Have you ever lost your temper? I don’t mean – have you ever been really mad. I mean – have you ever been so mad or in a situation where all of a sudden you temporarily lose control of your thoughts and out of your mouth comes flying a wild cursing, directed at someone or at no one? You later step back and wonder – where the hell did that come from?
I rarely, very rarely lose my temper. In fact, when I was working at P&G, (and at the foundry), many people leaned on my ability to maintain a calm composure during times of stress. I don’t know if I’ve always been this way or if it somehow developed in me during my 38 years of marriage and child rearing. I guess when you survive being hit by a school bus, (link) most events just have never seemed worthy of my getting upset or acting out with uncontrolled anger or stress.
There was this one time, however…….
The busiest times of my life have always been times when I’ve been working for a degree. Lots of kids get to leave home to go spend several years out of the house for college studying and partying. I was never one of those kids – every degree and certification I earned was while also raising a family and holding an important role working at either the foundry in Hamilton or for P&G. Such were the 6 years spent in Evening College at the University of Cincinnati from 1981-1987.
I was working for the HP Deuscher foundry in Hamilton from 1979 to 87. I finished my correspondence study in 1981, earning my Associates in Accounting, and then immediately enrolled in a Bachelors program for Accounting at the University of Cincinnati where my degree could be earned in the evenings. For any degree program, you need time to study for your classes. Needless to say, when you are also working a 40+ hr/week job, you have time only for 2-3 classes per semester…..and you’re always busy.
Typically I’d have two classes per week and every once in awhile I’d have one on a weekend. Classes would normally run 2.5-3 hours, beginning around 6pm. There are several routes out of Hamilton. Normally I’d take the less busier route that ran around the lesser populated geography in order to avoid heavy commuting on interstate 75, (Gawd, how I hate 75 in Cincinnati), I’d leave Hamilton, heading out west on highway 128 which ran through a lot of unpopulated land, mostly farming. The drive typically would take 40 minutes, and a little longer to find parking and walk to my class.
Winters in Ohio can be hit or miss in terms of rough weather, sometimes very cold and sometimes with a few weeks of heavy snow or ice. Classes at the Evening College were rarely called off for weather. In my own six years there, I think there were only two nights classes were cancelled. There was yet no internet either. To find out if a school, (any school), was cancelling or delaying classes, we had to listen to our local radio stations. The schools would call in their notices to the stations and the stations would report them maybe every 10-15 minutes. Radio stations were invaluable to societies back in ‘the day’.
I don’t know what year it was, maybe 1985 or 6, I was scheduled to go to class. The weather that day was a bit cold and snowy. The trucks had been out that day cleaning the roads and so they were relatively clear around the time I needed to leave Hamilton. Typically I’d work late and just leave from the foundry since it was closer to my route. Going home would have just added a lot of time to my trip. On a snowy evening, my travel time was going to be close to an hour since I had to drive a lot slower.
I had left the foundry with plenty of time and was driving slowly through the snow which really was not that bad. I was headed west on 128 and just before the Ross High School, there is a big left hand curve. As I was approaching that curve, opposing traffic, (two cars), blinked their lights at me. My natural inclination was to look down at my speedometer, thinking I was being warned of a speed trap in front of the high school. I was only traveling 30 mph and when I hit the curve, I had slowed down to maybe 25.
After taking the turn though, I saw ahead what I was being warned about. The wind had been ripping from the north across the road and had created a huge sheet of ice that must have been close to a football field’s length. I saw perhaps a dozen vehicles ahead of me in various positions on and off the road. As soon as I hit that ice, I knew I was going to have an accident. There would be no avoiding one so my entire focus was against trying to stay in my own lane so that I would not hit someone head-on. I was driving my 1981 Toyota Tercel which had a manual transmission and front wheel drive. That car got around great in the snow, but nothing gets around great on ice, (except for maybe a Zamboni).
Downshifting at slow speeds is very helpful in trying to reduce speed in the snow, but nothing was helping that night. I estimate I slid a good 200 yards, possibly 300. It was like being in a slow motion live replay. Ultimately there was nothing to do but to hit the rear end of the car stopped ahead in my lane. Their car had been one of the lucky few that had not (yet) been engaged in an accident among the dozen or so vehicles already in various levels of fender benders. And so, I became one of many, (as did the unfortunate couple driving the Camry I hit).
When you get hit by someone else and no one is hurt and it’s obviously the other person’s fault, several emotions quickly arise. Surprise and then relief no one is hurt. But then a quick burst of anger – didn’t that driver see us? How could he be so damn careless? I’m sure those were the emotions experienced by the folks I had just rammed. I had done almost no damage to their vehicle, just some bumper damage it looked like and some minor jostling around. For my little Tercel however, my whole front end had been damaged – both front side panels, the hood and all my lights were a mess.
I was nothing but apologetic, (well, at first). Although there was nothing but ice on the road, still, “I” was the one who had hit them and I felt badly about it. I kept apologizing – I’m really sorry, I’m so sorry. I tried and tried to stop but I couldn’t, etc. The driver was a man, maybe in his early fifties. He understood – he was not angry in the least and appeared to be accepting my apologetic attitude. His wife, however….hmmm….she was nothing but what you’d have to call “in my face”. At first, I ignored her and tried talking only to the man who was the more sensible of the couple, but the woman just kept getting in my face. After what must have been my fourth apology and explanation, she again got in my face with another “oh sure” and started in on another rant.
And with that, I totally lost my cool. I didn’t think. Emotions finally took over and I yelled at her – yes, I yelled – FUCK YOU! I SAID I WAS SORRY!
With that, the driver, the husband took over.
“Susan – get the hell back into the car!”
And she did. Once in the car, I told the guy that I was really sorry for yelling at her like that, I just lost my temper. I’ll never forget his response:
” I rather enjoyed it”.
He smiled, (after his wife had turned her back, of course), and we both walked around our cars to assess the damages and to exchange insurance information. His damage was very minimal. Mine was $3,000 (in mid 80’s dollars) and I had to have my car towed. This was yet another auto accident to add to my list of good fortunes and thankfully, it was not life threatening. It could have been a different story had I hit a car head-on.
Over the years, I’ve not lost my temper so quickly and without forethought much except for those times when marital bliss temporarily went AWOL. This experience was unique. I’ve not met many people like that woman who just kept gnawing and gnawing at me when I was trying to be nothing but apologetic and sympathetic. I still cannot believe I yelled FU at someone in anger. After all these years, I still feel a bit of remorse for lashing out like I did. Most will say that she deserved it, (obviously her husband appreciated it), but I like being in control of my own actions and words.
I guess you could say that this accident was another factor in my growing up; everything factors into who we each end up becoming. I never really gave this incident purposeful thought in that regard, but I guess I should have. Maybe the driver didn’t know how to hold his ground with his wife and maybe they handled the next incident a little differently?
Knowing what I know now, (and perhaps what that 50 year old man had figured out), I realize I could have handled this interaction differently. A silent stare at the woman and then a request to the man to discuss in private might have ended with the same net result. I still can’t get over that I yelled FU to a complete stranger.
“A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.”
― Bruce Lee