Tears. One might consider them the ultimate embodiment of emotion. Tears appear when you have experienced some kind of extreme emotion. I know because I have watched on so many occasions as I have sought to understand the circumstances in which somebody cries and why it is that they do so.
I understand that when tears appear, whether it is a welling-up in the eyes, the single full teardrop which slides down a cheek or the cascading waterfall which leaves the eyes red-rimmed and blurry, it is as a consequence of you experiencing emotion in a huge dosage. What I had to learn was which emotions were associated with the emission of water from the eyes.
The first emotion that presented itself for my understanding as to how it caused tears was pain. I remembered as a child that my younger brother was somewhat accident prone. If there was tree branch he would fall off it, if there was a wall, he would fall off it and once he even managed to “fall” off a rug and sprain his ankle. The cuts and bruises would have him howling in pain as he lay there sobbing or limped away tears trickling down his face in search of our father.
I saw how a physical injury such as a scraped leg or bruised forearm would bring forth a flood of tears. My younger brother would await the attendance of my concerned father, usually brought to the scene by my always caring sister and his tears would be wiped away with a large white handkerchief as consolation and soothing words were administered. I was not accident prone and therefore rarely susceptible to physical injury save the deliberate. I do recall once catching my hand on the edge of the grill and instantly a sore red weal appeared. I presented myself to my nearby mother as I felt the tears forming in my eyes.
“No tears HG,” she announced firmly, “tears show fears, be fearless,” she instructed me as she cast a cursory glance over my injury and directed me to the cold water tap. Tears came from physical hurt but it was not to be for me.
Around the same time I also understood that tears were generated by sadness and it was sister who exhibited this the most. I would find her in one of her many hiding places (I knew them well as I used them myself) and she would be quietly crying. I would ask her why she was crying because I wanted to know. Thinking back, I never felt anything other than curiosity when I saw her with puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
“Why are you crying Rachael?” I would ask.
“Mother shouted at me because I hadn’t tidied my room, she said I was a bad and dirty girl and I don’t like her saying that to me, it upsets me.”
I would nod in understanding and walk away, leaving her alone. She was instructive in showing me that sadness caused tears. Her rabbit escaped from its hutch and went missing so she cried because she missed it.
She missed a birthday party because she was ill so she cried because she was sad that she could not play with the other children. If she watched something on television she would often be in tears as she felt bad for the starving children in Africa or the victims of some earthquake. She would cry and ask my father why God did these things and he would do his best to comfort her and explain.
He was always good at finding an explanation, but he was a very bright man, well-read and with a keen hunger for knowledge which he invariably retained. There was at least something that I had inherited from him then. I would watch in fascination as Rachael would cry and he would scoop her up and make gentle noises to try to soothe her. Just as he laid a gentle hand on my sobbing injured brother, I saw how this demonstration of tears, be it through physical or emotional hurt engendered sympathy and caring from him.
He never rejected them, he never barked at them to deal with it or get on with it, but he would always pander to their upset until he had chased it away and made them feel better. It always got them attention from him, more than I ever did. All they had to do was cry and the sympathy would flow with the attendant attention. I learned that quickly enough.
I, by contrast, never recall feeling sad. I have tried and the good doctors have asked me about this on numerous occasions.
“How did you feel when something bad happened to you?” Dr E would ask.
“What do you mean by bad?” I often have to help him provide some context to his questions. I thought he would have learned by now.
“If you did something wrong for example.”
“I was well-behaved as I child. I did as I was told. I saw what happened if I did not.”
“I see, did your parents ever tell you off?”
“How did you feel then?”
“Resentful, angry, determined,” I answered quickly.
“How about after the incident?”
I glared at Dr E as I did not like him springing that on me without adequate warning. At least he had remembered to refer to it by the label I required. I remained silent.
“Did you not feel sad after that?”
“How did you feel?”
I paused. I did not want to revisit this but I knew he would not stop until he had extracted something from me. He would prod and probe in order to fulfil his selfish desire to know how I felt. I felt empty and I felt angry but I had realised by now that if I told him this he would only go on even longer. The truth would not serve me here. I remained still and silent.
“How did you feel?”
I noticed his tone had become gentler, more searching.
I then thought of all the injustices that I had ever suffered, the hurt that had been meted out against me, the denial of my brilliance, the shunning of my achievements, the lack of recognition when I deserved so much more. I focused on the times when I had been ignored by the foolish, the fact that I am consigned to an unending quest for fuel. I brought to the fore the hurt that I keep under control except for moments such as this and I banished the room and Dr E from my mind as I allowed the floodgates to open.
The desired effect eventually came, although it took some time and I eventually felt the welling in my eyes. I blinked theatrically to ensure that Dr E noticed and finally I felt a tear, only a small one though, squeeze out and make it was beneath my eye. I brushed at my other eye, features set in melancholy and still I said nothing. Dr E remained quiet as well as I stared at the floor willing another tear to join the first and thankfully it too finally came and rolled downward, a larger one this time which landed on my left thigh. He will have seen that. I did not look at him but concentrated on the floor still, summoning up all of the hurt I could muster in the hope of maintaining this appearance.
“I can see it is troubling you, perhaps we should move on. We can revisit this at a later time,” he said softly.
Those early observations of how the crying game worked had paid off once again.