I’ve never been an emotional person. If someone does something to hurt me, I don’t break down or cry. Conversely, I will cry over St. Jude infomercials or while singing my favorite Mary Mary song in the car on the way to work. I cry when small children sing their first solos or recite their Easter speeches at church. Or at the end of Imitation of Life and Malcolm X. Even then, I try to catch my tears before they fall.
Outside of tears of joy, I can count on one hand the number of people who have seen me cry. That includes crying while intoxicated. (I’m an emotional drinker, hence why I don’t drink much). There’s something psychologically engrained in my head that makes me refuse to show physical signs of sadness, hurt or anger to anyone. Think of it as that stigma that says “Real men don’t cry.” I think that’s a handful of malarkey, but I do understand. Tears equal weakness. Sometimes. Depending on the situation.
So I don’t cry in front of people.
On Black Friday 2008, I sat at the table with four of my closest friends I’ve had since high school for lunch to “catch up.” “Catch up,” meaning a mini-interrogration about who’s dating who, why one of us isn’t dating and random stuff about work and how we wish we could go back to high school days. Atleast college days.
As an annual tradition, I was supposed to be with my family in New Orleans, enjoying daiquiris on Bourbon Street, preparing myself for the thrill of Bayou Classic. But I was there, sitting with three other women chattering away about love, life and 50 percent off sales.
On the other side of town, my daddy was in the hospital after suffering a massive stroke, a complication of a triple bypass after having a second heart attack. For three days, he was half-out of his mind, and so were we. He could barely talk and he didn’t seem to be making any progress. His neurologists said his condition was permanent.
I’d walked up and down the halls of that hospital a million and one times, praying for a recovery, yet still not believing that any of it had happened. I sat with him, as family who’d travelled near and far, talked to him, hoping to get a coherent response from him–a hand wave, atleast. I waited for physician updates, tried to console my mother and ate in the hospital cafeteria with my sister day in and day out, only going home to shower and change clothes.
I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Yet, I was sitting at that table trying to be a part of the conversation, and I didn’t even want to be there.
When I left the hospital, Daddy was doing better. He could understand us, sign his name and walk at a slow pace. I knew that things would never be the same though. As my friends laughed and griped about Black Friday traffic, I played along, but I was thinking, too. I thought about the pain I saw in my Mama’s eyes when the doctors said he’d be “like that forever.” The gut feeling I had that something was terribly wrong after Daddy didn’t laugh at the musical Mahogany card I brought him for his bypass recovery. Or the possibility that I would never hear his voice, calling me “Wook”, his favorite nickname for me again.
I became nauseated. My eyes started to fill with tears. I wanted to scream out and ask God why this was happening to my Daddy and to my family right there in the restaurant. Instead, I looked down at my hands under the table, reached in my bag for my cell phone and pretended I had to take a phone call. I kept my head down as I walked out so they wouldn’t see the tears rolling down my face. I ran in the bathroom, locked myself in a stall and cried uncontrollably. Even then, I still muffled my sobs and covered my eyes with a ton of tissue, hoping no one would come in and hear me. I didn’t leave out of the bathroom until I had completely dried my eyes and they were visible signs of my tears.
What’s crazy is even though I hid my tears, I wanted someone, even if it was just the server outside the stall washing her hands, to ask me if I was okay. She didn’t. When I returned to the table, business went on as usual. No one said a word about anything but the leftovers from Thanksgiving meals.
Almost two years later, I ask myself why I even agreed to meet them knowing how I was feeling. Somehow I thought it would serve as a distraction (and my mom made me go). Instead, it brought everything to the forefront. I remember one of my girls telling me I could sit this one out because I had so much going on. I said, “No, it’s cool. I want to see ya’ll.” And I did. But I shouldn’t have.
Almost two years later, Daddy’s well and life is about as normal as it will be. Days pass and I no longer think about being trapped in that hospital for weeks, but I still think about that stall and the tears behind my eyes.