Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tears at the Wheel

Is she crying...?

The last couple of miles on my way to work is a single road, practically gunbarrel straight, through downtown. Lots of lights and slow speeds. As the days get shorter, the sun rises later and later in the morning. At present, it's in full bloom and enlightening me for most of the drive, and for most of the first mile or so, there's a sort of art to keeping an eye on stoplights that involve using the blinds and staring at the small space between the right edge and the rearview mirror. But mostly what you do is try not to look ahead, so you sort of attempt to look around in other directions and guess when it might be the right time to check.

This morning, I was looking around so to avoid staring into the sunlight, and my gaze found the car parallel to mine at the light, specifically the 30-something woman behind the wheel. Her hand was over her mouth. Her shoulders were convulsing mildly. Her eyes were shut tight.

Some people can't help but stare into the sun; I can't help but stare at the expression of palpable emotion, those moments when the body is so fully possessed by feeling that it is beyond the brain's control. It's mesmerizing, truly.

Her hands went to her eyes, where she pushed away the moisture, and then she ran one through her wavy blonde bob as she took one of those massive centering breaths. She was looking straight ahead, and I'm almost certain she said the words "It's gonna be okay" to herself, maybe aloud, maybe whispered.

And then she felt my stare on her. Because that's one of those weird, half-supernatural things about humans. We can often feel gazes, as if actual photons were firing out of someone's eyeballs and hitting our flesh in some measureable fashion.

She turned and looked at me, and I immediately offered the voyeur coward's defense. My eyebrows raised in surprise, and I looked back at the light, because cowards always look away. But it was still red, so I glanced back at her. And she was looking at me. Or beyond me somewhere. And her look wasn't one of anger so much as a second kind of sadness, the sadness that her shot at a solitary moment of emotional purging in her car wasn't all that solitary. It was being shared with someone who wasn't invited.

On Monday, as I was driving my daughters to school, I looked into the rearview to see my younger daughter fighting back tears, staring out the window.

"What's wrong, honey?" I asked. "I hope it wasn't what I said at the house, 'cuz I wasn't that upset."

No reply. Just the continued distant stare. "Honey? Do I need to apologize? I don't think I do, but..."

"No," she muttered. She mutters a lot when she's upset. At microdecibel levels. So, because I'm that guy, I kept at it.

"DAD. JUST LET ME CRY AND LEAVE ME ALONE!" And then she offered an additional bit about, you know, that whole phase of the moon stuff. The ultimate "you wouldn't understand, stupid male" dis.

That afternoon, when I picked her up and asked her how her day went, she said, "The day would've gone a whole lot worse if I hadn't had a few minutes to cry in the car first. A whole. Lot. Worse."

And, because I'm that guy, I asked why. "Just because, dad. Because sometimes I just need to cry."

What my daughters didn't know is that, after I dropped them off Monday, I found one of my favorite songs of celebration and mourning on the ol' trusty iPod and played it. It's the song I play anytime someone close to me dies, a song that goes back to the early 2000s, a song I play far more often than I'd like. And someone close to me died on Sunday. And it was a moment deserving both celebration and mourning. And I had myself a good sing-a-long cry where I'm half singing, half staggering for breath and blinking a lot.

I don't know if anyone noticed me, that guy in the car next to them at the light, singing to some unknown song, sneaking a finger up to smudge away the moisture, exorcising those pent-up emotions with the windows rolled up and the engine properly revved. I never felt a gaze, but I never do in those moments.

Crying in cars is a thing. We've all done it, I reckon. Some of us think it's a private moment, and some of us just don't give a good gosh dern who sees it 'cuz it's none of their gosh dern business, gosh dern them.

Perhaps cars were our social media before we had Facebook and Twitter. Those places where we have convinced ourselves that random expressions of rage or sorrow have a privacy meter that we control, that we can choose when someone sees our flipped bird or our stray tear, our air guitar or our glances at that phone, that we can choose when someone hears the expletive we've shouted at a loved one or when we sing the wrong lyrics off key (but with gusto!).

But everytime I cry in my car, I feel a little better after.

And everytime I see someone else doing it, I feel so disconnected after, as if I've witnessed someone drown but unable to reach a hand out to pull them out of the water.

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