My mother had an unhealthy relationship with tears. To date, I remember seeing her cry three times in my life. But what I remember the most is the way she convinced me that tears were the work of the devil. If I cried, it’d usually be because I was, in her eyes, “in the wrong” over something. (Usually another broken plate, spilt vase, all the usual stuff you’d expect from a dyspraxic…) My younger brother’s tears were another matter.
Over the years, my mother’s words about my brother’s tears have remained firmly imprinted in my mind. Luckily, they’ve never affected my brother’s likelihood to well up; he still sheds a few tears after Mum and Dad leave to head home after their annual visits, he shed tears of sheer joy on his wedding day, and he’s bawled his eyes out over at least one of our fall outs. Me? I learnt not to cry. Well, not in public, anyway.
When my older brother had his accident, Mum tried her hardest to keep the extent of his injuries from both myself and my younger brother. A week into his hospital stay, my mother took me to see him (after much pleading on my behalf). Now, let me tell you something. When you see the man who has been that towering shadow in your life reduced to a comatose, lifeless mess, with wires coming out of every part of his body, it hits you hard. At the time, doctors didn’t expect my older brother to make it out of the coma. My younger brother had backed out of seeing him. At some point, as I stood by his bed, the emotions caught up with me, and I found myself crying. The image has faded over the past ten years, but I still remember my mother’s reaction. “Don’t you dare let anyone else see you crying…”
That was the last time my mother saw me cry. Since then, only my younger brother and his wife, along with Mini-Dragon’s father, have seen me cry. With the exception of my sister in law, each time was the result of a level of abuse. But to me, tears became something “bad”. Something that identified me as weak; as a woman, perhaps? After all, tears were something for the weaker sex, right? As my mother reminded my brother, countless times throughout his childhood – “big boys don’t cry”, “stop crying, you big girl’s blouse”, “man up”.
You see, I never wanted to be the weaker sex. Yet, in telling my brother that crying reduced him to being my equivalent, my mother was telling me that I was weak. Being a girl, or a woman, wasn’t something I could control. My tears, I could control. And if I could stop myself from crying, I could try and fool people into believing I was strong. My brother, ironically, had the thicker skin. Mum’s words about tears never prevented him from his routine cry as Mum heads to the airport after her mid-March visit. But I still find myself wondering if she sees the irony that the words that failed to stop her youngest son’s tears did nothing of the sort – they stopped her daughter’s tears instead.