For My Next Birthday, Just Get Me Kleenex



It was just like Kafka's "Metamorphosis." Only instead of waking up to discover I'd turned into a giant insect, I discovered I'd turned into a crier. I was never one of those people who cried during movies. My eyes didn't tear up at weddings, I didn't bawl when fictional heroes died in epic catastrophes. And I sure as hell didn't cry during commercials. But then I turned 30, and suddenly I needed an endless supply of tissues.

It's borderline pitiful. It's alarming. It's completely against my nature. But now everything makes me cry. My mother says it's because I have a heart, but I think she's just trying to do her motherly duty and reassure me that I'm not a basketcase. (She'd have me believe I'm like the Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes that day, but I still argue that it's the onset of some chemical imbalance, some planet in retrograde.)

This has been coming on for a while, what with me crying over countless TV shows, books, and clips on the news, but what really made me wonder about my new fragile state was the last time I was in the checkout line at Target. An elderly woman was leaving the store, very slowly, bent almost double, staring at the floor. I thought she was looking for something she'd dropped, but then realized that her husband was walking next to her holding her hand. She shuffled out the door, the man right by her side. By the time I reached the cashier, I was in tears and she was looking at me like I was crazy. I can't say what struck me so hard about that moment, but I may have to start wearing sunglasses indoors and risk being mistaken for a celebrity or a hipster. No one wants to be that woman crying between the sodas and the tiny flashlights.

This is a cruel twist of fate for someone like me, who never had to worry about her mascara running. I used to tease my mother for crying during sappy movies, or when she heard the national anthem, or when she read a birthday card I gave her. Maybe this is the universe paying me back. There's a sinister force at work.

Just so you know this is not an over-dramatization, here are a few of the things that have left me in tears most recently:

1. the last season finale of Grey's Anatomy (and really every episode for about a three-month span, as long as we're telling the truth here...)
2. My cousin's wedding, when she started crying while saying her vows.
3. That movie 'Australia.' Yes, really. (That scene where Hugh Jackman comes out of the fog on the ship--ugh)
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (possibly the saddest movie ever made--I lost more water weight than most women do in the sauna)
5. Ave Maria. Even the first few notes will do it.
6. That Jack Johnson song about the treehouse burning down. I don't know what it is about that treehouse that chokes me up.
7. And the kicker? Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. Is that even possible? (In my defense, it was the episode where his girlfriend finds the old woman's love letters in the desk and returns them to her in the nursing home--but still We're talking the highway-to-hell dude from KISS here.)

Gene Simmons made me cry? What has happened to me? Is it hormones turning against me? Did my heart finally catch up with my frontal lobe? Is this because I drink too much coffee? I suppose it could have something to do with being older and realizing that life is shorter than I once thought, or realizing that the time I have with the people I love is more limited than I used to think. It's true that time seems to pass tens of times faster than it used to, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice that the people I Iove are getting older, sometimes less healthy than they used to be. I suppose that these things remind me that life is too short to take for granted. But they also make me wonder if the people I love know how much they mean to me--have I told them that enough? Do they know how they've shaped my life? Do they know that I'm the woman I am because of them? Do they know I wouldn't trade anything for the time I have with them?

And to be fair, it's not always the sad things that get to me. Lately, it's those moments that show me people still have compassion for each other--it's those clips of the stranger running up the fire escape to pull the boy from the burning building. Those moments where someone tracks down the owner of fifty year-old love letters because she knows how meaningful they were. Those are the moments that remind me of how we can affect each other.

So if it takes a few TV shows and melancholy love songs to remind me of what the people in my life mean to me, then so be it. I'll sniffle through the commercials and then call the folks I haven't talked to in a while. I'll probably still tear up when my favorite characters are killed off during Sweeps Week, and when I see people rescue strangers on the nightly news. I'll still get all choked up when I see someone else cry, and I'll still have to leave the room when the war movies come on. I suppose this is the by-product of age and awareness, so for my next birthday, just wrap up some kleenex for me. I'll probably need one before the cake is cut.