to my Dad I could be a great tournament player like him, so I begged to play in the local 14 and under tennis tournament. 

I did poorly and lost every match I played.  I kept trying, but I could see it embarrassed my Dad, so I lost my temper faster.  But I never gave up.  Then, I played the worst match of my life.  My father came on the court and took my racket from me and defaulted me.  My opponent pointed at me and laughed, he wouldn’t even shake my hand after the match.  In the locker room, my father yelled at me and walked out.  My opponent made a cutting remark about my Daddy and I lost it!

The rage poured out of me and I beat that little bully bloody, then I stuffed him in a locker.  My father looked into the locker room to see what the noise was. I just smiled, collected my stuff, and walked out. He never saw a thing.  That didn’t stop the kid’s parents from calling my parents to tell them what happened.  I got beat that night, but I was different.  I wasn’t going to be the victim anymore, and I didn’t cry or say a word as I was spanked.  My stone-like face even more enraged my Dad and he hit more.  But when he left my room, I had won!

My mother dropped me off at the next tennis tournament.  It was a local park tennis tournament, and the atmosphere was much more relaxed.  There I met a camp counselor from a summer program I was in when I was younger.  Gary Jones, smiled at me, hugged me, and asked what was up?  I started crying.  He asked, and I told him about my difficulties with my parents and tennis. He asked me if I liked tennis.  I said I love tennis.  Gary handed me my tennis racket and said, go enjoy what you love, that’s a blessing!

I walked out on the court for my first match and I lost the first 12 points.  Gary just smiled and looked up at the sun and looked around at the beautiful day.  I followed his eyes and looked at the giant weeping willow. It really was a beautiful tree.  I served 4 aces in a row after that.  I won the next three matches without effort or negativity.  I walked home the 5 miles after the matches and informed my mom that I needed to go back at 9am the next morning.  No one was available, so I walked back to the park where the tournament was being held.

Three matches later, I had won my first tournament and received my first prize: a new tennis bag and outfit.  Walking home that day I was in disbelief, how did I do it?

I got in trouble because my parents said they had no idea where I was.  I pointed to the flier with the tournament times and asked if they hadn’t seen it?  When I showed the certificate and prizes, my parents thought I stole them.  It took 20 minutes for my parents to calm me down, and this time, they feared my rage.  Later, my parents confirmed that I did win the tournament.  They never apologized and never congratulated me.  They pretended it never happened.  I played a few more tournaments, doing very well in each, but lost the desire to compete.  Tennis stopped being fun around my family.

I didn’t play again until college.  Unfortunately, the rage was still there and I would not learn how to deal with it on the tennis court for more than two decades.  My uncontrolled outbursts were not always at others.  My greatest rage attacks were against myself, and usually about women.  I lacked the ability to handle the intense ups and downs of teenage romance. Instead of yelling at my ill-mannered girlfriends, I would say nothing, and later I would punch a wall until my knuckles bled.  My relationships during college were intense, but unhealthy and always ended poorly.  After a breakup from a girl I was completely infatuated with, I attempted to take my life.  Luckily, I stopped myself before it became lethal and I sought help.

My parents felt bad and told me to go to a hospital, they had no time.  The hospital didn’t help, it made things worse. For the next year I struggled with life.  I went to the gym and smoked a ton of pot every day.  When I went out with my friends, the alcohol made me aggressive and unafraid.  One Saturday night at Bay Streets, a night club in Sag Harbor, I hooked up with a hot babe.  We had sex several different places in the club and outside in my car.  As we were returning to the club, after a smoke and a fuck, a guy grabbed my shoulder and turned me around.  He started yelling at me and the babe. She looked scared, so I popped.

I hit him so fast and so hard across the jaw that I broke it with my first punch.  He went down, and the girl started crying.  She said it was her boyfriend and they were having problems.  She begged me to help him.  We picked him up and drove him to the Southampton Hospital, 45 minutes away.  It took 2 hours in the emergency room and since I was the only one with money, I had to pay for his medical care.  Rage and booze didn’t mix for me.  Throughout college and a few years after, alcohol caused me to lose my temper, and bad things happened.

Tennis, love, illegal stimulants, and alcohol all unleashed the monster inside.  In the end, I won against rage, but it took giving up many things.  No drinking, no parents (they both have passed), no sister (we haven’t talked in 20 years.), no illegal uppers, and I do my best to distance myself from toxic people.  Love is 25 years old, and my wife never makes me question if she loves me, this allows me to be calm towards being loved.  Tennis - I play to play. I have been hitting more and competing less.  The joy of hitting outside is now one of my favorite moments to live. 

My boys have been the fuel to keep me going even in moments of weakness and anger.  Their love and my incredible desire to be a good father, has forced me to find new way to deal with my strong emotions, and each time I succeed I get stronger for the next time.  At home, my demeanor is good and I understand I am the greatest example for my sons, so I focus on being real and respectful.  My family is doing well, my intensity has not become an issue.  I find spending time with those who are older than me has helped me see how to replace the rage of youth with the happiness of maturity.  They were right, but I keep my rage in a place where, if I ever need it, I will call on it.  Because sometimes life gives you situations where going mad is the only rational thing to do!