Dealing with (and in) Bottled Up Emotions

Tuoz is really good at bottling up his negative emotions, especially frustration and anger. This is only to be expected since he’s been doing it for a long time now. When we were kids, he started holding in his feelings more and more during third and fourth grade. He wasn’t great at it back then, and he actually hasn’t improved much since; sometimes feelings and thoughts would slip out of his grasp or he couldn’t keep his hold on them, and there’d be an outburst in class or an explosion on the playground.

But once he discovered his knack for making containers, he didn’t have to exert as much restraint upon his emotions. All he needed to do from then on was get his feelings and thoughts under control or reined in (which he usually was able to do discreetly), then expediently cram them into one of the homemade containers (typically a bottle, occasionally a box or tube) that he’d carry with him; they were designed and built to withstand the pressures and temperatures of their future contents so long as he kept a lid on them, tightly.

Later, he’d open these containers on solitary visits to the woods not far from the school or during wanderings with a close friend or two (sometimes me) – amblings around largely abandoned parts of town, like the old freedom mill. He’d be careful to face the mouth of the containers away from him, to empty the potentially volatile contents into the environment with minimal risk of coming into contact with the stuff. Sometimes the single pure emotion or mix of emotions would spray out wildly, other times just ooze languidly to the ground.

As we got older, he kept doing this. All throughout middle and high school, he’d fill containers inconspicuously at school, at social events and undoubtedly at home. I sometimes did too. For a period of time during sophomore year, every couple weeks, we’d bicycle out into the countryside or to the beach and release the contents of our containers. Once, the moment he loosened it, the lid blasted off one of his bottles, and a radiant jet of adolescent angst erupted out and arced widely across a portion of the meadow we were standing in. Apparently, the bottle and its contents had been agitated too much during our bike trek out there.

We went to different colleges, but we’d meet up to talk and meander during breaks. Occasionally, he’d bring a bottle or box along to empty – probably emotions he’d brought from campus. After graduation, he moved back to take up a job here, and though I haven’t seen him dispose of any contained emotions since then, I assumed these habits of his that I’d come to know were still practiced by him. Until now.

I visit Tuoz’s apartment this afternoon to pick up some of his custom-made containers for Jozine. He sometimes makes them for friends as a favor.

“Come on in,” he says after answering the door.

I enter the small hallway that leads into the two-bedroom space he inhabits and shut the door behind me. The interior is filled with a warm curry fragrance.

“I’m in the middle of a phone call, but I should be done soon. You can just get the containers. They’re in the closet of my workroom,” he tells me, then goes into his bedroom and closes the door.

I go into the bedroom he uses for various projects, like container crafting and post-neo-abstract sculpting. It’s cluttered as always. I open the closet door, expecting the interior to be in utter disarray, but suddenly I’m confronted by a meticulously ordered set of bottled up emotions on metallic shelves. Easily there’s a hundred of them, all bearing labels documenting contents and date. Knowing that the majority of what he bottles is highly negative, the latent, devastating power of the emotional lattice before me is staggering. It’s like looking at an emotional arsenal, everything from explosive to stifling to roiling. Unnerved, I just stare at it all as my heart pounds with a distressing pace.

Then Tuoz walks in, startling me. I cringe. Irrationally, I’m almost sure he’s going to open one of these bottles, aimed right at me. That’s how freaked out I am.

Instead, he very calmly begins to explain the situation.

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you about this… stash,” he says. “I was really busy for a while and didn’t have time to empty my full bottles. So I made more bottles, and eventually ended up with a lot of contained emotions. And then, well… an interesting solution presented itself.”

I am pretty certain this can only mean one thing.

“Are you dealing in the Dark Economy?” I blurt, my own words agitating me as they evoke potent thoughts about this web of troubling transactions – cases of bitterness traded for cruelty and instances of conceit for rancor.

“I guess there’s no way to get around the truth of the matter. Yeah, basically. But just until I get my college debts settled up.”

“So. . . where is all this stuff going?” I ask, afraid to know.

“The bulk of it goes to some dissidents and activists I know. You know, sometimes they need. . . a little extra.”

And I know all too well. There have been tensions between these folks and friends I know who pursue activism with positive emotions.

So I have to say very bluntly, “A lot of this stuff is volatile. How can you be sure they won’t let some of it blow up or try to detonate it themselves?”

“Come on, man. Give them some credit,” Tuoz says. “They might exchange a lot of negative emotions among each other and with the dudes they’re railing against, but their intentions are positive.”

“It just seems like a dangerous situation. I mean, one of these bottles could be rigged up easily to–”

“Dude, I know. Don’t worry. Trust me.”

We lock eyes for a moment. I sigh.

“All right,” I relent.

“It’ll be over soon,” he says simply.

I nod, wondering how it will end.

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