For months, I couldn’t cry. I needed to, desperately — physiologically! — but the tears just wouldn’t come. It’s trauma, a friend’s therapist had told her. We are all in a state of trauma. We are holding ourselves together with all we have, so we can’t cry. It’s normal.
I wanted to cry, though. Sob, really. Wail. Lose it completely, flail on the bed and get red in the face and throw an epic tantrum and kick a thing — as if this full release of emotion would actually make anything… better? Seeing my seven-year-old daughter Facetime-ing her little friends instead of playing with them at the park made me want to cry. Seeing her wave to a friend from a sidewalk’s distance made me want to cry. Snuggling her at bedtime and trying to answer her unanswerable questions about when the coronavirus would go away and when she could return to school made me want to cry. And god knows walking into the kitchen at the end of another long, endless day and having to make another f*cking meal made me want to cry. But I couldn’t. What if I started and couldn’t stop?
And then, at the end of the spring, I drove to my daughter’s school to pick up her stuff from her first grade classroom, unceremoniously abandoned in March when the governor shuttered the schools with the thought that we’d be back in two weeks. Our wonderful teacher had returned to pack up the room, assembling each student’s artwork and notebooks. I pulled into the school’s parking lot masked, held up a makeshift sign from inside our car with my daughter’s name on it, and someone handed me a sealed black garbage bag with my girl’s name stapled to it. Then I drove off to a side street and wept uncontrollably for 20 minutes.
It was the garbage bag that set me off. I finally wept for all we’d lost; for the care this teacher had put into those pathetic bags; for the assembly line of masked and gloved mothers at the school making sure pickup went smoothly and safely; for the fact that the whole year had been reduced to a garbage bag; for my only child who was at home for another day and another and another, alone alone alone; for my parents whom I hadn’t seen for months and wouldn’t for months more, and for my marriage fraying at the edges, all the way to the center.
I cried for my friends — I needed those friends — whom I could no longer hug or eat with or travel to visit; for the students I teach whose faces I wouldn’t see in-person; for the parties and special occasions we’d cancel; for the collective fear for our health; for the people dying in our country and beyond; for the total, terrifying lack of leadership. I cried for all of it.
Then I turned the car back on and went home.
Since that day, these outbursts have happened occasionally. The cry suddenly bubbles over and I can’t hold it in for one more second. With a little bit of crowdsourcing, I’ve learned that I’m far from alone. What sets us off can be anything, and it can happen anywhere, but in this quarantine world where no one has an ounce of privacy, we parents seem to have our favorite spots: the car, the shower, the closet, on a run. More than one friend shared that she’s cried at curbside pick-up at Target. Also, at the dentist. Also, dog-walks.
Crying in the shower or bath is a classic (a sliver of privacy, plus all that water as inspiration!) but it happens not to be in my repertoire. Yet. I’m fascinated with run-criers, as I cannot run for my life, and can’t imagine how one can cry and breathe and run concurrently? But now I find some solace imagining a country — a world? — full of mothers, alone and yet together, finding our little moments of refuge, faces slick and subtly ugly-crying in strange places, allowing ourselves to fall apart for just a minute before pulling ourselves back together again.
My current go-to is the kitchen floor, where I wedge myself in next to the dishwasher where no one can see me, and, if I am truly desperate, the bathroom floor, where many layers of closed doors insulate me from my family. Something about being on the literal floor feels weirdly apt — I just want my body to be as low to the ground as I actually feel, and on an unforgiving surface. Unlike the plush warmth of my bed or someone’s shoulder, the cold tiles provide no reassurance. They offer nothing back, and, strangely, that works for me right now. I want to feel the starkness of all this. I want to be allowed to feel this kind of realness. I don’t want comforting words, I don’t want to be picked up, I don’t want to be held. I just want to have space to feel, to cry like a baby for all of it, to weep for long enough that I feel like I can finally get back up again.