Crying out of sadness is a predominantly human phenomenon. Any animal with tear ducts can produce tears, but few do it as an emotional response. Unlike animals, people produce tears over death, heartbreak, sickness, and life’s general miseries. In our social world tears are recognizable, understandable. My eyes produce plenty of tears, usually allergy related, but I’ve never been good at crying.
I was five when one of my great aunts died. At the viewing people walked up to the body and began to sob. I sat next to my grandmother and watched the mourners dab at their eyes with flimsy pieces of tissue. I shyly whispered to my grandmother, “Can we go up there?” She wrapped my little hand inside her long, thick fingers and guided me up the aisle toward a line of crying women. When it came my turn to walk up, I peered over the shiny, black edges of the coffin. Standing on my tip-toes, I could see her big, white face and her delicate hands, folded neatly across her lap. The wrinkles on my great aunt’s face were so textured and intriguing that I reached out to touch them. Her face was cold and waxy. I thought I saw her chest heave, but I wasn’t scared. I wanted to sit there with her for a bit longer, but another group of teary-eyed mourners was forming behind me. I willed the tears to come so that I could prove myself worthy to stay. I directed all my energy to my eyeballs, but nothing came. Soon I was pushed aside by the sobbing mourners. The lucky ones—I now think—the ones who knew how to show their pain.
Even as an adult the tears won’t come. They don’t come after a break-up or a death. All those tears sit dormant inside me. Then, for no particular reason, I will be alone, probably in my car, and feel as if a tiny bug has crawled into my eye. It begins to scratch its way out. My eyes begin to itch. I wipe the itch away. If someone happens to be around, which they usually aren’t, then I’ll say “I must be sleepy.” But if I’m alone, I’ll ride the itch out until a few drops of water trickle down my face.
The appropriate times to cry elude me, so I drink my grief. It’s a logical alternative. Both actions have the same end result – dehydration. I crack the seal on a new bottle of Old Grandad whiskey. I load a glass with crushed ice and pour the brown liquor slowly, deliberately. The smell of burned wood wafts from the glass. I lift it up and fill my mouth, letting the sweet, pungent liquid rush down my throat. Everything feels dull and fuzzy as I crush the ice between my teeth. I drink my sorrow, one glass at a time. I drink until the harsh, straight edges of the world become soft and blurred.
It’s a different way to cope.
Alyssa Ross spent her early years in Guntersville, AL before moving to Virginia. Alyssa is currently finishing her MFA in creative nonfiction at George Mason University, where she teaches Composition 101 and edits the popular food-zine, AnEasySpread.