There was already a Leslie when I arrived to work at The Jewish Bulletin of Northern California in 1995, so I quickly became Les – which was strange because up until that time, only my parents had ever called me Les.
However, not long after that “christening,” I earned the name Brooklyn Les – used exclusively when I would lead with my mouth.
Brooklyn Les swore like a sailor. Kept a pack of Newport Lights in the pocket of her leather jacket – a tan vintage number with a paisley silk lining which my friend T affectionately referred to as the Serpi-coat, an homage to Al Pacino in the movie of the same era. Brookly Les was feisty. A little bit angry. And funny as she let the expletives fly from her lips.
In those first few years in San Francisco, Brooklyn Les showed up a lot. But as time passed, her role became more of a cameo — the walk-on of a once beloved character that had moved on.
I quit smoking. I got older. I went to therapy.
I quit the job I hated and learned to curb my tongue at the one that I loved. I learned to meditate. I joined a spiritual business group.
There was less to be angry about.
“Remember when you used to be surly, Pearly?” my then-husband asked, only half in jest.
When I moved to Chicago in 2007, Brooklyn Les began appearing again. Sans cigarettes.
I was newly sober and leaking emotion. Joy. Gratitude. Pain. My friend D insisted I was angry but didn’t know how to express it.
And yet, every once in a while, I did. Usually with my friend M, over food or coffee. Always unexpected. What started as simple conversation quickly developing into full-fledged rant. About my husband. Or my parents. Or my birthparents. The weather. Weight Watchers. Chicago. Occasionally myself.
M would clap with glee. She loved Brooklyn Les. Probably because she only turned up occasionally and was so different than the woman I presented as. She was funny and crass and said things none of us dared say.
But I always felt apologetic. Like I shouldn’t behave this way. That I couldn’t afford the luxury of a good resentment.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Brooklyn Les. Strangely, she didn’t show up during my divorce or my pained efforts at dating after. She didn’t show up during my move to Seattle or my unfruitful job search in Chicago.
I was angry. But it wasn’t funny or functional. Instead, it mostly got turned inward, on to me.
My friend S noticed and thought that breaking some rocks might help release it. Or at the very least, invite Brooklyn Les for a visit.
So a few weeks ago, we drove out to El Pardo – a park outside of Madrid where Franco used to shoot deer. (Rumor has it he was such a bad shot that his lackeys would literally have to place deer – I don’t know how – directly in front of his aim if he was to have even a minimum of success.)
Inside the park, at a quarry of sorts, S demonstrated.
He picked up a rock, said some choice words, threw it against another and watched it shatter into bits. Then he invited me to do the same.
I picked up a rock. Threw it. And watched it bounce off another and roll onto the ground.
“I can’t even get angry correctly.”
S invited me to name my anger – more specifically, the sources of my anger – but I couldn’t. I could only cry. So he named them for me. And I cried even harder.
I cried and muttered and prayed…threw some rocks. A few shattered. Many bounced.
It was a beginning.
I’m sure Brooklyn Les could have done better. But she was nowhere to be seen.
I thought I recognized her walking through Sol, the center of Madrid, the other day. As I was jostled and bumped by Spaniards just doing what they do – walking four or five across on the sidewalk, slowly, seemingly expecting everyone else to move. They all seem to navigate just fine around each other but I haven’t quite figured out their system.
But instead of Brooklyn Les, I felt more like William Shatner in an Everyready Battery commercial circa 1978. “I dare you to knock this battery off of my shoulder.”
My anger scared me. It still does.
I thought about my ex-boyfriend D. How I more than once told him, “I won’t fight with you.”
“People fight,” he insisted. But I wouldn’t.
I thought about my ex-husband. How he was one of less than a handful of people I would fight with – who I felt safe enough to fight with.
But mostly, I find myself just fighting with myself. It’s exhausting.
It seems clear I need to find a way to purge this anger from my body – without imposing it on others, or turning it on to myself. Although I’m still not exactly sure how.
Perhaps Brooklyn Les might have an idea…