Reflections is a series of essays embracing the power of introspection, taking on personal topics and rooting out what is just below the surface.
When was the last time you really cried? The last time that sobs burst up through your throat like thunder? I don’t mean the censorship of biting your lip and holding your breath, everything squeezed shut, rigid and tight. I mean unmitigated, vulnerable wailing. Splitting your ribcage and pushing your lungs out. The kind of crying that causes you to collapse into yourself.
The Big Cry is different from The Little Cry. The Little Cry is all sniffles and sad smiles and arms slung around shoulders, a radius of warmth which melts the tears into impressions of salt. The Little Cry is invited to all of life’s landmarks: the weddings, birthdays, graduations, even funerals. It follows you to the toilet at parties to confess over porcelain that yes, you still miss them, little globules dancing down the drain to find their way back to the sea.
But The Big Cry? ‘Ugly’ it’s called, because the small tears are somehow more palatable. There is no politeness in the big one. No standing on ceremony, muttering bashful apologies as you mop up the wetness lingering in lower lashes. The Big Cry is a black hole. It swallows everything and throws it back out again. Shooting through your stomach like a gruesome eel, it declares itself from the back of your mouth, demanding to be released, refusing to be diluted. And once the dam has burst, what really can you do? With this voice which isn’t your own, so wrapped and strangled. This breath that can’t catch up.
What is it about seeing others cry that elicits such a visceral reaction? Disgust or distress; affection or animosity. Seeing other people cry betrays a bitterness in me that I often ignore – stoicism, please, for Heaven’s sake – and I turn my shoulder against the feral abandon of The Big Cry, lest I be sucked in too.
Though maybe it’s envy. I do not know why I want to cry, why I carry this knot of tears in a massy tangle, but when I need to, I cannot. When I should, I don’t. Bad news musters shock and mostly the absence of feeling, a great, vast and empty plain. I should be crying now, I know I should, and The Little Cry is there, waiting on release. But all I can think about is the nothing – the promise of rain versus the onslaught of drought.
Yet when I am ignored and alone, the heavy clouds drop.
“How many times have you made your sadness smaller? Folded it and folded it until it’s little more than an origami whisper, the silhouette of something which once was but wasn’t permitted to keep being?”
How many times have you made your sadness smaller? Folded it and folded it until it’s little more than an origami whisper, the silhouette of something which once was but wasn’t permitted to keep being? Carnal calls are pushed down with both hands, stiff wrists, squashed under the weight of living. I can refashion this terror, I tell myself, I can catalyse this into something good. Or perhaps it will go away, evaporate like hot sweat on summer skin.
Sometimes, when I am ignored and alone, everything which was once folded falls out of itself. My fraudulence is exposed: what origami artist works with ham-fisted scraps? These things are not beautiful. They are messy and mannerless and everything I had hoped to keep quiet. There is iron in my jaw welding it shut and the heat is rising, searing through my skull, and if I can just hold it, keep myself suspended on the edge of this cliff…
But it’s too late. I am turning inside out and spilling from my own eyes. With the force of snow rolling down a slope, the momentum it has gathered.
“The Little Cry is so familiar… but The Big Cry is a dark and hungry thing, wholly untameable.”
That’s the thing about The Big Cry. It arrives unannounced into unremarkable moments, the trigger a small breath next to whatever put it there. But that’s enough. Enough for The Big Cry to bend me in two, this once solid self in puddles and puddles. Is that why I avoid it so? The shape of it, so unpredictable: despair in disguise.
The Little Cry is so familiar; I recognise the soft rap of its knuckles against the backs of my eyes and the steady dropdropdrop of its downward journey. But The Big Cry is a dark and hungry thing, wholly untameable. It’s the spectre you see out of the corner of your eye but convince yourself otherwise because illusion is easier.
“Where The Little Cry is tears from a pipette, The Big Cry is sobs shot from a gun. There is no composure, no hold-on-a-moment-let-me-gather-myself.”
No, it’s not the shapeshifting that I fear. Though I don’t welcome surprises, the exposure is most jarring. The Big Cry cuts you open and lays out you like butterflied flesh on a slab. Mess and guts and entrails and moisture, so much moisture, everything drowning and saturated and wet. Where The Little Cry is tears from a pipette, The Big Cry is sobs shot from a gun. There is no composure, no hold-on-a-moment-let-me-gather-myself. There is only ferocity, undirected and escaping in droves like the unleashing of hell from Pandora’s Box. It’s a wildness to look away from.
And yet when the primal chokes have made way for mews coated in congestion, what I’m left with is something close to serenity. Not serenity itself, but something of the same flavour. It’s the aftermath of bloodletting, the stillness of the big release. I couldn’t betray myself this way in front of an audience, even an audience of one, but alone… the ocean masquerades as a stream and I suppose no performance can exist ad infinitum. I can deny The Big Cry, fold up my sadness again and again and squeeze it beneath my diaphragm, make it a secret among the meat of me, but eventually, inevitably, it will punch up through my middle and erupt with barbarity.
So while I grant myself a few small tears here and there, allowing the courtesy of The Little Cry to pool out in quick moments, I know The Big Cry is building. Percolating. The grimness of it, so guttural and uncouth. I feel the pressure rising and I know – I know. A savage something will soon command its own release.
Illustrated by Anna Jane Houghton, a Liverpool based researcher and artist. Drawing influence from the ‘motel’ aesthetic and beatnik literature; her illustrative style combines florals and fruit, amongst plant-life and mid-century interiors, to reimagine the classic still life.
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