I hate to cry in front of people.
Despite that, or maybe because of it, I sure seem to do it a lot. I cry easily.
The more determined I am to appear cool, calm, or unaffected, the less successful I am. The more desperately I’m trying to hide the depth of my worry or heartache, the more likely it is that I will be overcome by unwanted emotion and dissolve into a liquefied puddle of embarrassment in front of whoever is around, whether it be friends, coworkers, or visiting foreign dignitaries.
It doesn’t take much, just the proverbial drop of a hat. I cry when I see little old couples holding hands. I tear up when I pray out loud. I even get suspicious sniffles every time Clinton and Stacy teach another poor, clueless woman how to shop for her body type. Some days, for no reason at all, I just wake up feeling weepy, and I know it’s only a matter of time until something sets off the deluge.
Just recently, my traitorous tear ducts have spilled over while I was singing at church, when feeling a little overwhelmed at work, when an unexpected financial expense popped up, and during a group meeting that got a bit tense. And forget trying to surreptitiously dab at your eyes; someone always notices and approaches with the tender-hearted question guaranteed to turn a couple of transient tears into a truly horrifying gusher: “Are you all right?”
The embarrassment of having my waterworks noticed coupled with the emotional impact of someone reaching out in compassion never fails to intensify the storm. Suddenly, it’s an Incident. People walking by feel the need to stop and see what’s wrong with me (answer: a lot) and to offer hugs and pats on the arm while I try to explain, between sobs, that I’m okay, really, and it’s nothing, and as soon as everyone stops looking at me I’m sure I’ll be able to get myself under control, I promise.
It might be different if I cried pretty. You know what I mean. In the movies, the ingenue always weeps quietly, lower lip trembling, moisture pooling sweetly below her beautiful, shining eyes until one glistening tear escapes to make its careful way down her face, miraculously leaving her makeup intact before it is kissed or wiped away by the studly love interest gazing rapturously into her soul.
When I cry, it’s nothing like the movies. My face gets all red and blotchy, my eyes swell up, and the only thing glistening is my nose, which runs like it’s being chased by a mugger. My vocal cords seize up and I can barely squeak out a word, let alone form a complete sentence. The muscles in my face each go off in their own direction, and anyone looking at me finds himself thinking inexorably of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the last Batman movie.
I know some people view tears as manipulative and immature. A 36 year old woman should be able to reign in her emotional reactions, they’d say. Apparently, the six year old inside of me does not agree, and she will not go quietly.
I’ve tried to stop. I pinch myself. I think of puppies. I blink really, really fast. Nothing works.
I guess there’s nothing for it but to accept my ridiculous eyes and all that goes with them. It’s not all bad, I suppose. There’s a certain wanton relief in having a good cry. It leaves the heart feeling like the woods after a hard rain: fresh, clean, and cleared of debris. Far, far worse is the feeling of needing to cry and not being able to.
Or so I’ve been told.
Frankly, that’s never been my problem.