I was on an island in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by whales and accessible only by ferry.
I'm a liiiiiiiiittle scared of whales* and ferries make me nervous ever since I watched that "Grey's Anatomy" episode on mushrooms. I was in a weird place emotionally, which was compounded by the fact that I was there as a nanny to three small boys.
I was accompanying a vacationing family I didn't know as a favor to my friend, the original nanny, who had to bail because of grad school. She'd traveled with them before, and the very nice parents loved her enough to agree to let me sub in. Not counting myself, I have zero experience caring for toddlers. So it was a little weird.
Their extended family had gathered in a beautiful house in the woods, a long car ride from the ferry to Seattle. I had no cell service, so my Dad had to call and tell me that my grandfather had died unexpectedly via landline phone. The kids' uncle had answered and spoken briefly to my father, so he actually got the news before I did.
"You don't have to come home," said my dad, who knew I was far away and broke.
"OK," I agreed, "It would just be rough." But in all honesty, I hadn't actually bothered to calculate the time or the cost of getting back to Cleveland from the middle of nowhere, because I'd already decided that I was just going to hang up and finish watching an old Johnny Depp movie with the kids.
The boys' mother was fully weirded out by this.
I mean, not the Johnny Depp part. He's mesmerizing. It was more of the fact that I didn't even consider going back. At first, she was only trying to make sure I knew I was free to go. Then, she actually became concerned that I wasn't mourning.
She asked things like, "Were you close?" and, "Did you know him well?" but what she really seemed to want to know is, "Why the hell aren't you crying?"
Look, nothing is more obnoxious when people say they hate funerals. Or hospitals. Of course everybody hates funerals and hospitals. And DEATH. Nobody likes it. Mortality is like the camera guy who keeps talking during amateur porn. Shut UP, mortality, we are all just trying to have fun and get off. Nobody wants to listen to what you have to say!
I loved my grandpa, but I have a real problem with institutionalized crying.
There are certain times when it seems like you're supposed to react physically to something that I just don't. It's not like I have a condition. I have cried. I may even cry again! SOMEDAY. I'm just not a weeper. My eyes water when I am in enough physical pain, like, say, in the hands of a capricious bikini waxer, or the time I was stabbed in the foot.
But it's not a usual thing for me, so it makes me feel really weird when people talk about bawling at the series finales of television shows. That's fine! You do your thing, but I am probably not going to mist up at a father-daughter dance to a Beach Boys song, or like, know what to do if you do.
Again -- displaying emotion via facial wettening is an okay and probably healthy thing. But I'm not a big crier and recently I've found myself confronted with situations in which I'm either expected to cry, or just to empathize with somebody who is crying when I'm like, "We're on a plane, I don't know you, and this movie is called 'The Help' and it's terrible."
I had a few experiences recently that might be considered worth of grief. During this time, I was routinely invited to let myself "be sad." I am sad! I totally am. I'm just sad in a different way and I don't necessarily feel better if I talk about it. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I sincerely just want to be left alone, or to watch a bunch of Hulu, or just to move on and move forward.
Talk therapy is awesome and works for a lot of people, I bet, but I think it's given some people the wrong idea that when something bad happens, everybody wants to have a conversation about it. Or that this is the "healthy" thing to do. It might be, but it makes me feel uncomfortable and like getting a motel someplace remote so I don't have to see anybody I know.
I'm not trying to be cool. I am beyond the age where I think emotional indifference makes you a badass. That's what aviator sunglasses are for.
I value kindness and compassion, and I love my friends more than anything. I really appreciate the fact that someone wanting you to talk, or cry, or demonstrate that you're dealing with problems in a healthy way is what you do when you care about them.
It comes from a good place, but if I want to bottle up my feelings, for the love of god, let me bottle them up.
In turn, I promise to be there for you, even when you get upset over things that might confuse me. Like, if you want to bawl when a celebrity dies, cool, that is your business. I am your friend and I still love you and I respect your right to respond to something however you choose, even though this is a phenomenon that makes me feel like Data.
I really do appreciate being given the opportunity to cry -- but I don't necessarily want to be made to out to be Charly from "Flowers for Algernon" if I don't go all open-mouthy when my childhood cat dies. I may cry, I may not. Let's just assume that what I'm doing is at least honest to what I'm feeling at the moment, which may even just be the intense desire to not cry and relief at not having done so. I'll be me and you be you.
In turn, if you could tell me what to do when I'm at a show with one of my friends who starts crying because of a song, that would be cool.
*very very afraid of whales