There’s a woman crying on the bus. She’s trying to hide it, but the breathing gives it away. Not the sniffles of a persistent cold, or the snortiness of laughter, but the hitching gasps of a good sob. A sob that is straining forth, wanting to break free, but she denies it.
This is Minnesota, we don’t cry in public here. We come from sterner stock, virtuous stoicism in our Nordic blood. The thing is if we cry in public, people will look, and wonder why, and maybe think that we don’t have it together: we aren’t making enough money or we think our partners don’t love us or our partners really don’t love us and have been gone a year now. Or we haven’t had a date in a decade and there’s no cure for being so damn lonely. Or it’s mid-April and snowing with no whisper of spring.
I used to be afraid of crying in public. I held my tears in, clenched my teeth to stay quiet, bit the insides of my cheeks so that I could taste only physical pain. Years ago, on a night plane back from Vienna, leaving my girlfriend, I sobbed into a tissue until it disintegrated, waving away the flight attendant who tried to offer comfort. Don’t acknowledge me. Don’t validate my pain or right to exist.
Now, I let everyone see it: let my face scrunch freely, not hidden behind my hands; let the tears run without furiously wiping them as quickly as they can fall; let the snot bubbble from my nose like someone really uncivilized. Go ahead, look. Stare. Speculate. “What is wrong with that lady? Why doesn’t she go home and do that? Why doesn’t she have anyone to help her? Should I help her? I’m probably too busy, I have my own problems.”
If you’re crying in public, I’ll offer you a tissue. I’ll put my arm around you, if you want, I’ll ask you where it hurts. You can tell me, or you can tell me to leave you alone, or you can say nothing and just let yourself be held. You lay your sorrow on my back, I will bear it. It’ll be me who needs you tomorrow or next week or years from now, after all.