I Am Not That Woman; He is Not That Man

By: Tova Ross 

I remember the last time I was angry.

Fingertips trembling with power as I unleashed my voice onto the perpetrator of what I thought a crime, in defense of the innocent. Justified anger—the worst kind because you feel no need to hold back. I remember the stunned stares I received; my five feet of fury starting as a fire that added inches to my height and becoming a cold flame that filled the silent room.

All I had heard was that my brother had been choked by a boy ten years his senior. A boy who I had considered a man until that day. I will not say I couldn’t help myself; I could have. I did not think I needed to.

I took my brother into the other room and held him as he cried for a few minutes, ocean tides ebbing and flowing from my eyes as well. Nine years old and crying as he hadn’t cried in years.

My sister tried to justify it to me, but I wouldn’t listen. You are an adult. You are the one in control. If you’re wrestling with a child and he asks you to stop, you stop. It makes no difference if you think he is joking. The boy who cried wolf should be heard no matter how many times he shouts the lie; he is a boy. He is not responsible for being a man. You are.

The next week he came over with a sacrificial offering and had a talk with my brother. They reconciled. I did not know him enough to be conciliatory in the first place so I did not think of trying. This was the third time I had met him.

It took a few months of not thinking about him before I accepted the fact that he was human, a human with faults. And yet, I could only do so by removing this act from what I knew of him. Treating it as a separate thing, an act with no actor.

I have been changed. I wear my anger like a cold mask—if a child steps into the street, if someone is being bullied. I do not take it as a sign of my power; it is not me. I do not burn white-hot with the fire that shapes my tongue into a weapon of sinister steel. I hold the sun in my hand and I do not let it burn me; I do not let it blind others with its intensity. I use it sparingly, not when deserved, but when needed, never for more than a moment or two. In the same situation I would react differently, I hope. And he would act differently, making the same circumstance impossible.

I said that I accept him, but I do not accept the man in my memory who acted with such carelessness. I find this just and worry that soon I will find this justice flawed as well, for I do not know if I hold the strength of character to ever accept him. We are all trained to form ideas of righteousness, strong beliefs that are not often tempered with the knowledge that other people’s paths may be parallel to our own, on different tracks. We met at a dirty railroad crossing; he saw my soot-dusted face and I his mud-stained hands.

That is who he is in my mind, the man who is not that man. And I hope I am the same to him. Yet who knows? He may know me as the woman who was herself. Accept me as that woman. This man who I do not really know, who I do not admire, may have seen me as the impetus to move to higher ground.

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