Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year. Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!
Prompt for December 9: Cry: Where or why did you cry? Did someone make you cry? Was it happy or sad? Describe a good cry you had in 2011.
I don’t cry often.
For instance, I had only one good cry when I got divorced. I had come back from Washington one weekend, and I took my stuffed monkey out of my suitcase, curled up in my New York bed, and sobbed. I cried into Chachie’s head (the monkey’s name is “Chachie”) — his head that still smelled the way it always had — the way it smelled when I was growing up; the way it smelled on cross-country and transworld flights long forgotten. It smelled like the life I thought I had wanted to lead but hadn’t. It was an olfactory scrapbook — chemicals, and particles; the smell of old houses and new carpet; dust from the Santa Anas and dirt from other storms; the boyfriends I had and hadn’t cared about; my dead grandparents; the cat I had once loved.
I cried until I shook. Until the threadbare spot on the top of Chachie’s head was soaked with my tears. Then I put the monkey back in the bag, put on some makeup, and went on with the night. I never broke down about it again.
But it was the metric by which I judged “crying.”
This April, when everything happened with Bill, I didn’t really cry. I shed a few tears every now and again; I yelled at him a lot, but there was no sobbing. Bill asked me Why?
How is it that a man could measure his worth in a woman’s tears? And really, why?
But I cried a little in September when I saw the blistering rash on my leg — that was a shudder and a gasp, really. And the same when I was faced with the possibility of moving house on 24 hours notice a few weeks ago. I called it “sobbing,” but that’s melodrama. It was more “restrained choking up with some lachrymal spillover.” I like to use the word “sob” — it’s rare that I do it.
By November, everything was as wrong as ever. Was it because I was waterlogged with uncried tears, or was it because they’d all just dried up? One doesn’t escape betrayal and lies and illness and changes in plan and falling out of love with the city she loved and unexpected complications of life without some kind of…release.
Tell me I don’t have to run the marathon, I said to a friend as I panicked before NYC Marathon Weekend, in the hours before I sold my engagement ring. I didn’t think I’d find the release I needed at the end of the race.
You don’t have to run the marathon.
Liar, t-shirts have been made and a party’s been arranged for me, I’ve got to run this stupid thing.
Despite doubts, I decided to run. I convinced a friend in a far-flung time zone to call me and ensure I was awake on Marathon Morning. Waking up to a voice you trust makes it hard to chicken out of things.
The crying part, though, is the bit I’m coming to, and is the point of this story. I choked up when I started running; as I ran over the top deck of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. The brightness of the sun and the water and the singlets of my fellow runners had never popped in clearer, more technicolor bold than they did on that Bridge. And I choked up as I crossed the 59th St Bridge — long my nemesis — because I slayed that demon.
Then I made it through Manhattan and the Bronx; back down into the Park. I crossed the finish line and I saw that I’d finished right around my goal time — despite having been ill, despite the mountains and riots and unfair men and heartbreak throughout the previous six months.
But what you don’t see is the moment between those two scenes; a few steps beyond the finish line. There is no photo of me doubled over, nearly on my knees in choking, gagging sobs. I had just run a 4:37:10 minute marathon in spite of the weeks, months preceding it.
Fuck you! I gasped suddenly. The woman next to me looked at me. We were packed in like animals, sidestepping puddles of emesis and excrement — she had nowhere to go to escape my shouts. And we had to keep walking. I cried as I walked — chest-wracking, gut-heaving sobs — with snot and the words fuck you flying out of my face.
Fuck you, and you and you and you. Fuck you, doubters, and you, doubt. Fuck you, jetlag, and you, illness. Fuck the marriage that failed; fuck the things I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, and the things I didn’t do at all. Fuck you.
I pulled myself together as I walked through the chute; towards my friends and my team.
My friends snapped the photo above, then we all walked back towards my apartment, so I could shower before dinner. I went into the bedroom, picked up my stuffed monkey, and buried my nose in his head before I got in the shower to get clean.
Running the Marathon wasn’t an antidote to a poisonous year. I learned, through running, that it is easy to chicken out of things — even if you show up, there are myriad ways to fail to be present. Running isn’t inherently a release — you have to be there for it to let you let go. I hadn’t even been showing up. I’d been sleeping through my alarm. And as the sweat and tears and streetgrime came off in the shower, I was awake; I was present; I had been…released.
While I am sure that this isn’t news, I can tell you for certain that the good stuff happens at the finish line: beginnings and endings; hope and triumph; closure and moving on. And occasionally, a good, clean cry, and the chance to say FUCK YOU to a miserable year.