Rivkah Writes…

May 3, 2009

The Opiate of Tears

Filed under: On My Mind — rivkahwrites @ 11:17 am

I’m a big weeper. In fact, I personify all the stereotypical expressions around crying. I “cry as if my heart would break,” “cry my heart out,” “sob uncontrollably,” etc. Ironically, though, the torrents are usually unleashed for the most seemingly banal of reasons. So I cracked “Titanic” jokes while walking calmly down the water-logged staircase on 9/11, and over the years, have applied such composed compassion to a catalogue of domestic shockers including one child’s benign tumor and another’s sexual assault, that my husband has accused me of not caring enough – or clearly, like him, I would be a basket case. Noted.

At any rate, I will sail through these personal challenges seemingly unscathed – and then disintegrate while watching their fictional counterparts. So I’ve sobbed for hours watching Clint Eastwood brokenheartedly pull the plug on his champion boxer-turned-vegetable, Hillary Swank, in “Million Dollar Baby,” or Demi Moore recapture an enchanted moment with her dead boyfriend, Patrick Swayze in “Ghost,” or Carrie Bradshaw’s haunted face post-wedding debacle in the “Sex and the City” movie.

For me, at least, there’s something at once elegiac and cathartic about surrendering to tears. And believe me, like any alcoholic, I’ve suffered for my weakness. Watch anything remotely sad at night and I will awake with the mother of all hangovers – exactly as though I’d spent the night before downing tequilas rather than trying to control my wracking sobs over – get this – someone else’s pain and misery. Once, on a flight from New York to London, I cried so hard over Judy Dench’s depiction of mental disintegration via Alzheimer’s in “Iris,” that upon arrival in London, I had to stop the taxi at least twice to throw up from the impact of headache and nausea that set in about the same time as Judy’s dementia.

So why does it happen, all this crying? Well, I can’t control it, but I understand it all too well. I’m so tightly wound, so controlled, so on top of the logistics of this multi-layered pastiche I call life, as a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, matriarch, writer, not to mention amateur therapist, coordinator of medical services, we-can-fix-it person extraordinaire, one-woman cheerleading squad; I try so hard to bring peace, harmony, health, and happiness into my little universe, that sometimes the flower-power-I-am-so-fine routine begins to crack at the seams. I’ll bravely attempt to stop the leaks with a little (OK, maybe not so little) therapeutic shopping, or a night out with friends, and it works…for a while. Until I sit down to watch that movie – and then all hell breaks loose. So when I weep, it’s not for poor Hillary, Demi, Carrie, or Judy although I feel for them, I do. Ultimately, these characters and their stories unleash the heartbreak I feel for my own soured expectations, disappointed dreams, and anguished self-awareness. They trigger my “what’s it all for?” moments of existential misery, when I feel that my whole life’s been wasted in striving for an elusive dream of beauty and fulfillment that exists in my own mind only…

Very sad. And yet, after an hour or two, I’ll do the Holly Hunter “Broadcast News” thing – stop crying and get back to living. I mean, I just have to. What would happen if I walked around all the time schlepping an existential albatross? I’d end up a DSM Axis I category – crazy (which, one might argue, would be a surrender of a different kind) – and of no earthly use to anyone. And that can’t happen. Not when everyone in my world looks to me to find the answer, to be the answer, the mother lode, the source, the oracle the – OK, I’ll stop now.

So yes, I know why I cry over fictional misery. Still, I’ve become wise to the dangers of abusing the opiate of tears. I avoid sad movies at night, and grimly surf the comedy channels on international flights. I tell myself “think laughter, think happy,” and then I’m safe. But sometimes, when it all gets too much, when I know a new pair of shoes just won’t cut it, I’ll find the right movie, down a Tylenol cocktail, grab a box of tissues, sit back, and prepare to enter the Valley of Emotion – vicariously, of course.

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