Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rage, Horses & Impulse Control

Bipolar, alcoholic, and fathered by a maniacal rage-a-holic, I have been slow coming to terms with my inability to process anger in a healthy way. Whether directed inwards or out, white-hot fury is toxic for my ilk, and the source of much suffering. My program for dipsomaniacal misfits has done wonders on this score, over the past decade I have extinguished much of the fire that used to smolder within. Recently I was reminded of an episode from the old days that illustrates the hazards of irritability and insufficient impulse control.

In the early 1970s I lived briefly in Kentucky, working for the Louisville Courier Journal & Times. There I made the acquaintance of a U of P graduate we’ll call Nigel Frampton. Nigel was living on his grandmother’s farm in Shelbyville, a modest affair of several hundred acres where he grew tobacco, raised Simmental cattle, drank bourbon, and smoked pot. Technically the property qualified as a “gentleman’s farm” – meaning laborers did all the work while Nigel occupied the main building, built in 1807 and packed with exquisite antiques, behaving in a way which was anything but gentlemanly, while his grandmother visited friends in Virginia.

Nigel was a charming, highly intelligent individual who wrestled with anger and impulse control. One fine Saturday in spring I went for a visit and found him in the barn with a mutual friend, Ronald Reginald Van Stockum III, who we referred to as Reggie. The two of them were attempting to saddle Sergeant, Nigel’s most belligerent, stubborn horse. Reggie faced Sargent while Nigel stood next to the massive beast’s left front leg, attempting to adjust the bit.

The battle for supremacy escalated; Sargent was steadfastly uncooperative causing Nigel to grow increasingly enflamed and ill tempered. At last, Sergeant reared up his leg and planted it squarely on Nigel’s foot; prompting a horrified scream sufficient to startle all four of us. Then silence, a frozen tableau on a lovely Kentucky farm in spring; lasting just an instant.

“Motherfucker!” yelled Nigel in automatic fury. All instinct, rage, and righteous indignation he balled his fist and punched Sergeant in the shoulder as hard as he possibly could. Sergeant was a solid mass of muscle so the blow had no effect at all, you might have thought a fly had landed on his shoulder judging by the lack of response.

“Motherfucker!” Nigel screamed again, confronting the full horror of this self-inflicted injury for the first time and pressing his damaged hand between his knees. (Later we discover that, while there were no injuries to his foot, he’d succeed in breaking many of the bones in his hand.)

Reggie and I, to our eternal discredit, laughed mercilessly.

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