I have come to the conclusion that the majority of kids that I work with have anger issues. It doesn’t take much to piss them off. Most of the time, they are looking for a reason to vent when life doesn’t go their way. It all stems from just how off-centered most of them are. In dealing with these angry kids, I figure these kids were born angry. They will go through the rest of their lives plagued by a rage that simmers just beneath the surface.
My one foster son, Matt, had an allergic reaction to the word, NO. Anytime he didn’t get his way and I had to tell him, No, he would literally blow up, slamming his fists into walls, the fridge, and occasionally my face.
I think it stemmed from loss of control that impacted him at an early age. Due to circumstances out of his control, his dad and mom had a violent altercation, which led to their divorce and Matt being placed in foster care. Shortly after coming to live with me, 11-year-old Matt had me drive him down to the small town where his family had once lived. It was like something out of a bad movie as the neighbor lady took one angry look at Matt walking up her sidewalk to greet her, a big grin on his face. She glared at him and snapped, “We don’t want your kind in our town!”
I think the town folk were still pissed off at his family. Matt’s three older his brothers had all been arrested for demolishing tombstones at the graveyard in the small town, and his family had been asked to leave. Which explained the lady’s reaction to seeing him.
Which also explained a lot about Matt’s outrageous behavior, coming from dysfunction junction. His rages were dynamic, too. There he was a 12-year-old scrawny little kid, and yet he could give me a real run for my money. I had taken five years of training from a martial artist while working at the Attention Center, and so I knew just enough moves to protect myself against feet, fists, and head-butts. But teeth? They didn’t cover that in those restraint training classes. And man, to get bit by a raging inferno who gnawed on me like a rabid rat, hurt like hell!
Experts call it “centergy” instead of energy, when explaining why small, wiry kids can literally throw a grown man halfway across a room. Centergy is a massive force that is inspired by no-thought-to-consequences, that makes little people have the strength of Superman. Matt could work himself up so much that I had a most difficult time restraining him to keep him from hurting me or himself.
Once when Matt had failed to launch his skateboard off of the launch ramp on our front sidewalk, I had to pick him up and carry him into the house, and as I stepped inside, he flew into a rage and spun around and sank his teeth into my chest. Once I had him sprawled on the floor on his back, Matt proceeded to buck me off like a bucking bronco, and then he freed his one wrist from my grasp and sank his teeth into his own forearm. He pulled at least three inches of flesh into his mouth as he tried to rip a hunk of flesh out of his arm.
Amazed and appalled, I managed to pin him again. This time he slithered his way beneath me and bit me in my inner thigh, six inches short of my crotch. And once I pried his teeth off of my thigh, I planted my legs on both of his shoulders, and pinned his arms above his head.
Then, Matt hawked up a gob of mucus and spit it into my face. So with his green snot hanging off of my face, I continued my struggle to bring Matt back to reality. Because where he went in that rage-filled episode, only he knew. But somewhere in that red-hot inferno, a light finally came on, and Matt twisted one wrist out of my sweaty grasp . . . his hand shot up toward my face . . . I turned my head to the side . . . and Matt planted his hand on the side of my forehead . . . and gently wiped away the spit. He then ended the entire episode by going limp on the floor.
I later had my cop friend send an officer out to take a picture of my six-inch in circumference bruise, which she used later for shock value, showing it to the female officers who knew me from my storytelling days at police camp. Later, those same officers would see me at the next camp session, and grab their left breast and say, “Ohhh!” And then laugh uproariously. I am just glad I didn’t allow that officer to snap off a picture of the bruise on my inner thigh.
Another time, while a Nebraska blizzard raged outside, Matt was serving up another one of his storms inside. I ended up taking him down in the kitchen, where I spent the better part of an hour tussling with the Tasmanian Devil, as he tried to punch, kick, bite me, and hang snotty spit in my face.
At the end of round one, I was so thirsty that my eyes came to rest on the bowl of dog water next to the fridge. I scooted him over closer to the fridge, and he saw my intentions and snarled, “Do it! I dare you! But if you dump that on me, you’re dead!”
