The beauty queen’s hands jump to her lip-glossed mouth in a fit of victory, tears running down her lacquered face, shoulders thrown back in pride and victory, her hand steadying the crooked crown. Her crying will last all of a minute and soon her life will stabilize, perhaps blossoming from the experience. The hard-laughing man will try to repeat the joke he heard to his co-workers the next day at the office with varying success, no doubt laughing harder than his audience does. His tears had already stopped last night the moment he drank another swig of his beer
However, the father who just lost his son in Beslan, that pretty young widow, or the woman who mourns her primary companion will never be far from their tears, ones that have a shelf life of canned soup, sobs that will sneak up without a moment’s hesitation. Those are howls: hearing a song that evokes every memory of everything you’ve lost, to see a picture that has its moment frozen in time -- a time in which you’d rather be, or a scent that rushes past your nose just long enough to beckon the return of what was once the center of your life.
Tears of joy have a proud posture. There’s little hiding them, no need to, even among men, and they flow openly down cheeks without shame. Tears of grief, though, are solitary. They’re thick, yellow, snot-filled wailings --something as I had two weeks ago from which I’ve yet to recover.
It had been building up for a few weeks. I could feel it. I always do. I was watching an episode of Nip/Tuck, a show I glance at just enough to keep up with the story, when one of the main characters had a near-death experience. I wanted to switch it off but there was no turning back. I was in too deep. My crying started but then I wrote my letter to Billy. I didn’t tell him my day’s events or how much I missed him as usually I do. It was nothing but questions that night.
Was it beautiful for you? Did you feel a sense of relief? Or peace? Was there the white light? Were your mom and dad there to meet you? Is that when you knew what happened? What was the last thing you saw when you were here? Did you say anything? Did it hurt? Did you call out for me? Were you scared? Did your mommy take you by the hand? Were you still there when I came in that morning? Or had you already settled into your new way of being? Are you still Billy? My honey bunny? Did you see Bob coming? Was he happy to see you? Are you okay? Are you safe? Are you happy? When it’s my time, do you promise to be the first one I see?
I love you, Bill Ledbetter
I closed my book of letters. Hunched over, gasping for air, I made my way to the bathroom, mopping my face with toilet paper. It’s been said that you should never look into the mirror while crying for you may fall in love with your own pain. I didn’t heed that warning. I stared at myself, saw a familiar stranger, and went back to the couch where I glazed at the news. There was no love for my pain, just a resignation that my cupboard would always have a can of soup.