Feeling inspired by Etgar Keret lately, so I wrote this. Thanks for reading!
I wasn’t sure what was happening. The tears didn’t feel natural; they were not the tears I had cried the day before, at least. Yesterday’s tears were shed so freely, so deep into the stacks that I might have been all alone, tucked between an odd alcove near a riot-proof window and a shelf of outdated psychology journals. Since picking up this work study job, I have learned all the best places to cry in the library, from the service elevator (only accessible by library staff), to the most secluded desk in the quiet study, my face pressed against the cold, scarred wood.
Today’s tears were reluctant tears, jammed up inside my eyes. As hesitant as they were to be born, that didn’t stop my body’s other functions from *wanting* them to surface. I parked the book cart outside a bathroom, relieved to find it empty. Standing with my nose pressed against the mirror, I tried my best to avoid scrutinizing what I saw, but my tired and slouched posture, the premature lining on my face that hadn’t been there when I left for college, the puffiness in my eyes, were enough to release the hot, painful tears from their prison.
I pressed a finger gently to my eye and held it to the unflattering light. There was no mistaking the abnormality; the cloudy, gritty liquid looked like drained pasta water. When rubbed between my fingers, the material inside clung to my skin, small, coarse particles. Only after washing my hands in blisteringly hot water did they disappear.
After work, I bought overpriced pita and hummus from the small cafeteria on the main level, eating the damp bread in large bites between gulps of apple juice. I felt exhausted and unclean, as if the events of the afternoon had left me somewhere between diagnosis and daydream. Should I go to the student clinic? From what I could read online, it was likely just a bad case of dry eyes, a symptom of cold weather and compounded by my constant crying. But were tears supposed to feel so…reluctant?
Instead of thinking about my responsibilities — the essay due at midnight, the upcoming midterms — I made a trip to CVS for eyedrops and cigarettes. The cashier complained about the weather, as cashiers everywhere do, but it was nice to assign blame to the seasons with her.
“You’ll be fine.” I thought I as I started home. Unfinished construction projects left the Ped Mall a cone and caution tape landscape. A sheet of loose building paper danced in the wind behind my rope of trailing smoke.
That evening I felt the tears strain behind my eyes again, as I attempted to write my lousy essay. The same sensation as before, as if a microscopic cork was clogging my tear ducts. I grabbed a shot glass from the kitchen and placed it on the desk, feeling stupid each time I brought the glass to my cheek. Before long, a thimble’s worth of opaque tears were under scrutiny. Their murkiness matched my reality. I wanted to scream at the glass, to break it against the wall.
“Mood swings. The icing I needed to top this proverbial cake,” I thought as I slammed the glass down and started haphazardly typing.
After submitting the essay minutes before the deadline, as I was crawling into bed, I looked over at the shot glass and saw that the particles were attaching themselves to the edges of the cup. Too exhausted to think, I put my head under the pillow and attempted to let the quiet rearrange my thoughts.
By morning the glass was alive. Inside were dozens of moving sea creatures, the types of things you might see a whale eating in a documentary, zigzagging around in the small pool of my reclaimed sadness. It seemed pointless to comprehend what was unfolding, so I took a shower instead, considering my options as the warm water cleared my mind. An answer seemed to come before the question.
As the water in the tub reached room temperature, I got dressed for work. Unsure of how I arrived at this particular decision, I tried to busy myself. I brewed a pot of tea, smoked a cigarette over the kitchen sink; I checked through previously-unread texts from my mom, asking if I was okay. Before leaving the apartment, I took the glass into the bathroom and submerged it into the water. For a fleeting moment, I saw the creatures adjust to their new surroundings before fanning themselves into obscurity.
Work passed in a drudgery of spines and stacks. Too concerned to be sad, I tried concentrating all my energy into the work. It was almost a success; there were only a few moments when I felt the usual fear and sadness welling inside me, now intercut with dark images of blue veins and pounding secret heartbeats inside translucent invertebrates. On the walk home I couldn’t help but feel as if I was on the edge of some great divide between worlds.
As I watched the goldfish swimming, their colors in stark contrast to the white bathtub — some pure gold, reminiscent of childhood, others orange and white, a rare all-black mixed in — I felt awash in calmness and gratitude. Confusion and fear seemed far from the evening’s agenda. I had created these strange things from nothing, from my tears. Like a mother seeing their newborn, an instant connection sprung from the deepest, the most primal strand of my being. I knew I needed to rush back to campus, before it was too late.
The CVS was minutes from closing when I arrived. After grabbing several varieties of fish food, I brought them to the counter; the same cashier was working as before.
“How are your eyes treating you?” she asked, sounding cheerful, but weary, tired from the day.
“Oh, you know,” I said, smiling what might have been my first smile since starting college, “This damn weather.”
Photo by Saeed Soltankhah on Unsplash