Over the last few weeks one of my favorite uncles died and one of my favorite friends got engaged. I registered both life changing events with the same Data-like detachment that's been my protective shield since some kid called me "the n-word" on a faded kick ball diamond so many years ago.
Because the people around me react so strongly to things -- like racism and/or diamond rings -- it's as if I've gotten off the hook when it comes public displays of anything.
None of this is to say I'm a robot. I have feelings. I get teary eyed. I've even been known to allow one or two of those salt water soldiers to march down my cheeks in a straight line. But wailer I am not.
I'd never make a living as a professional mourner -- showing up at funerals and weeping for a buck.
When my mom called to give me the news of my uncle's death, instead of starting with "Hello" she unleashed a primal scream from the core of her being the likes of which I've never heard, even in my worst nightmare. It's as if she wanted the sky to shatter. Like the sound coming from her gut was the "open sesame" releasing her from this dream the rest of us call reality.
When confronted with her raw emotions, my own were eviscerated.
It took some time to figure out what had even happened and once I did, my first reaction wasn't to join my mother in her mourning but to get all the facts, ma'am, like some mid century gumshoe. How did it happen? When was the funeral? Did we need tickets? Where do we send flowers?
It's been a month and I still haven't done more than pause in the middle of folding clothes. That's the random moment when some seemingly slight puff of emotion almost knocked the wind out of me. I used both hands to steady myself, gave myself the space to fill up with screaming, but nothing came. I waited for it. And nothing came.
The same thing goes for moments of intense happiness. When a friend got engaged (finally!) the first thought I had went straight to the practical, How much is this wedding going to cost me?
Well, not the first thought. I definitely let out a totally involuntary yelp of excitement. But at the actual engagement party other girls were super teary-eyed, puffy and red. I was downing all the free wine. I thought this was supposed to be a party?
Ancient actors from Greece to China used masks as short hand for emotion. There's the laughing face (comedy) and the weeping face (tragedy) that let's audiences know exactly how the person behind the mask is feeling inside, a funny paradox if you ask me since the definition of mask is "disguise."
Performance and reality have always walked a crooked line where one side often determines the authenticity of the other. But which one to go by?
I wrote about my tricky dependence on social masking in an essay entitled "Reserve" in Rebecca Walker's latest book, "Black Cool."
My mask saved me, cloaking whatever was going on underneath with an autopilot I'm okay that spoke volumes...That was the first time I put on the mask and it felt good. I was cool. I had to be -- to keep from falling apart.
Thing is there are cracks in that urban armor. Lately, I've been getting misty over the slightest infraction -- little kids "riding" locked-up bikes, my tiny dog trying to play with the big dogs that ignore him at the park, my boyfriend's eyelashes in the morning. I feel this stuff, like actually feel the scenes stroking my back as I stare out into the world as more than just a casual observer.
For purely narcissistic reasons I believe all this comes with age. Just like every generation considers itself the greatest and the one after it the suckiest, I'd say the same about this year's Helena versus last year's (but I'd never call myself sucky).
Perhaps nothing more than the passage of time is eroding the cave door to the treasure trove of feelings I've been hoarding all these years. Just in case I'm stocking up on tissue and eye drops.
Am I the only non-crier in the xoJane community? Or maybe bitch really is the new black?