This is one of those posts that simply has to be published now — this second, this minute, hot off the metaphorical presses — else it will languish forever in the ‘entries that dare not speak their name’ file.
I never used to understand that particular proverb — “revenge is a dish best served cold” — until I discovered how people plan their revenge meticulously, down to the last detail. Then it began to make sense. Revenge isn’t a dish best served cold — it just happens to have gone cold because it’s been standing around in the kitchen too long being fussed over and having a ridiculous array of garnish added to it.
But to me, revenge is a crime — although I’m not sure that ‘crime’ is always an appropriate description — of passion. Revenge is the kind of overwhelming primal urge that makes your blood boil, turns your throat dry, drives your hands to form such tight fists that your fingernails dig into your palms, and suddenly brings a cold, clammy sweat to your brow. You don’t think about revenge in any logical way, because it’s one of those rare moments where the thoughts, although very often confused, are already there in your mind.
“I know exactly what to do. It’s so simple. Why didn’t I see it before?”
Revenge isn’t something we like to talk about, however, because it’s born of such dark, disreputable emotions. We don’t like to think of ourselves actively taking revenge. Ideally, we want to believe that we’ll forgive and forget, turn the other cheek, say it’s all water under the bridge, and a host of other such banal clichés. And even if we can’t be quite that saintly and selfless, we like to think that we’d just accept that a wrong has been done to us, and put up with it without too much complaint. We don’t like it, no, but we’ll just accept it. These things happen. It’s a fact of life. Please add your own homily here.
I sense you’re becoming a little uneasy with this topic, so let me explain if not my reasons — no, definitely not my reasons — then at least some background as to why I am dwelling on it.
Revenge has been part of my life’s landscape from the moment I was old enough to grasp the concept. I regret to say that this was almost entirely thanks to my parents, whose tempestuous married life seemed to be played out through acts of revenge — mostly petty, but revenge nonetheless. Eventually, once I stopped getting so upset by these frequent twists and turns in family life, I became grimly fascinated by them. I would even be dragged into the plotting, mostly by my mother against my father. But I was becoming instilled with the need for revenge in my personal life too, outside the family home, and I would spend many afternoons in classrooms lost in my daydreams, plotting how to get my own back on the latest friend or acquaintance whom I firmly believed had treated me badly or done wrong by me.
Was I a precocious child? Well, what do you think?
By my late teens, I found myself in the fortunate position where I could shine an academic light on the subject. I studied plays about revenge — Jacobean revenge tragedies, in particular. Revenge is often one of the cornerstones of a good dramatic plot, after all. Oh, this was more like it — I could have my strange, dark obsession validated by making it part of my A-level course or my degree. For the latter, I wrote an essay that was not only far, far too long, but perhaps strayed a little too worryingly from the core material I had been given to work with, and into the realms of my imagination. Or, at least, that’s what I thought on reading the finished item, but handing it to my tutor anyway because the deadline for submission was too close to allow for revisions. To say I was surprised upon receiving an A grade would be an understatement; the tutor responsible commented on my deep understanding of the psychological motivations of the characters, and in turn I secretly hoped and supposed that his mind was on a similar wavelength to mine.
So what you want to know is: have I? Have I ever taken revenge?
No, I don’t believe I have. Like many traits I’ve inherited from my parents, this is one that I keep under closely-guarded lock and key because it frightens me. I don’t want to put it into practice. Ever. And besides, I wouldn’t have the nerve: sometimes, you see, I am an emotional coward.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t still think about revenge. Because I do. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I do. I’m not so different, in some ways, from that insecure, solitary, thoughtful and precocious child — lost in my daydreams, plotting how to get my own back on the latest person whom I firmly believe has treated me badly or done wrong by me. The only difference now is that the classroom has been replaced by the darkness of my bedroom, late at night, as I stare up at the ceiling and watch the arcs of light formed by the passing cars outside.
Revenge, then, is most definitely not a dish best served cold. Too many things can go wrong, or you’ll end up talking yourself out of it as you make your long, drawn-out plans. Based on many years of experience, my advice is that you deal out your revenge whilst it’s burning in your heart and feverishly occupying your mind. Strike while the iron’s hot. Don’t think, just act.
No, don’t seek revenge at all. Keep those thoughts between you and the night, and don’t let them get even so much as a momentary glimpse of daylight. Just as violence breeds violence, revenge only breeds more revenge, and eventually it will eat away at your soul.