By Lisabet Sarai
I cry easily. In fact, it’s embarrassing how often I dissolve into teariness. Almost any strong emotion is enough to set me off.
Of course I cry from grief or sadness. The loss of a loved one or a pet—one of the all too frequent natural, or unnatural, disasters that wreaks havoc among the innocent—even a sad movie can make me cry. I remember being hit with fits of weeping for weeks after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (which killed over 200,000 people). And I was holding back sobs at the end of The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s exquisite animation about war, flight and love.
But anger also evokes my tears. I don’t yell or get violent when I’m really mad; I cry. An incident a few years ago comes to mind. There was a used bookstore I frequented, which would give you credit toward new purchases in exchange for books you’d read and returned to them. I had saved up about thirty bucks in credits and was gleefully looking forward to a buying spree. However, when I arrived at the shop, I discovered that the bookstore had been sold to new owners. The new management refused to honor my credit slips. I was furious. I argued with them for a while, to no avail. Finally I headed home, tears streaming down my cheeks as I walked along the sidewalk plotting how I’d trash them on social media. (I didn’t.) (However, I refuse to set foot in that bookstore ever again.)
Frustration is probably the most common reason I cry. When I can’t get some piece of software to work, or when my students continue to fail exams despite my devoting huge amounts of time to them, or when some recipe I spend hours preparing turns out to be inedible, I may well weep. In fact, I sometimes throw tantrums, much to my long-suffering husband’s distress. Stress from over-commitment and looming deadlines will also trigger a crying jag.
I really should act more mature. After all, I’m old enough to be a grandmother. On the other hand, I’d rather be the sort of person who expresses emotions freely than one who holds everything in. At least my crying fits these days, especially the less appropriate ones, tend to be short. For one thing, they really take it out of me physically. Ten minutes screaming, crying and railing against my fate will leave me exhausted and hoarse, with burning eyes and a runny nose.
As I sat down to write this post, I realized that unlike me, my characters rarely cry. That’s not for lack of tragedy or angst, either. Stella Xanathakeos in Exposure nearly dies in an arson attack that totally destroys the house she inherited from her father, her only asset. She responds not with tears but with emotional numbness that even love can’t dispel. Kyle McLaughlin in Necessary Madness is destitute, homeless and plagued with horrifying, prophetic visions of disasters. He tries to commit suicide, but he never sheds a tear. In Mastering Maya, the heroine is raped and betrayed by her master. To cope, she trains herself to be a Dominant, so detached and precise she earns the nickname “The Ice Queen”.
In fact, I can only think of one published scene in which a character succumbs to tears, in my erotic romance The Ingredients of Bliss. And Emily has a good excuse. Her lovers have been kidnapped by a brutal Hong Kong gang. The captors are threatening to kill the two men unless Emily can recover a load of narcotics stolen from the syndicate by another gangster—dope that has already been passed on to a buyer.
Emily’s not the sort of woman to sink into despair for very long, though.
It was barely two. Toni had promised to come fetch me at four-thirty. After the feverish activity of the last thirty-six hours, I wasn’t sure what to do in the interim.I glanced around. At this hour, I was the café’s sole customer. One waiter hung out behind the bar, peering at his mobile and ignoring me.All at once, I felt utterly alone.Roger had called the Tastes of France team back to the States. No one knew how long it would be before Etienne and Harry were freed, and meanwhile, we didn’t want one of the crew to let the secret slip. If the police decided to take another look at the case, the Triad might respond by cutting their losses—and their prisoners’ throats.We broadcast the official story that Etienne was in isolation due to complications from influenza. Apparently, the studio had been deluged with get well cards and messages of sympathy.I’d stayed in France ‘out of concern for my colleague’, a tale that only confirmed the popular assumption that Etienne and I were a couple. Meanwhile, Harry was such a low key presence—at least outside the bedroom—that nobody even seemed to realize he’d disappeared.Nobody but me, that is. I hadn’t had time think much about my Master since we’d spoken two days ago. Now it hit me, like a speeding train with failed brakes—sharp fear and terrible need. My beloved, rumpled, horny, bossy Harry! There was some possibility I’d never see him again. That he, or I, might not get out of this alive.My stomach lurched and a sour taste filtered up into my throat. This wasn’t a game of Go. One false step and his life could be forfeit. I liked to imagine I was clever, some sort of woman of international intrigue, bargaining with the Iron Hammer as if I had the upper hand. But what did I have, really? Nothing. No drugs. No weapons. Nothing to offer in trade for Harry’s life. Nothing I could use to protect him.Hysteria built in my chest. Tears blurred my vision. I had to get out of here. I tossed a twenty onto the table and ran for the elevator before the storm burst.Back in my room, the floodgates opened. I sobbed and wailed, face down on the bed, until the pillow was soaked with tears. A fit of hiccups seized me. My moan became a silly yelp with each rhythmic clench of my diaphragm.‘Get hold of yourself, girl.’ I could almost hear my grandmother, scolding me. ‘Crying won’t help.’Closing my swollen eyes, I breathed deeply, trying to will the spasms away, along with my despair. I needed a clear mind for what was to come. Fear would only muddle my thoughts and corrupt my judgment. Gradually my panic ebbed. I released it, grateful for my Dragon training.
That’s it. The whole crying scene lasts four short paragraphs. It’s a bit weird.
Maybe my characters are changing, though. The Ingredients of Bliss is a rather recent novel. In my current WIP, The Gazillionaire and the Virgin, both main characters succumb to tears, albeit briefly. In this case, the stimulus is lost or thwarted love—a standard in romance. They may well cry again before the book is finished.
Which reminds me—to meet the publication deadline, I have to finish the manuscript in the next two weeks. With at least 15K to go, that feels impossible. I’ve got to get to work on it, right now. But I hate working under stress.
I think I feel a tantrum coming on...