My mother didn’t approve of tears. So she held hers in while her eyes got redder and redder and her face paled. But she didn’t cry real tears. Not if she could help it. Not like Baby Cries A Lot, the doll I wanted badly and finally got for my fifth birthday. The one who drank water from a tiny baby bottle then cried real tears, the baby-bottle-water magically coming out of her eyes and flowing down to her pursed pink mouth that had taken in the water that started this whole gorgeous flood. My mother laughed a lot at Baby Cries A Lot. But I was filled with wonder at her waterworks. There she was, a girl like me, with real tears cascading down her plastic cheeks.
Making Baby cry a lot became my secret passion. At least there was one female in my house who cried easily, plentifully and on cue. Not like my mother, whose soft cheeks detested salt water. Not like me, who knew better than to cry real tears. Because I didn’t cry, either. At least not in front of anyone. If I cried at all, it was when I was alone in my room with the door closed or in the bathroom.
Crying was forbidden in our house – I’d been taught that by my older brother when I was four. “Don’t ask Mommy about her parents.” “Why?” “Because she’ll cry.” It was an order and I took it seriously. Making her cry was the worst thing I could do, I decided. And it looked like it was the worst thing she could do.
Time after time, I saw the struggle on my mother’s face as emotion threatened to overcome her. I watched her wrestle the runaway emotion to the ground until she got control over it. Her eyes reddening but not filling with tears. Her mouth clenching. I hated to see her like that so I would look away. I would make some excuse and leave the room. Leave her alone. So I didn’t have to see her at her weakest. Didn’t have to witness the melting of that ice-mountain she’d built around herself. Because I knew. Somewhere inside that mountain there was dangerous red-hot lava, threatening to erupt.
My mother’s daughter, I built my very own ice-mountain. Piled it on, slab upon slab until I had a personal igloo in which I could hide, safe and unknown. My feelings of grief hidden to all, including myself.