I can’t begin to tell you how much stress and worry I have endured in my lifetime thinking about how I put up my middle finger.
It seems such a natural accessory on others when it’s aimed at me, typically whilst driving anywhere in Massachusetts.
Take, for instance, my recent trip to Cape Cod (Provincetown, specifically). The scene of the crime is the two-lane road which leads to the Cape. The road is the fever-dream manifestation of all of my anxieties with its rare exits, narrow and sudden turns, people merging into your path without warning, and many potholes—so, so many potholes.
Someone was merging into my lane and, as is the custom in Massachusetts, didn’t even wave his foot over the break. I honked in an act of self-preservation, and he, in all of his Toyota Yaris majesty, stuck a New England Hello out of his driver’s window.
It was so eloquent. With such flair.
He waited until his full arm and fist were out of the window—which I fantasize that he had to manually unroll—then unfurled his fist into a message so ubiquitously understood that I actually smiled.
Had I been wearing a cowboy hat, I would have tipped my brim to him. Well played, my good sir. I recognize and acknowledge your discontent due to the very fact that I was driving lawfully, and you simply, couldn’t even.
While being given The Bird was not exactly a pearl-clutching moment, I was taken aback just enough to appreciate the actual beauty and elegance he provided in this salutation.
His arm, in full salute, was at about a sixty-two-degree angle from the horizon, if you will. No elbow bend, as he clearly was a professional. What struck me was the punctuation I felt as he doubled down with a subtle, yet distinct addition of an extra jab into the air before retracting himself back into his sensible compact car, and likely forgetting me altogether.
And isn’t that the way life feels, generally speaking? Someone merges into your lane, takes a jab at you, then rolls up their windows and drives away. Ne’er again to look at you in their rear-view mirror.
What left a ringing betwixt my ears about my Yaris brethren was not the way I slammed on my breaks to avoid a collision, or the obscenities that melted lava-like from the Vesuvius of my mouth.
It was the positioning of his fingers.
The casual way in which his thumb remained out of the fist only emphasized the main attraction. The loose positioning of the three remaining fingers, barely at half-mast, as if they hadn’t the time nor the concern to contract into themselves.
A truly spiritual moment of grace disguised as hotheadedness.
An invocation cloaked in an aloof frustration.
If only everyone who jarringly entered my life would give me such a gift.
But like with all of those mergers onto my life’s highway, I ruminated on his leave of me for a full 28 hours.
I actually turned off my music (the soundtrack to “Evita”), right in the middle of my solo (I was Antonio Banderas), to have an existential crisis about how, exactly, I flip someone off.
As a rule, I try not to. For one, everyone is insane and on edge, and I simply couldn’t bear the shame of explaining to my parents that I had been shot giving the finger and not doing something significantly more heroic.
Because, as we all know, you can only be shot when you’re in positions of heroism.
Not, say, in safe and benign places like the grocery store, school, by a cop, work, home, by a cop in your home, at a concert, at a gas station, jogging, on a subway, at baggage claim, getting gas, or enjoying a Fourth of July parade.
Etcetera. Et, freaking, cetera.
But in the times when I do throw an Irish Windshield Wiper at someone, I don’t know how I physically do it. I simply can’t recreate this in my mind. So, I practiced for the rest of the ride.
Do I sort of hold my forearm at an angle, closer to my chest? Do I force my fist at them, bending only at the wrist?
Where is my thumb in this? Does she stay tucked, holding down my other fingers to maximize the size of the main event? Is my thumb at a right angle to The Finger as its own exclamation point? Or perhaps she is pressed tightly against the pointer, like a soldier at attention.
Finger angle-wise, is it straight up and down? Is it casually cocked to the side, flippantly signaling my displeasure? Is it almost knuckle upward, summoning the strength of the gods to bring down unholy wrath onto my object of distain?
If I were to actually brave this level of non-communication, what would I say if we pulled up next to each other at a stop light? Would I explain my gesture? Would I apologize for being upset enough to throw Thee Finger to the heavens? Argue with them about how their mother clearly didn’t raise them to be courteous and respectful? Inform them of all their staggering ineptitude, and firmly suggest they seek immediate medical evaluation for their senility?
Would I then stand, fists upon hips, watching them shrink away, head hung low with the weight of shame they have wrought?
Who do I want to be when I’m in that position? Who do I want to be when I’m in any position? Don’t I want to be the defender of the righteous? Don’t I want to show that I’m a strong, independent woman for whom nonsense shall not be imparted upon without comment?
Asking for a friend…what layer of trauma hell is it when you spend about 45 minutes a day scheduling in argument practice? And why don’t they make that an Apple Watch metric?
How do other normal people encompass their emotions and their confidence into one grand gesture of frustration?
Is it possible for anyone to love me without a good middle finger in my repertoire? Is it possible for me to love someone who loves me with this inexorable flaw? Can anyone love me as the fraud I am?
Is that the problem? Is it that I’m incapable of loving myself enough to believe in someone who could love a potato of a person who can’t even decide how they might flip someone off someday? Is my ability to ruminate on someone else’s middle finger the reason I’m probably going to die alone and have my eyeballs eaten by cats?
I don’t even like cats.
This was the moment, mid reverie, that I realized an entire day had passed. I found myself lost, which is where one almost always finds oneself.
But I was literally lost. I had walked a block too far in this little Cape town, and then rip-corded myself back into consciousness.
I had spent the morning on a chilly beach watching the seals while I sipped hot chocolate. I went into town and floated in and out of cute shops, buying cute things I do not need. I got myself lunch. And I hadn’t noticed a thing.
Presence came as presence comes, by becoming suddenly aware that you hadn’t been aware at all. Then I found that I was amongst a small crowd all looking up at a man on the porch of a bed and breakfast.
He was standing astride a full concert-sized xylophone.
Logistics of concert sized-xylophone portability aside, the confidence of it alone is something to behold. This man has never questioned how he flips someone off.
And he introduced his song. It was one by Brandi Carlisle. An amazingly powerful ballad called “The Joke.” He told us that this was for all of the people in the crowd who felt like they weren’t enough. The ones who felt like The Other. The ones who spent their days wondering if they would ever be seen just for who they are, not what they’ve been told to be.
I wondered if he knew about the cat I don’t own plotting my eyeball hors d’oeuvres.
With the voice of a Broadway veteran, this young man gave a performance that lodged itself somewhere into the fabric of my bones. The simplicity and the vulnerability of his playing such a formidable looking, but delicate sounding, instrument was captivating in a way that I hadn’t expected.
What is it about another’s vulnerability that can call truth to the one we’re hiding?
Why is allowing ourselves to pause and lean into beauty the cure for all manner of loneliness, even when it’s exquisitely self-imposed by cannibalizing your own heart?
What if the 28 hours of The Finger that consumed me was my way of absorbing the heart-stopping grief of not knowing who I am, or worse, who I want to be?
What if that finger allows me to imagine the imperfect splendor of the shaky mess I am? What if the fixation on who I thought I was, was just the place I needed to be for a while? What if that stupid finger helps me accept the next chapter merging into my lane.
The Finger happened. It’s here to stir things up and let you know you’re still moving forward on this two-lane road of terror, and you better just keep your eyes on the road. Give yourself a wide berth. Those fingers come at you fast.
Or, perhaps, it was just a Mass-hole in a Yaris.