“The important thing is that nobody saw you cry,” my mom kindly consoled me over the phone, after I told her how I had behaved like a drunk toddler at my friend’s wedding the night before.
“But mom, that’s just it, everyone saw me cry,” I tried to explain to her quietly, not wanting the couple having brunch next to me to hear.
“What?” my mom hollered back, slowly enunciating in the way older people distrusting technology tend to do at the slightest sign of interference.
“Everyone saw me cry,” I said a little louder this time.
“Where are you? I can’t hear you. I think we’re breaking up,” I clearly heard her say without the slightest hint of static or pending drop call.
“EVERYONE SAW ME CRY,” I shouted back, causing the chattering brunchers to stop and look at me, hints of tipsy pity filtering out from behind their sunglasses.
What could I do? It was true. The night before, everyone had seen me cry at my friend Susan’s wedding. The DJ she found at her hip salon’s anniversary party. The wedding photographer who insisted on taking “do-over” photos of all the guests. The waitress who kept refilling my champagne glass. My friend who had taken me out of the co-ed bathroom into a hallway so my sobbing might go unnoticed. Oh, and the minister who just happened to be my ex, the guy that for five years of my life I had thought I was going to marry and had struggled so hard to get over. They all saw me cry.
Like most folks do when they know they are in over their head, I had mentally prepared for the wedding for weeks. I knew my ex was getting internet-ordained so that he could wed the couple, so I knew for certain that he’d be there, not only as a guest, but as the person charged with honoring other people’s love. Preparation had meant a sort of mental workout in which I spent my free time predicting all the possible outcomes of seeing him. Maybe I’d faint into the peanut butter chocolate cake just from the total shock of how bad he looked now? Or, perhaps, I could build a fort with the autumn-themed centerpiece and hide from the party like I once did at my 7-year-old birthday?
Unfortunately for the rest of the people in my life, I didn’t only do mental exercises to prepare. I also redirected all conversations to the conundrum of seeing my ex as a priest at a wedding. When I bumped into the most stylish girl from my high school, I ended up in a dressing room with her picking out the perfect “I’m sexy but no longer interested in you” dress. When I told my dad at a steak joint, he offered this advice: “Sometimes you never get over heartbreak” and asked me if I thought the air-conditioning was on too high before squeezing a lime into his Diet Coke. My therapist told me he could be reached by text message when need be, and my mom offered me anti-anxiety pills. “The label says to take one, but I find you can really take three,” she advised.
I should have known that these weeks of preparation meant that it would end as a disaster and kindly dismissed myself from attending the wedding with some polite lie like my OCD uncle was coming into town and if I didn’t bleach all the seats in my house he’d refuse to sit, only to collapse after his bad knee gave out. But I had already attended two bachelorette parties, helped the bride select her dress, and, plus, I was really looking forward to the possibility of seeing ladies in beautiful dresses sliding around in their socks on the dance floor once they removed their shoes. A rare sight that only weddings routinely fulfill.
And so, I went to the wedding, foolishly leaving the anxiety pills in my underwear drawer next to my collection of lint rollers and travel toothbrushes. Once at the wedding, I could already sense my mistake in the way the sloppily shaven hairs on my legs prickled hidden under my maroon tights. As soon as I could feel the tasteful white folding chair underneath me, I started eyeing where I imagined the bar would be set up after the ceremony. No, I thought, they wouldn’t put it by the DJ because the foot traffic would inevitably preclude slow-dancing under the covertly hidden mood lights, and it couldn’t be behind the curtain where they were hiding the dinner tables because that would mean the clinking of bottles would interrupt the dining guests asking each other if they knew the bride or the groom.
There! I realized. It has to be there in the southeast corner, over by the window. I started to mentally calculate the number of dance floor tiles between me and my first drink.
Soon, everyone hushed and took their seats, except for the groom and my ex who stood in the front of the room, wiping their hands down their suit jackets. Music was played and various relatives joyfully strode down the aisle. The bride looked resplendent. The groom looked 12, but then again close shave most men and put them into formal wear and they’re bound to look as if their mom dressed them.
As the priest, it was my ex’s duty to exalt the joys of love. When he started talking about the couple’s secret to lasting love (“One word: Everything. They share everything,” he said) and his own desire for such a symbiotic relationship, I tried not to think of him basking in front of a fireplace of eternal happiness with his own painfully thin girlfriend. Instead I employed a trick my mom had recently described to me: “When you start to get nervous, imagine that he is really, really small. Like Stewart Little small. And in your mind, pick him up and place him on a lily pad on a river and send him down the river.” When I asked her what that would do for me, she admitted she wasn’t exactly sure, but at the very least it always made her laugh to do it.
During the ceremony I actually only cried once. And it was a totally socially appropriate cry — when the groom’s mother and father sang their heartfelt blessing to the couple. And by the time the black-clad waiters served me my choice of meat or fish, I was one glass of wine in and thinking, I’m going to make it. I’m going to make it to the end of this gracefully. And so when another waiter suggested he top off my glass, I didn’t wave him away, but gulped it down without a worry.
