It is an oft-repeated axiom that opposites attract. This is not true. At least not when it comes to people. Rather, as any social psychologist will tell you, like attracts like. I know that many people will protest “but my significant other is my exact opposite!” This is almost certainly false, else how would you have met in the first place? Most of us have quite a lot in common with those we love which is probably why the differences stand out so starkly in our minds.
This truism has positive applications. My husband, for instance, is a great lover of books and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I like to think that shine reflects on me as well. But there is also a darker side, one I was confronted with during my last Karate lesson. (Side note: why is it that Karate always seems to bring out my character flaws? None of my other workouts do this to me. And no that question is not rhetorical.)
Due to a strange confluence of events involving one classmate pinned down by hostile fire in a government-sponsored mock terrorist attack (she leads an interesting life), another blithely enjoying a Missy Higgins (LOVE her!) concert and a third pleading pregnancy (like that’s an excuse), Karate ended up being just Sensei Don, the Senior Student (who has a title – “Sempei”, I believe), and myself. You’d think they’d take it easy on me but no. We did some warm up drills and then went right to my favorite rounds of two-minute punching intervals with the pads.
The lesson of the evening was elbow strikes. As per my usual, I couldn’t get my form right at first and spent the first couple of rounds growling at myself in frustration but once they tweaked my stance and angle, I managed to hit with some power. It made me laugh. And not in a girly hee hee, look at me hit something way but closer to a muwhahahah maniacal laugh that just bubbled out. I couldn’t help myself. Sempei Bill was taken aback. “Wow, you, um, really like that!”
He had no idea. I didn’t just like it. I loved it. It was like the time I went crazy with the punches and split my knuckles open. I didn’t even see the blood; all I could think about was how to hit harder and faster. Nothing felt as good as the thwack of my elbow connecting with the pad. So here’s where it got scary: part of the allure was that it was an actual person holding the pad. I imagined I was hitting them. Even now, I’m embarrassed writing that and feel like I owe them an apology. (Sorry, guys!)
After the drills got us nice and sweat soaked, we moved on to middle blocks and punches, taking turns on each other – no pads involved. At first when I punched, Sensei Don moved in front of my hand. See, he had to because I wasn’t aiming for him. I was punching rather randomly at the air in his general vicinity. I thought I was being respectful – I mean social convention says it is not nice to hit people, even if they do walk in front of your fist. He corrected me, saying that it is actually quite disrespectful to not throw a real punch when instructed to do so by your teacher. That I was, in essence, calling him weak. So he told me to try again saying, “One of the hardest things with beginning karate students is to get them to throw a punch. But someday you’re going to really want to bring Bill or I down.”
Someday? Try today. I had never before considered that that was a viable possibility but now the thought of actually hitting (or throwing!) someone hard enough to take them down made me vibrate with excitement. For a brief moment I was overcome with an urge to hit him as hard as I could, to see blood, to cause pain. It played perfectly in my mind’s eye and I was shocked at the thrill it gave me, rather like that scene in the first Lord of the Rings book where Galadriel goes all Evil Psycho Elf Princess when tempted by the ring (oh yes I am that nerdy! And also, now I know what I’m going to write on my next t-shirt). I scared myself with how much I wanted to do it. Even in spite of the fact that (3rd degree blackbelt) Sensei Don would have me eating carpet before I made my first move. Even in spite of the fact that I have no idea how to begin “taking someone down.” Even in spite of the fact that Sensei Don has never been anything but kind to me and killing Gym Buddy Megan’s husband might make the gym a wee bit awkward. And even in spite of the fact that I’m a nice girl.
It is that last thought that was most upsetting to me. You see, the Very Bad Boyfried used to love to cause me pain. Physical, emotional – either was good, both were preferable. He enjoyed setting it up, inflicting it and then watching me (and others) suffer. It was the fundamental dynamic in our relationship and continued on over time and distance through the court case. I still remember the shock I felt when I finally realized that all the pain and humiliation were not mere byproducts of him living his life and me being in the way, but rather calculated attacks. Why would anyone do that?
For a long time I chalked it up to an innate sadistic nature. True sadists exist, albeit rarely. But what if G. was not a sadist? What if I demonized him in order to sanctify my victimhood, an effort to make the blacks blacker and the whites whiter? I do like my worldviews clear cut. And what if – and this thought frightens me more than I will admit out loud – we are more alike than I previously thought? Was that what it was like for him when he held me down and choked me until I saw shooting stars, both of us knowing that help and friends were a mere 10 feet away and yet I could not and he would not make a sound? Did he get that same hot rush? Did his hands tremble with excitement like mine had? Did he picture my blood and tears perfectly in his mind’s eye? Did he laugh?
And, most importantly, does that mean that I harbor the same impulse to harm? If you want to play a fun party game, think of the things that annoy you most about people. Chances are those things are your personal weakness as well. You hate them because you are them. I am deeply afraid of cultivating that instinct to hurt in myself. I am afraid of Karate if it brings that out in me. Some of you may say that this is just my body’s way of learning how stay safe. That I’ve been violated so it only makes sense that I would feel a need to defend myself.
To which I would reply, with shame, that it was not about the defense. As I stood in my bathroom later that night after my Karate lesson was long done and everyone was safely in their beds, examing the bruises on my arms from wrist to elbow that were already beginning to swell and purple, I knew what it was. It was aggression.
I am my own worst nightmare.
I’m not exactly sure what I hope to gain by telling you this. I can’t hardly expect people to chime in with “Oh no, Charlotte! You’re totally normal, I dream about killing random people all the time!” Even if you do. And most of you are too kind to say, “Might be time to talk to that doctor about some more happy pills, sweetie.” At best I suppose this might give me more personal space in TurboKick. Except that it really bothers me that I feel this way. How do I make it stop?