Photograph by Robert Hickerson

'The Bully,' a Short Essay on Losing Your Temper by Akhil Sharma

The author feels enraged by a man who is dying.

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Dec 14 2017, 2:15pm

Photograph by Robert Hickerson

This story appears in VICE magazine's 11th annual Fiction Issue. Click HERE to subscribe.

When I dislike someone or am afraid of him or her, I begin flattering the person. It is a way of managing my nervousness by keeping myself from doing something that I will regret or from keeping the person from attacking me.

I hated X the same way everybody else I knew disliked him. A blowhard and a bully, X was the husband of one of my wife’s good friends. I knew him for over a decade and almost every conversation I can remember having with him involved me praising him or listening to him hold forth. Once when we were drinking wine that had obviously turned bad and he liked it, I found myself saying that the wine was interesting and serious, this despite thinking it smelled like an old woman’s hair.

One night, X had a seizure and was admitted to the hospital. The next morning, I went to see him and his wife. I met her in the waiting room and her eyes were very wide and I told her that I would stay with her all day. I told her this because I have some experience with what it means to be in a hospital and be so lonely that as soon as a person arrives, one is aware that they will leave.

I sat with X’s wife all day, and when I left her to get us lunch I told her that in my experience, when a visitor leaves there is a sudden collapse. I returned 20 minutes later with our sandwiches, and his wife looked at me and said that what I had described was exactly what had happened.

It took some time to discover that X had brain cancer. Even before this occurred, I tried being as helpful to him and his wife as I could. I did this out of a desire to make use of hard-won experience. I continued hating X, however. “It couldn’t have happened to a better person,” I used to joke.

X was a wretch, but he was also human. After we discovered his terrible condition, I remember him saying that when he walked down a street, he would hate everyone he passed because why were they getting to live while he was not?

There was a period of a few months when, due to experimental treatments, we thought the cancer had been defeated. During this time, he came to my apartment for dinner. That night, while we sat at the dining table, I teased him in a passive aggressive manner. “Isn’t X a better person now having nearly died,” I think I said, “compared to the angry guy he used to be.”

“You want to see how angry I can get?” X hissed, suddenly enraged. “Come to my apartment, and I’ll show you how angry I can get.” To me this sounded threatening.

I didn’t reply. I sat with my head down. I wasn’t angry at that moment. After he left, though, I became furious. I felt angry at how I had been spoken to. I felt angry at all my efforts to help having been repaid in this way. But mostly I felt angry at myself for having been nice to someone I disliked.

I began hating X. I would go to bed thinking of him and I would wake thinking of him. My hatred was so intense that it was like grinding my teeth. I remember being in China, walking along the Great Wall and imagining beating him with a baseball bat.

X died a horrible death. At the very end, he appeared locked inside himself, barely registering the people who came to say goodbye.

After he died, I continued hating him. Years passed, and my hatred wouldn’t stop. I wouldn’t think of X for days or weeks, and then I would, and suddenly the hatred would be back as strong as ever. It was like when one has a bad back and for long periods one can be fine, and then something happens, and one is wracked with pain again.

By now, the people who knew X have begun forgetting him in the way that time blurs the edges of one’s memories. I can still recall my hatred, though, and so it feels like X lives on in me.

This essay is part of a sub-section from the Fiction Issue about losing your temper. Check out the rest of the essays in the section:

"Rooster" by Walter Kirn
"Rage Blackouts" by Sadie Stein
"Love Is Sadness" by David Shields
"Wrath" by Allen Pearl

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