There are moments that you look back at and can see your foolishness, as if in slow motion, that you play out for years to follow. You want to say to your past self, You’re not really okay! It’s just the fancy silk dress and layer of makeup that has you confused! For god’s sake memory-me, pour that glass of wine into my soup and let me continue to make polite conversation about your dinner mate’s cat’s new haircut. But instead of changing the past, you just watch the memory and wait for the grand teary finale.
When the speeches and dinner were done, the dance floor lights dimmed and the couples shyly followed the bride and groom’s lead of tentatively slow dancing. I opted to perch against the wall in a manner that I prayed suggested both excitement at the evident romance in the air and acceptance of my own position as one of approximately three dateless attendees. Acceptance required also allowing the roaming waiter to top off my glass of champagne every time he went to the bar to re-up his tray. My ex, also dateless, joined me at my encampment and we began to catch up in the mundane safe way that people who know each other too well have to do in order to avoid the slightest hint of intimacy intermingled with suggestions that life was in fact far better now that we are no longer a couple: “I bought an expensive futon for the new place that is both comfortable to sleep on and sit on, you know the kind I always wanted.”
The tempo of the music picked up, and I had the urge to dance in a harmless, non-touching way and smiling stupidly asked him to join me. “I’d love to,” he said putting the palm of his hand on my back in just the same way he used to when I started to get faint at the sight of blood or overwhelmed by the size of the crowd. “But I can’t because I’m afraid I’d like it too much.”
I find that the thing about crying is you never know exactly what triggered it. You look for the tipping points later, but the truth is you didn’t know it was coming, because if you did, you certainly wouldn’t have chosen to stand on the brightly lit dance floor waiting for the tears flow. No, you would have hidden like a good puritan girl if you had any idea that you’d end up in the doorless co-ed bathroom repeatedly pressing the hand dryer to hide the heaving breaths coming out of your chest.
First I start to make the heavy breathing of a horse gearing up to charge in battle, then I start to whimper in a voice that sounds like I’ve been huffing helium, and then lastly, I tend to get real low to the ground as if balling up will make the horrid noises coming from my body any less obvious.
I find that crying is tantamount to going into a hypnotic state on a daytime TV show where they make you cluck like a chicken and reveal all the grit of your past to an audience of sweaty women. You know something is happening that you have no control over, sympathetic women are likely to come up to you and say supportive refrains that they have taped to the fridge at home, and your memories of the moment are primarily based on what on-lookers swore to you happened. Because of this, you only know a few things for sure. For me, this amounts to: I cried and everyone saw.
For the most part, by your mid-20s, polite society has taught you that tears are best had (quietly enough so that prying neighbors don’t call 3-1-1 to report a noise disturbance) in the privacy of your own tiny apartment. Everyone in their 20s is striving so hard to “make it” and figure out “who they are” that they have little time for your dramatic embodiment of soul-searching. Because of this, though, we hear about mental breakdowns after the participant has already started her master cleanse and found what she was searching for in a pair of unflattering yoga pants, we never actually see them or at least we don’t like to.
My ex cried too, actually, but in keeping with his time-honored tradition of always doing everything better than me, the only ones that saw him do so were me and a security guy who told us that the wedding was officially over and we had to leave. My ex went with the rest of the party to a bar across the street, and so I followed, demanding that we “talk” about us, a demand that he agreed to once the majority of our friends had left. But once we got out of the bar, had walked a bit down the block, and we were already starting to argue, he took off running through the clogged streets of Manhattan. I tried to chase him, crying harder as I ran, but he kept ducking behind cars and making odd turns so I couldn’t catch up. It didn’t help that I had worn heels for the first time in months, borrowed from a friend because they matched my dress and were too small, meaning my toes were slightly overlapping.
I was alone, drunk, and so I wobbled and sniffled my way to the train. But while waiting for the train, something unexpected happened—a handsome guy asked me why I was crying. Through a thick veil of incoherence, I struggled to tell him, to which he kindly said something to the effect of “Oh, don’t worry. When you get older it will get better. You’ll see. All of a sudden, you just stop behaving like that.” I glowed at his wisdom, and, wanting more details on when this shimmering adult moment would come, asked him old he was. Turns out he was two years younger than me. Shit. Not as unhinged by this discovery as I was, he took out his cellphone and asked me for my number. “I’ve got a younger brother that is going through a real older woman stage and I think you two would be great together.”
My mother called me back later the next day, “Bravo,” she said, and I thought I could hear a hint of clapping in the background. This wouldn’t be unheard of — my mother tends to adopt the language of Oprah when things get tough. “I just wanted to call and tell you Bravo!” More clapping mixed in with the sounds of her getting on the train to go downtown. “In our family, we are not good at showing our emotions, and I just think it’s great that you overcame this and it doesn’t matter whether you sink or swim, sometimes you just have to know when to show your cards.” I knew by her final mixed metaphor that not only was she being totally sincere, but that she was maybe even sorta right.