This recent piece on crying in public in The New York Times struck a chord. In the past I have noted that one of the advantages to living in New York is that you can cry with impunity on the streets. No one will care.
The writer of the NYT piece, Melissa Febos, also raises another public UncMo: tripping on the street. The public wipeout elicits a different response from open weeping: you’re more likely to be ignored on the latter, and you want to be ignored; but with tripping, people usually reach out -- and if they don't, you feel even worse. Somehow, this unspoken rule makes perfect sense.
I don’t cry while going about my business in public these days as much as I used to. There are many possible reasons for this: I don’t live in New York anymore, I’m not an emotional wreck of a twentysomething anymore, I have developed a new inner strength, and/or some tender, precious part of me has simply died. Take your pick. But on a recent day, a freight train of tears hit me, and it would not be deterred by the presence of strangers’ eyes.
It started in a yoga class, at the very end. There is a part in many of the classes between the resting period and sitting up, where the teacher tells us to roll onto our right sides and pause there. This is where I’m mostly likely to tear up, or want to. It’s a fetal position, and to me, there are only two things you do in a fetal position: sleep, or sob.
On this particular day, I couldn’t hold it back at fetal time. I’d been fussing and fighting the whole week, and it all finally overtook me. I barely got my quivering lip through the last of the class and had to turn to the corner of the room at the end. Hard to tell if anyone saw me. If they did, they decided to let me alone.
The jag continued along P Street as I walked to the grocery store. I once again composed myself (sort of) before walking into the store (because somehow, crying on the street is more OK than crying in an indoor public place) and walked up to one of the counters to get some meat. The guy took my order, and as he was wrapping the meat, he said, "Are you OK?"
I hadn’t expected this – I mean I knew I didn’t look OK, but in a city (and especially if you’ve trained in public crying in New York), you aren’t prepared to be called out on it. "Yeah," I said.
This did not satisfy him. "Are you sure?" he said.
I repeated the lie, but by this point the tears were coming again, because my pitiful guts had been reflected back to me, and there was no stuffing them back in now. But I wasn’t exactly going to get into a heart to heart on the spot with the meat guy. I wasn’t even capable of saying, "No, it's been a rough day." So instead, I said the thing that was completely untrue, but also less likely to increase my visibility. Another rule of public crying: As long as you don’t make contact with anyone, or acknowledge that anyone can see you, you are invisible.
I took my purchase from him, corners of my mouth turned down, eyes watering, feeling that I was now not only pitiful, but a closed-off liar. I weeped on through the rest of the store, getting it together for the cashier and promising myself I would really let it out when I got home. And here's where another truism about public crying comes into play: When you're finally in private and have the freedom to let it all out, you can't anymore.
There are many times I’m publicly happy, too: laughing or smiling to myself while I’m alone. But I get more self-conscious about that than I do about crying or looking sad. After all, I don’t want to seem crazy or something.
Music: "Tracks of My Tears"