When I was a teenager, crying was my “go to,” emotional outlet. I’d lay in the bed with my face to the wall and have an imaginary conversation with the party who’d wronged me. Then, when I was all cried out, I’d manufacture some other cry worthy cause, like small children without enough food to eat, or lost puppies, or that movie I wasn’t allowed to watch even though I’m almost fifteen, or the way my friends got to go to the mall and I had to stay home and clean my room. Like a marathon runner, I’d sprint for that last burst of tears.
Spent, I’d amble down the hall to the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. My crying “tell,” a round red mark in the upper corner of my right eyelid, was the source of personal pride. I had accomplished a historic level of histrionics, and it always made me feel…clean.
Now, I can’t cry like that. My husband got sick, had a life-threatening infection, surgery, another life-threatening medical complication, then got sick again. Now, he’s having radiation treatments for a cancer that isn’t completely eradicated. This is the sort of thing people do cry about. However, as much as I might want to, I can’t lay on the bed and make the tears come until that feeling of renewal comes over me. Now, waterworks simmer just beneath the surface. Like the symptoms of menopause, they appear at the strangest times.
I’m trying to find a clip from The Sound of Music to show during an upcoming presentation. Maria and the Von Trapp children are singing, “Doe a deer,” running up the side of a beautiful mountain in Austria. Suddenly, my throat is swamped with feeling, and hot salty water scalds my eyes. I wipe my face with the back of my hand, take a deep breath, and shut it down. It would be too ridiculous for a grown woman to go on a crying jag brought about by Julie Andrews.
I’m on the internet, trying to find out more about what radiation treatment will be like for my husband. I discover a website where people can write about their cancer experiences. I have to choose which cancer I want to read about. The list of cancers, white lettering on a black background, goes on, on, on, on. As I scroll all that black, all of those kinds of cancer, they come. The tears that feel like throwing up. The tears that could take my finger out of this dam I’ve erected. This damn dam.
The dam is there for a good reason. This, what we’re going through, this is real. My emotions are not a hair shirt I can wear under my regular clothing. I’m sad, yes, but I’m also angry. The dam helps keep that anger, and that will to survive, in the forefront. We’re going to get through this, and when we do? Then, maybe I can afford the luxury of a historic blubber.