The Persistence of Doors Redux

I was driving down the west end of Fillmore when I heard a loud pop. I watched in horror as the door, which had been securely fastened to the luggage rack on top of my Taurus station wagon, slid off and into the street. I quickly pulled into a parking lot on my right.

“Stay in the car,” I told my sons.

Then, dodging traffic, I ran into the street and retrieved the door, pulling it onto the sidewalk. It was an interior door and, as I feared, it was ruined. I looked across the street and checked on the car and my kids. They were both ok. Then I saw something that took me aback as I stood there with the shattered pieces of door.

To understand why the vista in front of me was so startling, one must understand why I had the door strapped to my roof and my boys in the car in the first place. It began with 13-year-old Michael slamming his bedroom door in my face after I fussed at him for being rude to his mother. No, I lie. It began earlier than that. The truth is I really hate doors being slammed in my face. In fact, hate isn’t a strong enough word for it. Having someone I love slam a locked door in my face enrages me in ways that make me deeply ashamed and embarrassed.

I never physically hurt anyone, but I have killed a couple of doors in my life. I immediately regretted it every time it happened. I understand that such behavior is terrifying to those on the other side. That their sanctuary is violated. That even though I have not hurt anyone, it is wrong. I have to control myself and let those I love feel safe. I get it, I really do. Exhibit A is how long I have spent in therapy trying to understand and gain control over my anger.

I could have just blamed the PTSD from Vietnam or the TBI from being thrown head first out of a jeep. My prefrontal cortex took quite a blow, and that’s the part of the brain responsible for controlling behavior. Sarah Palin used that excuse for her son, but I refused to accept that reprogramming my brain was impossible. Cognitive therapy, a supportive spouse, and proper meds allowed me to finally find the root cause of my anger and bring it under control. Guided by the therapist, I relived the day my mother slammed a door on my finger and left me there. It’s not like I had forgotten the incident all together. My mother, out of guilt, mentioned the story often. It was part of our family’s narrative. But the emotional pain, the abandonment issues, and the sheer terror remained hidden from my conscious mind, or so I thought.

I had always resisted revisiting emotions from the past. I thought it was a useless part of therapy. The past is the past, I figured. Teach me how to live today was my mantra. But the emotions from that day as a helpless four-year-old were too powerful to always keep locked up. When someone I loved slammed a door in my face, it allowed all of those suppressed emotions to break free from their carefully guarded rooms in my mind. The anger blinded me to both the source of my pain and the consequences of killing a door. But by facing those feelings as an adult in a therapist’s office, I was finally able to break free. Until Michael slammed the door in my face. In fairness to me, I didn’t try to break it down. But in my frustration, I slapped the door frame with the flat of my hand. Only I missed. And the heel of my hand damaged the cheap hollow core door.

It wasn’t damaged badly, just a two inch indentation where the cardboard-like surface caved in. Most people would have ignored it. But I had to own it and show my sons that even accidental damage caused while angry had to be atoned for. I had to show my family that I was progressing. I had to be the example of what I wanted my sons to be–in control of their emotions, especially anger. So there I stood by the side of the road holding the pieces of the replacement door. My sons were staring at me. I stared at the sign next to them in the parking lot. It read: First Free Evangelical Church.

Of all the places for a bungee cord to break, it chose an evangelical church. It was as if the universe was telling me, “You wanna break doors, I’ll show you some door breaking.” As I waited for traffic to allow me to cross, I remembered a Zen Buddhist story. A Samurai approached a Zen master and asked him to explain heaven and hell. The master broke into a speech denigrating the warrior and his inferior intellect. He dismissed his request as ridiculous and unworthy of a Zen master’s time. The Samurai became so enraged that he drew his sword, raised it above his head, and was about to bring it down when the Zen master said, “There are the gates of hell.” The Samurai realized what was happening, and he slowly put his sword away and bowed. “And there are the gates of heaven,” the Zen master said.

I don’t know about gates in the afterlife, but I do know about doors. On the other side of a door is the path to heaven. Or the path to hell. It’s always a choice. I’m working on making the right one.