My Life in Tears
When I was a child, my tears were extra salty. I could feel ocean waves scrape my lips as they fell. My face would turn red; my eyes would swell until almost shut.
The crying jags of childhood were often more than my body could contain. My entire being sobbed, my hands, feet, and all my dreams. Release was easy, and it was wonderful. It was like emerging from the ocean, collapsing on my beach towel, and being hugged by the sun.
Childhood tears flow easily without much regard to the gravity of the situation. I cried just as hard when my allegedly bad behavior was unjustly punished as I did when the police came with their flashing lights. I watched from the upstairs window as my parents talked to them on the street — my father’s voice echoing in the night. Then I hid under my covers and pretended I didn’t see.
I remember my father standing over me in the bathroom once around that time. He was holding a warm compress to my swollen face. He told me I didn’t understand what my tears did to him. It was then that I learned that six-year-olds should take better care of their fathers’ feelings. But not long after that, he left.
My father’s absence erased any shame I felt in crying. I always cried when I laughed. I don’t think he noticed that because I remained cute. Without him around, I was free to let my sad tears fall without worrying that he’d be repulsed by my puffy eyes and blotchy face. I could have my feelings and be ugly. I was no longer his mini-me reflection. My tears belonged to me.
Most of the tears of my twenties and thirties are a blur. I cried over break-ups, but never hard. I always loved to start anew. I was a serial monogamist, but I cried promiscuously at commercials, TV shows, and movies. Tears would stain my books. Songs tracked them. Cigarettes blew them up in smoke.
Although I had long owned my tears, by the time I reached forty-one, my hardest cry was when my tears wouldn’t flow.
It was when my last IVF failed. I needed to cry, but I couldn’t. A swollen lump of pain in my throat choked my tears. When I tried to let them go, the sensation in my throat stopped me; it was overwhelming. Pain was a strong levee. My grief had no outlet. It was incorporeal. My child, who never was had died; there was no ceremony for that kind of loss.
I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t share my grief. I packed a bag and traveled to Washington, D.C., where I spent two days walking from museums’ open to close. At the end of the day, I returned to my hotel room where I cried in the shower. I let out as many tears as I could. But for many days, they’d only fall in small doses. I had to coax my throat into letting them go. I never knew crying could be so difficult.
After I married, I wanted a child, and I didn’t. My ex-husband had a son. He became my child too. In some ways, having a second child was more about multiplying the one I had who was passing through childhood too fast. I wanted to see what I missed with him. I wanted to see his first smile and hold his hand as he took his first steps. I always expected to have a biological child. It was programmed into me. I was never certain it was really my choice.
Whatever I felt at the beginning of my baby quest, I did commit to it with all my heart. In the end, all I had to show for the years of treatment was time away from my son. I didn’t need another child. I loved the son I had with all my heart. I could not imagine loving him more if biology had connected us.
When my son graduated from college, I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t painful even though I was another step closer to losing him to adulthood. That was still a theory then. I didn’t understand what an “empty nest” would feel like. It sounds like you get more space, not like you lose your kid and your role as a parent. Later, I came to understand that loss too, but it was hard to cry over how perfect my kid turned out.
My heart was swollen with pride, bursting with joy; my tears began the moment I heard Pomp and Circumstances. I was a fountain all day. Crying whenever I caught sight of him. We had to wait four hours before his name was finally called. We were too far away to really see him, but my zoom lens managed to capture the moment he got his diploma through the haze of my tears.
There were a lot of reasons I cried at the end of my marriage. I cried most of the summer that year as we tried to sort it out. It was a shock, even if I did know before I realized I knew.
My ex-husband’s affair was a slap in the face, a punch in the gut. I knew it meant the loss of everything I’d worked hard to maintain; a facade of happiness, a garden, a house. While it freed me of the challenge of loving a man who was incapable of feeling joy, I had to face the hard truth — I had betrayed myself because I put my wedding vows before my happiness. It’s taken me years to recover from the seventeen years I spent with my ex submerging myself, carrying all the weight of making our lives as a family happy. I think it’s possible to love almost anyone, but sometimes it’s like climbing a mountain with a hill on your back. There were times when it really broke me, and my body collapsed with illness as a result.
In September, on the last day we lived under the same roof, I picked up his phone just as he got a text from the woman he had, as it turned out, not stopped seeing while we “worked on our marriage.” We had a marathon thirteen-hour talk, and together we shed a river of tears. We ran out of tissues. We ran out of napkins. We finally switched to paper towels.
After he left, I felt a very bearable lightness and never cried about the marriage again. I washed away the woman I created to live that life. After that, it was a time of exploration. I found new roads, new challenges, and new kinds of happiness.
In the past few years, I’ve noticed the absence of tears. It’s like music that won’t play even though the needle is on a piece of spinning vinyl.
My feelings haven’t been muted. It’s not a numbness. My heart has expanded. It can carry more. I feel more than when I was younger and cried easily. When I am moved, I can be still within and absorb the feeling. I miss my tears at such moments the same way I’ve missed favorite shoes I’ve worn until they were beyond repair. Walking through life feels different now.
When my little dog’s heart grew too big for her body, my tears flowed easily again. The weight of losing a beloved friend, the responsibility for deciding when her pain was too much for her, recognizing she was inconsolable, the decision to terminate her life — all of that was unbearable. I held her body as it melted, and the heart that used to beat on my lap stopped.
I cried until my eyes needed a warm washcloth because they were too swollen to see through. I cried for days. Then I cried for weeks. I still cry for her from time to time. But other than those I shed over her loss, tears still elude me more often than they find me.
Today they found me. I had a good sob over a passage in a book. After I dried my eyes, I thought about the writing and how well the story had been constructed. I appropriately suspended disbelief and let the story work its magic. Good triumphed over evil under the most adverse of circumstances. Tears that sparkle with hope are my favorite kind. I could cry those every day.
© 2019, A. Breslin. All Rights Reserved