“Oh,” I said, snatching up the bowl, “I wouldn’t waste it on you.”
I then took a long drink from the bowl, grinning when I finished, and making a panting sound as I sat the bowl back down. Matt looked up at me in disbelief and laughed, “You are crazy, you know that? You are one crazy son of a bitch!”
I released him then, and stood up thinking the fight was over. But Matt ran to his room, threw on his winter coat, and started for the front door. What followed was an intervention straight from the looney bin. It turned into a maddening marathon as I chased Matt from the living room, through the kitchen, into the den, into my bedroom, and ended up back in the living room. Over and over, sometimes switching reverse courses, but with him always three steps ahead of me.
At one point, Matt had himself so worked up he started flapping his arms and hooting like Daffy Duck, letting loose with a “Wahoo! Wahoo! Wahoo-hoo-a-hoooo-ahoooo!” He was dead on, too. By the time he had let out a dozen of these classic Daffy Duck imitations, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t keep chasing him. So I tried a different tactic. I ran into the bathroom and cranked on the cold water.
The collision happened somewhere between the front door and the bookcase near the bathroom. I managed to latch onto the folds of his winter parka, pulling the hood over his snarling face to protect me from gnashing teeth, and I drug him into the bathroom. There, I shoved a struggling, squirming Matt beneath the cold threads of water from the shower, then released him and said, “Now, go ahead and run away.”
I then walked calmly back into the den to comfort the poor dogs who had been terrorized by Matt’s obnoxious, ludicrous, but humor-filled outburst. I then turned on the TV and proceeded to watch a movie. Ten minutes later, after changing from street clothes into his sweats, Matt came trudging into the den, where he plopped himself down between two dogs, and said, “What are we watching?”
The topper of his rage-filled outbursts came one night after Anger Management classes. Matt came home after managing to get an elevator stuck between floors at Child Guidance by his monkeying around, and when I asked the simple question later, “Did you take your meds tonight?” Matt stormed off to the kitchen, flung open the cupboard door, and swallowed the entire bottle of Ritalin.
I calmly said, “Put your shoes back on, and let’s go.”
Matt snarled, “Go? Go where?”
“To the ER at the hospital,” I said. “To get your stomach pumped. Either that, or you’re probably going to die.”
I regret to this day that I didn’t stay that night at the ER as I might have had more luck than those poor nurses in calming him down, but the next morning, I picked Matt up, traces of charcoal still coating his nostrils and the sides of his mouth. He trudged out to my truck, shaking his head, muttering, “Fucking nurses!”
The head nurse told me that after an hour of struggling with the little wildcat, three nurses and two orderlies managed to get him strapped down, forced his mouth open, poured in the liquid, and waited five minutes for the projectile vomiting to begin. It did, and Matt was saved.
So where did such rage come from? And why did he unleash his fury on me constantly? What made him think he could come into my home, which I graciously opened up for him for 2 entire years, and throw his fits of anger on a weekly basis?
His therapist claimed he blew up and threw such shit fits at my house, because he felt safe with me. That he knew that no matter what he did, I wouldn’t hurt him. That I would tolerate his behavior, and never raise a hand in anger to pummel him senseless (like he deserved). The therapist claimed he had lost so much control in his earlier life that he was now lashing back out and trying to gain control of anything that he could as a survival technique.
Did I understand this talk? No, but I tried each time to help him gain control over his red-hot blazing emotions, and although he injured me constantly, damaged my walls with his thrown skateboards, once kicked my dog, and squared off with me at least once a week, I kept him.
I could have at any time, picked up the phone, called his caseworker and said, “Screw this! Come and take the raging little lunatic out of here! This is no longer a mercy mission! This is a suicide mission, because eventually he is going to go one step too far! And either he or I are going to get seriously hurt!”
But I didn’t. I kept him. I dealt with his anger using all the techniques and training I had learned through the years, and I stayed stubbornly committed to helping him find his way out of a such a storm.
It was in the middle of one of his raging fits, that it finally dawned me why I remained determined to help him. It was the only year in Nebraska history, where because of a blizzard, the city cancelled Halloween. One week later, snow still heavy on the ground, I took Matt and his friend, Steve, to the south side of town so they could trick-or-treat among the rich folks.
