Monday, November 28, 2011


I followed Mom outside, but folded my arms across my chest when I got to the car. “I still don’t see why I have to go.”

“Because I said so.” Pop’s voice boomed. He held to door open and pointed to the back seat.

The Foster’s garage was open. I could hear guitars, so I knew the guys were inside.

“Why don’t you try asking me for once instead of ordering me around? This isn’t the military,” I yelled. I knew I was being stupid, but couldn’t stop. “Being in the same room with those people makes me sick. Have you ever listened to them? They’re proud of what they did, the Holocaust. Bunch of murderers. They’re so smug, because they got away with it, and given the chance, they’d do it again. Makes me want to puke!”

The music from the garage stopped.

Sensing that we had an audience, Pop got into my face and told me through clenched teeth, “Get in the damn car. Now!”

My knees shook, but I held my ground.

Pop shoved me toward the car. I stumbled and slammed my cheek against the sharp metal corner of the door. My face went numb, but I could feel glorious hurt about to bloom in scarlet shards under my eye. Fracture lines seemed to branch through my skull like cracking ice on a pond. I stood there blinking, waiting for the barrier between me and pain to shatter.

For a moment, a brief fraction of a second, Pop almost looked worried. Then he bumped my wrist with his. "What are you going to do?" he demanded. “Huh? Huh?” Each “huh” was accompanied by another smack of our forearms, harder every time. "Huh? Huh? You gonna cry like a little baby? Huh? Huh?"

Well, yes. As soon as time, which was held in suspense by shock, unfroze, I planned to wail like a banshee. Until he said that.

"You gonna cry? Little baby? Huh? Boo-hoo. Let's see you cry."

I drew a long breath in through my nose and wished God would strike him dead. Burn in hell, old man. Burn.

Satisfied that he’d shamed me out of a scene, Pop said, "Get in the car."

Time caught up and pain rushed to fill the vacuum. How could throbbing hurt so much? I collapsed into the back seat.

Pop slammed the door shut and got into the car. Mom sat rigid in the front passenger seat, staring ahead as if there were nothing to see.

Tony must have gone inside to tell his mom that Pop and I were fighting, because she ran out onto their lawn. Tony stood beside her, his hands darting as he talked. His mother’s expression didn’t change, but the weight of the world seemed to settle on the corners of her eyes.

Pop pulled out of the driveway, his hands clutched tight around the steering wheel.

Mrs. Foster's mouth formed the words, “Are you okay?”

Just knowing that someone cared enough to ask was huge. Smiling hurt, so I touched the window with my fingertips and nodded. When she was out of sight, my fingers curled to my palm and I turned away from the window.

This scene is in a young adult novel I wrote a couple years ago. It's a memory though, not fiction.

While R probably believed me when I told him about the weird stuff my parents did, I'm sure he thought my imagination and adolescent hormones put it out of perspective. Then he heard Pop say almost these exact same words to my emotionally fragile nephew a few years ago. His eyes widened as he turned to me, horrified, finally understanding.

I know that I should try to unlearn everything I was taught about emotions when I lived with those people. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling of deep shame when I cry. Crying means that you're defeated. If you cry when you're happy, your happiness is forever tainted by your weakness. If you cry when you're hurt, you're a worthless loser. When you cry, you failed to keep yourself under proper control and you disgust everyone who has to see it. So even now, if I cry at a movie, I go to great lengths to hide it. The same thing at funerals. And oh lord how I hate ads for Hallmark cards because for some reason, they always make me tear up. Bastards.

I still feel silly about it, but the one time I'll let the tears flow is when I'm writing. If my characters are sad, I'm sad with them. When they're devastated, I'm a wreck, because it can take days or weeks to write my way out of a scene, and a pall of emotion hangs over me the entire time. Maybe I subconsciously push my characters into situations that bring on the tears so I can let them fall without shame. Who knows?

I hate the way I look when I cry. I hate the way my nose runs and the burning in the corner of my eyes. But I do like the release it brings, as if tears wash away the extremes of emotion and bring a sense of calm. Maybe that's what Pop was trying to stop when he stopped my tears.


  1. Kathleen,

    I feel like I should turn away. Like I'm looking at you naked and raw, and it's wrong for me to see this deeply into you and your past.

    I'm grateful you have your writing. Because everyone needs to cry sometimes.

  2. Lisabet - It's not as if you're peering though my window. Or if you are, I'm the one who opened the curtains. The past has power, but so do words. In the balance, words win.

  3. This is why we write ... thank you for sharing your Self.

  4. Widdershins (I love your name) thank you for reading.

  5. Its amazing the scars we bear from our growing up. And crying when you write shows that you're in the zone, you're working down where the truth is for your characters and yourself.


  6. Garce - can you tell that this was back when I believed in God? I guess if I didn't have that slim hope that help was coming eventually, I would have been more meticulous in my suicide attempts. Some people will say that's proof of God. I say that proves that delusion springs eternal.

  7. My father was old-school from Scotland, and he also believed in emotional expression being a sign of weakness, which is why he had no respect for women or my mother.

    Me? I've read about the healing release of toxic hormones that exit the body through tears. Proof positive that there really IS such a thing as "a good cry".

  8. Fiona - I think so too. I just wish my nose didn't get so red.


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