Brett

I sucked in a breath, picked up the clunky plastic handset, and dialed. “Hello?” said a faint voice on the other end of the line. I’d known I would freeze up, so I had typed out a script. “Hi, Mr. Ricaña. My name is Claire Landsbaum, and I’m a reporter for the Columbia Missourian. I’m calling because every year the Missourian commemorates M.U. students who have died, and I’m writing a short tribute about your daughter. I know this must be hard for you, but I wanted to give you a chance to tell me a little bit about her.” Clifton Ricaña Sr. listened in silence. Then, through tears, he told me about Christine, who had died in October at 22. “I know she’s doing well,” he told me, as though they’d spoken just yesterday. I repeated the process for three other students, calling friends, relatives, people who’d known them. For months afterward, I thought of the four of them as I walked through campus, their untimely deaths a niggling guilt in the back of my brain.

What saved me from going completely insane were my professors. By nature, much of journalism is a close-up examination of trauma, and these women had fielded their fair share. They talked me through writing the obituaries: what to say, how to say it, what to do. And afterward, they talked me off a ledge of self-destructive remorse. The same was true for students who covered shootings, fires, and floods: tragedy, in the abstract sense, was well-trodden in our seminars, where we learned about things like war-zone reporting and political arrest. I left my undergraduate program with an idea of what covering the conflict in Syria might entail. But I was in no way prepared for Brett Kavanaugh.

The irony, of course, is that even as sexual harassment and assault was glossed over in classrooms, it ran rampant on campus. College is where my #MeToo story unfolded, not once, but several times over. Even before I had finished reading Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s Washington Post interview, I believed her—her story was both too simple and too familiar not to be true. I’d been to the party; been locked in the upstairs bedroom, even; been pawed at, my protestations ignored, my friends calling my name a floor below. Even before I watched her testify along with most of the country, Ford’s story brought back a sickening wave of memories, like rising bile. “It’s a very difficult time,” Dr. Christine Nicholson, a clinical psychologist, recently told The New York Times. “I’m having people call me after hours when they’re just feeling meltdowns and a sense of hopelessness.”

That was all true: the private crying jags in the bathroom, and the cloying sense not that no one believed, but that no one cared. And worse, the sense that I was professionally obligated to hold it together—to serve as an example for the small team of women writers I work with every day. In a way, we had signed up for this: we’d known about the floods, the fires, and the shootings going in, and had decided that this was what we wanted, anyway. But in other ways, we hadn’t. Who could have predicted that we would come of age in an era that dredged up our long-buried traumas and shoved them into the light? That we’d become both chroniclers of the story, and part of it ourselves? We couldn’t have known. But perhaps we could have been better prepared.

Advertisements
Brett

If you must cry in public

Here’s how I know I’m about to cry in public: I touch my bottom lip with my right index finger. It’s an automatic motion, and I’ve noticed that it only happens when my body is about to teeter over the line between fighting the tears and letting them flow, the last futile gesture of resistance. Shh, my finger tells my mouth. Shh, it’s all right – don’t cry. My mouth ignores it.

Here are all the places I’ve cried this week: the obvious ones like on the train, in my cubicle, in my bed on a particularly gray morning; the less obvious ones like on West 16th Street on the way to meet a friend at a bar, in the doorway of an 8th-Avenue apartment complex after running out of that bar when she – there’s always a she, italics – showed up there. In my first-ever cycling class on the stationary bike. At an acoustic show. On the bus to D.C. In Strand. In the hokey movie theater where tourists watch a 15-minute film on the foundation of the U.S. Congress. At the Lincoln Memorial.

On 8th Avenue in particular I drew stares, strangers looking back in confusion at the sound of a muffled sob in the darkness. They searched for the source and focused on me, my forehead pressed into the building like it might soak me up. One of them walked over.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

No, I was not. Yes, I would be, eventually. See? I was still together enough to be rational. The foresight reassured her.

“By the way,” she said before retreating, gesturing to my cheek, “You have an eyelash.” Dear reader, I let her retreat before I lost it again.

Here’s what crying is like to me: sneezing. I can feel it build, and I know once it’s done I’ll feel lighter. Still, I put it off with Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and my mind-numbing Twitter feed and by calling my mom to talk en route. But no matter how much you squint at the sun (does that make you sneeze or stave it off? I forget), it happens, eventually.

Here’s what I have to fix it: wadded coffee-shop napkins, Visine, friends, time.

If you must cry in public