A couple are screaming at each other in the street as I’m walking home. He is on the phone and is relaying the conversation to his angry and agitated partner.
“What’s she fucking saying?” she yells at him.
He pulls the phone away from her as she lurches forward to grab it while he yells back;
“She says they’re family and you shouldn’t talk like that.”
Undaunted she hollers back, “Well she don’t have to fucking live with you does she?”
I turn the corner and go into my house with their shrieks still at full throttle.
It carries on like this as if it’s some macabre travelling show. They walk past my house while I’m trying to swat a fly from the front window and he gestures at her towards me as a way of trying to make her calm down. It doesn’t work.
Moments later they walk past again, him in front walking fast, her in hot pursuit shouting more obscenities at his tattooed neck.
I fill the kettle and think about how much more difficult we make it to be heard when we aren’t prepared to listen.
Looking out into the garden the pumpkins are spreading their way out of the raised beds and down the path making an escape towards next door and, probably, the road beyond.
In the verdant borders, there is as much growing that I didn’t plant as there is which I did. I could try and rid myself of the plants I don’t want but it feels like a lot of effort. It reminds me of a time when my son was small and his mother asked him to spray weedkiller on some of the unwelcome garden invaders.
Left happily spraying as instructed my wife was dismayed to discover, just minutes later, that he had been merrily wandering around the garden spraying everything in his path. She was incandescent with rage but I felt sorry for him because he was bewildered.
What he couldn’t understand was why, if he sprayed weedkiller everywhere, it didn’t just kill the plants that were weeds. He didn’t know that “weed” is simply a name we give to something growing where we don’t want it to grow.
If we already find it hard to listen when we have a point we want to make it’s only made more difficult when we are feeling hurt as well. Anger is a convenient cover we put over more vulnerable emotions but, paradoxically, without vulnerability, we can rarely be heard anyway.
The benefit Tom had when inadvertently adopting a scorched earth policy in the garden was that his mum didn’t want to be angry with him and he, as a child, found it easy to show his vulnerability through tears of sorrow. Consequently, it was possible for them to put the misunderstanding behind them easily.
When we grow up we become more resistant to backing down, to opening up, to admitting we are hurting or frightened. We do it to keep ourselves safe but, most of the time it takes us further away from safety and the thing we most want, to be understood. At its worst, it might lead to us being sworn at in the street while a man wielding a fly swat looks on with interest from his window.