Aunty is chronically angry. From time to time, she is relaxed and jolly, but not often. Mostly, she is angry. In fact, she is angry so much of the time that anger seems to be her personality.
At the same time, she also had her 60th birthday this week, and I don’t think she likes getting old. Sixty is not old, but she lives in a country where the mean life expectancy is only a few years away from that. So for her, it is.
She has been a black cloud ever since.
I think I also drive her particularly crazy. Because I refuse to be drawn in. If she doesn’t feel like talking, I don’t talk to her. But otherwise I go about my daily tasks in the same calm and cheerful way. “Good morning, Aunty,” I say with a smile, when she comes into the bedroom where I’m writing in order to start on the laundry. She mumbles something unintelligible back or, if she’s really in a bad mood, scowls in a fixed kind of way–looking, but without making real eye contact. As if you aren’t a person and hadn’t spoken.
I am relentless, in fact, my tone never changing, the smile always there. If I were her, I’d be thinking of murdering me. What right do I have to be so happy? Especially when she is feeling so glum.
Life, clearly, is just not fair. I say that with a degree of irony. She grew up pampered and spoiled–”kept in cotton wool” she says. And you know how I did. My happiness was not a gift, handed to me. I fought for it–tooth and nail. That’s one reason I won’t let go of it.
I’m also using the medium chill technique on her: polite, upbeat, steady, distant. And I’m not doing it specifically to yank her chain, but for the benefit of my own sanity.
However, I am also inclined to placate her, to be careful of her preferences, and to do exactly what she says even if I’d rather not or if it makes no logical sense. Now, this is not my house, and my own belief is that you should be able to have things done as you like in your own home. But in addition to that, I’m also aware of the pull to not make things worse, or to try not to make things worse if it’s possible.
The effect is something like walking on eggshells.
Nearly everyone walks on eggshells with her. And this makes me think.
People who are chronically angry tend to exploit others for the benefits they can provide rather than engage in caring, reciprocal relationships. They often see others as objects and use them accordingly, the way you would use a coffee maker or a car. Perhaps their anger makes any other kind of relationship impossible, or perhaps their view of others as objects is what is making them so angry in the first place–after all, I’d get really frustrated if my coffee maker started making its own decisions about when and how it wanted to make coffee. So I can understand.
But when we tiptoe around difficult people, it make objects out of them a well. It is as if we are saying, “You are not a person, but something like a delicate machine or a rickety bridge–something to be careful of rather than engaged with.” And I wonder about that.