I’ve always been the crier in my family, a trait I attribute to a crying gene inherited from my Filipina mother. After all, crying is a sport in the Philippines, and my mom has been a player in the game for as long as I can remember.
When I was about four or five years old, I remember seeing photographs of my grandmother’s funeral. Wailing women surrounded the frail, tiny corpse. I had never known my grandmother, so it was easy to view the pictures as if they were photos of another culture from National Geographic. I found it fascinating to see such grief on so many women’s faces and, well, no men’s faces at all. In fact, I don’t remember seeing a single person of the male persuasion lurking in the foreground, middle ground, or background of any of the funeral pictures. I realize now it was machismo that prevented the Filipino men from openly grieving. My own father didn’t even really cry when his mother passed away. But then, he had seven sisters and my mother to do all the crying for him.
My mom cries at the first mention of anyone she knows who is suffering, has suffered, is injured, has been injured, is dead, or is near death. This includes acquaintances of acquaintances, and people on the nightly news. When I was little, her tears fascinated me. As I got older, they embarrassed me.
But I soon felt the effects of my own Filipina crying gene. I cried throughout childhood. I was volatile as an angst-ridden teenager and soul-searching as a twenty-something. At some point, I felt the power of my heritage coursing through my tear ducts and realized my crying was much larger than my small self—to survive, I must surrender. I began to view my susceptibility to crying as a gift, akin to those talents given to visionaries or great thinkers. Perhaps, I thought, I could use this gift in the creation of great art, maybe poetry or fiction, possibly acting. But I soon learned I couldn’t really write great poetry or fiction, and I was, at best, a marginal actor.
I was left with my crying gene and a normal life.
I think when Dave and I first started dating, he saw my tears as an indication of empathy and idealism. He liked it when I would cry during the sad parts of movies, because then I would put my head on his big strong shoulder and cuddle closer to him. I’m sure he believed only a good and kind heart produces tears—and who wouldn’t want someone with so much feeling inside? After dating for a few years, we went to Paris to celebrate the Christmas holiday. During a romantic night of drinking red wine and eating multiple plates of cheeses we couldn’t pronounce, I wept as I told him how I missed him when he traveled, how I loved him and couldn’t bear the loneliness of being apart from him, and how he was the best thing in my life. The tears flowed and the wine flowed and Dave was hooked. No one had ever wept for him, had ever showed such a stunning display of emotion for his sake. He wanted to console me and end my agony, which was obviously caused by not having him with me at all times. Within a year we were married.
Strangely enough, I didn’t cry at our wedding. I wanted to, believe me. The walk down the aisle with my parents would have been overwhelmed with sobbing, if not for the gruff limo driver. A short, stocky man with a distinct New York accent, he curtly addressed my relatives and friends as “youse people” and told them to “get out of the way” so I could wait in the foyer of the church, invisible to my groom. I appreciated his concern, and he was certainly all business when it came to doing his job. In fact, he did above and beyond what is typically expected of limo drivers. He arranged the wedding party next to his limo for photos and pushed our guests around to make sure things happened on time. He was altogether such an unexpected presence that I was unable to concentrate on the fact that I was about to forsake all others for Dave. I walked down the aisle, chuckling under my breath, and breezed through the ceremony with dry eyes.
During our first year of marriage, Dave would anticipate the waterfall that followed when we watched movies or television. He would tease me playfully, sometimes faking tears until I had to laugh through my tears. I truly believe that Dave thought my crying was cute. And when I was pregnant with our first child and my crying was on overdrive, he thought it was hilarious, and enjoyed the spectacle of his very pregnant wife crying over her large belly.
On September 11, I was one month and one day shy of my due date. I was sitting in a subway car running beneath the towers when the first plane hit. Immediately and instinctively, I began to cry even though I didn’t quite know what had happened until I got off the train at Union Square. I think that I cried for two weeks straight. My daughter was born early. That was when my crying stopped being cute. Lack of sleep can make flaws worse; a cute crier can become an exasperating sobber. My habit of crying, which once drew Dave closer to me, was now an addiction he tried to ignore.
During my baby girl’s first year, I was outcried. She had inherited my crying gene, of course, and she wanted the whole world (or maybe just our entire apartment building) to know it. I came to the realization that my crying episodes would have to be restrained, because it just wouldn’t work to have more than one crier in the family. I kept my crying to a minimum (at least in public and during the day). No more listening intently to other people’s problems on Oprah or watching reality television shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. That would just be asking for trouble. No more chatting about so-and-so’s problems, or, did you hear that so-and-so has (fill in the blank here) illness? Reading advice columns in the newspapers is completely out.
But sometimes, at night, when Dave and I are relaxing together on the couch, I shamelessly give in to whatever I’m reading or watching and have a good cry. Dave continues to try and ignore me when I start to well up with tears—for instance, while watching a gut-wrenching scene from Grey’s Anatomy or the “You had me at ‘Hello’” scene from Jerry Maguire (which I’ve watched about a hundred times since it was released over ten years ago). Any award show is hard to watch, with all those really thankful people, especially the ones who didn’t believe they were going to win. On evenings like this, I wear my eyeglasses instead of my contact lenses—since I would just cry contacts right out of my eyes.
I have a son now, too, and he cries as well. Not as much as his Filipina-American mom. Not like his older half-Filipina-American sister, thank goodness. He cries because he is, in his own words, “just a kid.”
My husband is surviving with all his criers, but I’m sure he cries on the inside every chance he gets.