I am 42 years old. My marriage has survived 16 years so far, we have a son who seems to do well at school and sports, and both my career and my wife's career are going great. We get to travel some, though not as much as we'd like, or as far as we'd like. We are paying down debt, though not as fast as we'd like. I own my truck (hope it doesn't blow up). I have reverence for nature, and work hard to have faith in a God that I can understand. I work really hard to love people, and I am fueled off of their positivity and enthusiasm. My mental health is probably the best it's been in my life. Life - in general - is pretty great, even if it's not easy.
But part of that puffy daydream is a lie. My ability to work 40 hours by the end of most wednesdays; my ability to rejoice in my son's successes and work with him through his challenges with happy patience, each fish I catch and each duck I shoot.....a tiny part of it's fueled by something else. What? Well, bad people generally, and assholes who have used their energy to try to break or ruin me, specifically. Their ill will, their bad faith, their defamation....it's all fuel, if I'm being honest. And most of the time, I'm not being honest, because this is the extra boiler room inside me that I don't want anyone to see. What if anyone could see the minor slights and stupid insults that I have carried with me.
What's worse is that I'm learning that energy placed towards that anger is, as they say, seed sown in a desert. Biblical stories about mustard seeds come to mind. Many of these people who do bad stuff end up having bad stuff happen to them. Which in many cases seems fitting, but it doesn't make me work any harder. Learning about their downfall doesn't make me a better person either.
There was a guy who supervised me (years ago) and subverted me until I quit. He was pretty proud of his ability to do so, and bragged that his wife (who married him for reasons I don't understand) was the hottest in the land, or something like that. He's been promoted once in the last 15 years, is still in the same cubicle, and his wife left him. He has a poor professional reputation and people generally avoid him. That won't help me finish these grant application reviews tonight at my desk.
There was an uber-corporate guy who was the COO at a firm where I worked. He loved showing off the appearance that he had the perfect career and most obedient, TV-polished family, even though I figured he was probably a tyrant at home. He rode me hard because he thought that I was a hippy stoner (not a good match for his Reagan politics). I really looked up to him, but it seemed like every outdoor adventure I told him about, he had already conquered, and let me know it (he was 10 years older, with double my salary, which can lead to good hunting and fishing). But his kids never finished college, one of them is a publicly declared drug user, and his wife divorced him. I think work keeps him from hunting but 2-3 days per year. I can't imagine the confusion and dissafection he feels, approaching age 60. I can't cash in any of this for additional vacation days.
One of my nonprofit bosses was a tyrant to everything and everyone beneath her, and made a daily habit - from 800 miles away! - of reminding us we were beneath her. Ultimately her pre-ordained ascent into senior leadership fell victim to an audit, the details of which I heard about but never saw. She lost her entire staff and her operating budget. Her mentor and political cover was forced to retire. Her new supervisors refused to fire her and specifically filled her prior position with another woman very publicly, perhaps to show her she was not singular; perhaps to guard against discrimination litigation; likely both. She quit in disgrace, and then had to struggle through an awful divorce that by all accounts, was not her fault. She is still successful, but works somewhere that makes her a Ph.D. scientist in a sea of Ph.D. scientists. She is no longer singular. She no longer has the freedom to rule as a tyrant. That fact likely makes her skin crawl. And all of that will not increase my annual bonus this year.
There's the guy who used to make fun of me in middle school. He was a gifted kid, like me, but also a sports star and the girls all loved him. I was awkward and quiet in those years. He used to tease me relentlessly for not being able to verbally spar with him. Man, he was quick with the insults. He got off the bus at one of the first bus stops. I remember exhaling as he'd climb off, every day. Rid of him until tomorrow. He disappeared into a jock vortex in high school, attended a crappy college far below his intellect, never played college or professional sports, and was divorced with kids by 35 - in a state that takes alimony (too) seriously. Looking at age 43, he's still single; still alone, which must be hard for him and his need to be liked. And that's not going to help me finish my first novel.
As I read in a book about ninjutsu, "Do not attack your enemies; merely show them the path to the destruction they seek." That being said, after all the earth is scorched, there is nothing but scorched earth. You can't till that ground for shit. I knew these people and watched them fall, creating a mental storybook of devastation I created, perhaps for my own self-validation, or at least to validate my memory that these were bad people I shouldn't emulate. It's a dark, negative creation. I wasn't responsible for their failure, and I certainly couldn't have helped them while I was being victimized by them. I simply moved out of their way. But there's something that's equal parts unsettling, guiltily rewarding, and just tragic about all of it.
Some days I look over the scorched earth of those who crossed me, and I smile. They got theirs. But the smile does not last, because there is too much work. And because my satisfaction is awful and inhumane, and I know it. Who is watching me, waiting to document and analyze my fall? I should probably stop thinking that there won't be an audience.