I sat in the nice, warm toasty van, while the boys trudged through knee-deep snow as they went from house-to-house. Matt was dressed in a medieval cloak and carrying a long bow as he was supposed to be Robin Hood. Seated there in the comforts of the van, I poured myself a cup of hot tea from my thermos, and I had just removed my boots and placed my stocking feet up on the dash to warm them, when Steve and Matt passed through a crowd of kids and parent-escorts.
I saw Matt hand his trick-or-treat bag off to Steve and attempt to remove the longbow from his person. He started to pull it over his head, when the string got stuck on the hood of his cloak. The wooden frame snapped back and stuck Matt directly in the nose.
Matt let loose with a string of foul words and proceeded to lash out at a nearby tree with the doomed longbow. With parents and children frozen in the street and looking on in wide-eyed horror, Matt snapped the bow in two, continually spewing forth red-hot words of pure rage.
A voice inside my head said, “Aren’t you going to do something? He’s gonna give those parents a coronary and put those kids in severe shock. You just gonna sit here while he carries on?”
It was like a rare Kodak moment, when all reality comes into crystal-clear clarity and for some odd reason despite all things contrary, life comes into focus, and for brief seconds everything makes perfect sense. It reminded me of Steve Martin in the movie Parenthood, when he is watching the school play and his son is running amok on stage. Steve is seated there, riding an emotional roller coaster of memories as they wash over him.
It was just like that. I just sat there, warming my feet, calmly sipping my tea, and thinking, “One day, I am gonna actually miss this. Because I am only going to pass this way once in this life, and one day I will look back at this moment in time, and remember it fondly.”
Matt, without my help or guidance, heaved the broken bow at all those kids and parents, stormed over to the van, and climbed inside. “Let’s go home,” he snapped. And so we did.
That summer, in mid-July, I had another one of those moments, Matt included.
As it was, every night before going to bed, Matt would light candles in the den, gather up my writings for the day, and beg me to read to him. “It’s my dream,” he would say. “My dream to have a bedtime story read to me, just like you do.”
True to form, Matt created more moments of drama that night. He had gathered over a hundred lightning bugs in a large sun-tea jar, and as I started to read my story of dragons and knights, Matt released all those shimmering fireflies from the jar. They winked in and out as they drifted through the den, creating the perfect atmosphere for our story-reading session.
Later, after Matt fell asleep, a dog on either side of him, I looked around the den to the slowly fading fireflies and thought, “Yes, definitely another magic moment frozen in time.”
The next morning, I lied to Matt, telling him I had shooed all those tiny fairy fliers out the back door after he’d fallen asleep, when in reality, I had hoovered their dead little bodies up in the vacuum sweeper. Because Matt would have cried had I told him they had all died after putting on such a dynamic light show for us.
So for all his bluster, his outrageous outbursts, his gnawing teeth, his striking fists, Matt had a heart. And a BIG heart, too. And sometimes in rare moments, I got to see the good side of Matt, the part that was controlled by the “good” side of his “big” heart.
I think all kids have heart, although sometimes it is buried so deep it takes a lot of time and patience to change a bad heart into a good heart, and sometimes there is nothing you can do to change a kid who is hell-bent for self-destruction. But somehow, in some way, I managed to reach this one kid, and it made the difference in both of our lives.
Now that Matt is grown and moved on, he rides with a biker gang/motorcycle club, and last year the members of his club donated proceeds of one their runs to my friends in the Chrome Divas, who were raising money for at-risk kids. So, a circle within a circle.
I know my title was originally written with a woman’s fury in mind, and maybe I should have finished it with, “Hell hath no fury . . . like a kid who has been hurt early on in this life.”
And perhaps those of you, youth workers, teachers, and parents, who still have to deal with such young, raging tempests, can remember it all started with a deep hurt. Maybe that will help you to go the distance in trying to mend that hurt. Or at least help you to make a difference in some rage-filled kid’s life.
As for me, those days are long past. And no more furies from hell for me, thank you.