Soundtracking: Crying in Public
Nothing is simultaneously as embarrassing and relieving as letting the waterworks flow for the entire world to see.
Yes, I know everyone is staring and whispering about this grown child (I am in no way a grown man, so I guess this’ll have to do) breaking down and sobbing rather loudly on the fourth floor of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. But if you think about it, it’s pretty beautiful that everyone trying to study is witnessing my cynical, 20-year-old shell melt away.
Sometimes it be like that. Some days it’s stressing about work, some days it’s the inner psyche knocking, some days it’s because I can’t find my second glove. Life is overwhelming sometimes and a good sob is some pretty solid medicine.
I’m not talking about crying at the movie theater. Everyone does that. You aren’t special. I cried last week while watching a certain movie with an infamous peach scene.
For starters, when you expect to cry at a movie based on what you’ve already heard about it, it is a largely anticipated action. You prepare. You grab extra napkins on the way into the theater. You wear your fuzzy crying sweater (everyone has one of those, right?) and every fiber in your being is prepared. On top of the anticipation, many other people in the theater are also crying. The other sniffles give you solace and let you know you aren’t alone. The best is when one person out of everyone in the theater isn’t crying. Then they feel left out while everyone releases their inhibitions à la Natasha Bedingfield.
Get a heart, Tin Man.
While cathartic, I get much more satisfaction after the fact when the cry comes out of nowhere. It’ll suck in the moment but when it’s over, you walk forward with a new outlook on life.
And your face is squeaky clean.
I think it’s safe to say everyone at this University has cried in public at least once. If this isn’t the case, I have cried enough to cover at least four or five people bottling up their feelings. In the wise words of John Mulaney, “I’ll just keep all my emotions right here and then one day, I’ll die.” Stress just hits you every once in a while. Let that shit go.
When I’m in the middle of a book, all responsibilities fall by the wayside (besides this column of course). This was indeed the case recently. When I finished a heart-wrenching autobiography by poet and musician Patti Smith, I was at peace. Then, I thought for two seconds about how much work I had skipped over because I couldn’t stop reading. I had so much to catch up on and the thought made me buy a one-way ticket to Sobsville. I was riding first-class, getting served tissues and blankets and pints of ice cream while I composed myself.
After, I was ready to work. You just need that mini freak-out to drive you to get shit done.
But this cry is caused by stress. Stress is terrifying and everyone should acknowledge it as such.
I am more baffled by the cries that come out of left field. I can’t really justify it by saying I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Sometimes cries smack you upside the head with no explanation.
I’ll set the scene. I’m walking through Angell Hall after lecture, just got out. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly great lecture, but nothing that happened in class would reasonably be sad or stressful. It’s not like my voice cracked in the middle of lecture or anything like that. That would be absolutely ridiculous and I would definitely sob after that.
I’m walking through the halls and I walk past the vending machines. Another student is staring at the options, carefully weighing which high-in-sodium snack she has a hankering for today. Completely normal action. As I pass, I watch her type in the number of the corresponding snack on the keypad. It should be a successful transaction if she concentrated. Just then, tragedy rears its wicked head.
The moment the machine registers the number the student chose, it begins to dispense the snack. It turns out the student misread the snack she wanted and hit the wrong number, resulting in a different outcome than she had planned. With her head hung low, she bends down and reluctantly takes the snack she never truly wanted and walks away. I stop dead in my tracks.
This shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be affected this way. It was just a snack. She’ll still get some food, even if it wasn’t what she specifically wanted. It was a happy outcome. I squeeze my fists like the Arthur meme, trying to stop whatever is going on in this physiological reaction.
I can feel my ducts welling up. My bottom lip becomes incredibly heavy, weighing my entire face down. I start clearing my throat, trying to mask my voice breaking.
Students walk around me. I’m sure I pissed off some kid late for class because I was just standing still in the hallway, staring at a vending machine and the ghost of the previous transaction. But I wasn’t even conscious. I just wanted everything to pause like in Adam Sandler’s classic piece of American cinema “Click.” I needed a minute to compose myself.
The first tear is almost ready to break free from the prison that is my tear duct. To be fair, the guards in this prison are incredibly loose, with inmates leaving all the time but this specific first tear has been in the pen for a minute. It is ready to bask in the glorious fluorescent light of Angell Hall.
Still blocking the flow of students, I know we’re past the point of no return. It’s going to happen whether I want it to or not. At this point, I don’t really have time to do any soul searching to try and connect this vending machine incident with any specific moment from my childhood in a path of free association. All I know is this tear is going to fall and I am going to have to handle it. At least I don’t have anywhere to be.
Three, two, one. Blastoff.
And the floodgates are open! It’s a free-for-all at this point. I finally pick up my feet and run into the Fishbowl. Somehow, I find a seat in those comically large swivel chairs so I can attempt to shield myself from the computer lab patrons.
One caveat to that plan, however. The Fishbowl earned its name because it’s completely surrounded by glass. Every passerby in the hallway is watching me shed many tears all because someone chose the wrong selection in the vending machine. Droplets stain my shirt and I am confident enough to say I am an incredibly ugly crier. I’m basically that photo of Kim K.
You know the one.
Finally, I have run out of tears and I can move on with my day. While the reasoning didn’t have a lot of logic, I feel … free.
I have cried many a river, but when I step outside in the winter months after a good cry and the cold breeze stings my cheeks, I feel cleansed. All of my worries dripped down my face one by one and now I’m dry, ready to think constructively about the best ways to make sure I am keeping up with my mental health.
I can’t let the worries of the world drag my shoulders farther and farther into the dirt. Sometimes, a cry is just what I need.
It’s not usually expected, but when it happens, I’m grateful for my fucked-up psyche.