Tuesday August 20, 2013

Only kids throw temper tantrums, right? They stomp their feet, summon fake but convincing tears, screw up their faces and scream.

If an adult carried on like that, he’d be visited by a police offer and then a nice doctor in a white coat. But I’m convinced adults have temper tantrums, too.

I had one just the other day. I’m not proud of this story, but the other woman started it.

My temper tantrum occurred when my sister and I tried to visit a hiking trail. All visitors must enter through a welcome center at the trail head; you pay a nominal fee and go on your way, usually without incident.

I’ll spare you the gory details. Basically, the property had exchanged hands and the new owners decided to charge the fee along the entrance road instead, a good 500 feet from the usual entrance.

I was accused of speeding. Maybe I was, because I was heading to the welcome center; I didn’t get the memo about the new arrangement. Apparently, both are a punishable offense and the sentence is a self-righteous lecture.

My sister and I were subjected to the most venomous disrespect we’d ever experienced. We protested, we apologized and our voices became shrill under the injustice of it all. The lecture continued.

And I muttered an insult under my breath even as my sister told me to shut up. We were kicked out, quite dramatically in fact. I believe there was screaming, finger-pointing and some theatrical gasping as I clumsily made my exit (I almost backed into someone).

My sister and I boast flawless records of good behavior. But that day we felt like criminals and were angry for days. My sister suffered a roaring case of acid reflux as a result.

This story has already entered the family mythology and I will happily tell a completely exaggerated and hilarious version for the rest of my life. But it wasn’t funny in the heat of the moment.

When you’re an adult, you assume you won’t be bullied. But when you are bullied -- the adult version is passive-aggressive scheming and gossip -- you hope to react admirably.

Not so. Anger gives you loose lips despite your better judgment -- and wise protests from your sister. Something boils up inside you and instead of reciting the revenge speech of your dreams, with all the eloquence of Shakespeare, you spew something immature and mean.

The spirit of petty revenge prevails instead, egging us on to get the last word and holler louder than necessary. Few of us can fight it and take the high road. I certainly didn’t.

As we drove back home, I felt like throwing up. But I didn’t feel guilty for my behavior. Like a selfish child, I felt I had done no wrong and she was the meanie, not me. And I yelled, "I am a good person!" willing this woman to hear me. This time, she didn’t.

A wiser person would have kept her mouth shut from the start.

JH Mae is a Banner columnist.