I have always been a crier. At 21 after some particularly wracking sobs caused by no more than a cotton commercial where a mother gets ready for a night out while her eight-year-old daughter lies on her stomach on the bed, her chin resting on her hands, her knees bent, kicking her pink-socked feet through the air, watching her caretaker, her favorite person, the woman she will emulate for better or worse, put the back on an earring, the mother tilts her head so slightly, their eyes connect in the mirror, both smiling with a fierce tenderness—after weeping about this commercial I became convinced I had tear ducts at least twice the size of the average person.
I climbed down from my bed and walked over to the mirror, eyes bloodshot, skin blotchy, and began prodding the inner tip of my almond eye, watching the raw, wet sphere of flesh I believed to be my tear duct slide its way closer to the pupil and back with each encouragement from my finger. "Is it swollen?" I wondered aloud. "Why is it so big?" I asked this question having never paid attention to the corner of anyone else’s eyes. After checking back the next morning, having given my possibly swollen cry canals the chance to reduce and finding them the exact same size, I came to the clearly logical conclusion that I had enlarged tear ducts, a just discovered medical condition which would explain my weeping at not only cotton commercials, but at particularly beautiful skylines or warm, clean-smelling sheets or any scene in any movie where a child experiences even a hint of loneliness.
I met a friend for dinner that night and explained to her my discovery. She raised her eyebrows. "Really?" I leaned my chest into the table to get my planetoid ducts as close to her gaze as possible. "See?!" She leaned close. "I think they look pretty normal." I frowned, "Really?" I looked at her eyes now so close to my own. "Oh." "Also, are you sure those are your tear ducts?" I didn't know. And since this conversation was had in the time before smart phones, we moved on to something else.
I don’t always mind weeping. Sometimes the feeling of collapsing into your bed wailing, shaking with sobs until you exhaust yourself, can feel like some sort of re-birth, a wash of pain that spawns new beginnings or at least more restful sleep. But sometimes I want to be capable of holding it together at church, or in staff meetings, or while shopping. Sometimes, I’d like my makeup to stay perfect, would like to be the person who doesn’t trip over sidewalks, or spill nail polish remover on her laptop, or fall up escalators (cause who even knew that was possible). There are nights when I lay in bed, my heart pounding, pushing back the tears, “I do not need to cry to sleep. I can will it. I will not cry. I will be a different woman.”
I have always had a bit of a fondness for diagnoses: an explanation which allows your mind to wrap around deep hurts which were, until they were named, inconceivable; these heavy yearning mysteries taking up residence inside your body, the bell curved shape of a question mark pushing its way through your veins with excruciating slowness. Give me the name, the concrete answer, the black and white solution, no matter its severity, and I can function.
There is a theme running through this memoir, a theory circling its way around the periphery of my consciousness and, of course, my writing that if I just want it hard enough I can be less human. And I am sick of trying. I’m so tired.
Whenever my mom, my own caretaker, my favorite person, the woman I continue to emulate for better or worse, is about to cry, I never wish she was anyone else. She squints her eyes shut, brings her hand to her forehead, and purses her lips, letting out a small hum of resistance, before she begins to speak in cracked earnest about this or the other overwhelming emotion. And in that moment, she’s everything I’ve ever wanted to be.