"It is such a secret place, the land of tears." - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
In my family, there was just no room for the children to have feelings: our tears were an unbearable accusation, and we were punished for causing pain. "Go to your room, no one wants to see you like that" was on a good day: mostly the punishment for crying was physical. I learned to cry without making any noise: and then I learned not to cry at all. It was a hard lesson to learn: the blows of his belt and his fists tattooed it into my bones. It became part of who I was. Life without tears was also life without joy: it was like living in a mausoleum. I didn't think about it, because I never imagined that it could be different.
I began to think about it after my son was born. When I was telling him that it was okay to cry, it dawned on me that he would learn more from my actions than my words: and I did not want to pass on this terrible lesson. I didn't know where to start, but I finally realized that if I didn't seek some kind of recovery from my past, then with all the best intentions in the world I would still pass on my damage. That horrified me. I became willing to wade back into the pain and seek healing. I started going to counseling.
When my son was 3, I got clean and sober for the first time. I had been addicted to prescription drugs. It took about 3 months before the shaking stopped enough that I could write my name legibly, and that's when I got my very first sober job. I had sober days here and there at other jobs, but not too many, so this was new territory. Hell, everything was new territory then, raw and terrifying and wondrous. It was like taking a hit of life every day: I never knew where it would take me, but I was beginning to believe that I would find my way.
I took a job as a cashier at a local grocery store, and to my amazement, I was good at it. I liked dealing with people: I had a facility for easing the temper of the worst customer. Even if all I could give was a smile and a moment of kindness, I was grateful to have anything to give back to life, anything at all. I was so wide open then. I had no defense any more against feelings: letting go of drugs initially left me with no walls at all. I surrounded myself with positive thoughts and positive people as a protection. But then it happened: life came calling.
There they were, the three of them: a girl of about 8, a defiantly shirtless man and an old woman with no teeth. The closer they got to the front of my line, the tenser I got: I could how they spoke to the girl, the casual cruelty, and I could not shut it out. It was finally their turn. All I could do was look at her and smile. I wanted her to know that I SAW her. She held out a plastic cup for me to ring up, and said, "It's for Destiny. She's my cousin."
The grandmother whacked the girl's arm and said, "She's nothing to you!" and immediately returned her attention to the young man as he scowled at the girl. Then they both turned their attention back to their private war with each other. I kept smiling at the girl. She stared at me, and it started: big tears rolling down her face, but no sound at all: she was crying without making any noise. I had no more power to save her than I had had to save myself, all those years ago. I remember that I started shaking: I rang them up as fast as I could, hurried through the rest of my customers, and left to go on break.
I went back to the employee bathroom and fell to my knees. I tried to pray but all I could say was, why? Why did You make me see this when I can't help her? I began to beat a slow rhythm on the wall with my closed fist, the bass line to an unbearable pain. Tears squeezed through the sides of my clenched eyes. It took a while to compose myself, but I had to go back to work, so I did. I felt sick and hollow. I could not find my way back to anything that felt like home inside of my own skin. I finished my shift quietly, and walked home.
I was halfway home when it dawned on me: she had given me back my tears. I had to stop and lean against a tree. I wept again, for joy: I knew then. I knew that she had been sent to me. And because she had taught me how to cry again, maybe my son wouldn't have to learn. There was hope of healing after all, even for me.
I have never forgotten her. I never will.