The Crying Man

(formerly published in California Monthly under the title ``The Crying Dude'')

by John M. Dzenitis

Her voice seemed to be getting louder. ``To put it in your terms,'' she said, ``my proof of your problem is: you never cry. You're so logical, so analytical, so cold that the rest of us can't get close to you. Humans, especially women, are formed and filled with passion. We have emotional dimensions, and they are like mountain ranges all over our bodies.'' She spread her arms and undulated for emphasis. Her earrings swung precariously, panic-stricken, but maintained their grip. ``When we relate to someone, we're matching our surfaces with theirs, fitting our peaks into their valleys, you know? The tighter the fit between the surfaces the better. You fit with no one. You're a flat sheet of metal!!!!!'' She slapped the front of the refrigerator, leaving five sweaty exclamation marks.

Tom did not respond immediately. He was having trouble fishing the olive out of the narrow glass of vodka and tonic. How did a black olive get into a vodka and tonic? He was thankful that he had turned down the banana daiquiri. It's a mistake to look up, he thought, but it could be worse otherwise. Since she was still glaring when he finally raised his eyes, he tried to think of something to say. The confusion from her diatribe and the frustration from her olive conspired against him, and he could only come up with, ``I don't completely agree with that.''

If she had been expecting a reply of that genre, she did not show it. In fact, her jaw dropped, her nostrils flared, her eyes widened, her pupils dilated, her vessels ballooned and her nerve cells showed signs of osmotic swelling driven by a hormonal imbalance. She inhaled.

The force of the subsequent expulsion blew Tom out of the kitchen, down the hall, past the cat pictures, and out the door. She seemed to be caught up in the gale too, somehow, but she managed to slam the door before she was swept out as well. She was crying, but he, unfortunately, was not.

That night, as he lay awake in bed, he thought that she was probably right. She was certainly right in saying that he didn't cry. Of course, he oozed a normal amount of saline solution from his tear ducts. His eyelids slid across their charges as freely as anyone's, he supposed. On the other hand, when he was born, the midwife thought he was dead because he calmly puked the amniotic fluid and then hung there with a steady stare. His last relationship ended in a manner similar to tonight's. (They had attended ``Schindler's List'' after his mother's funeral, and he wasn't even misty-eyed.) Not one teardrop had escaped in the interim.

Although he didn't understand the cause of his placid state of mind, he did understand the result: isolation. Notwithstanding accusations of his coldness, Tom disliked being alone and he feared being unloved. If he was truly cold, perhaps he needed to gather warmth from others. He decided that it would be best if he could muster some tears, ``get in touch with my emotions, so to speak'' (or more accurately, ``so to think''). To accomplish this task, he began thinking about every heart-rending and depressing event and situation that he could.

He began by mentally replaying some of the touching cotton cloth advertisements that had recently aired. This led him to think about the comfy material itself, which was no cause for sadness. Checking himself for faltering so soon, he moved on to losses of special female friends and eyeglasses. They had all been cherished in a mild, if remote, way, and they were now gone forever. A few minutes' work along this path was rewarded with a quiet sproing of feeling in his chest. Disappointed by the dry state of his tear ducts but encouraged by the sproing, he continued to leaf through more melancholy little pages of his memory, printing some new ones as he went along.

There was a book about a dog who saved a boy's life but perished in the process. He was sure that the boy, in turn, became old and died a horrible, painful death. On the other hand, even if the tale was a happy one, each word brought him closer to the lonely ending. He didn't have to read, but everything else that he enjoyed either caused cancer, was illegal, made him fat, or all three. One exception was sex, which caused AIDS, and he didn't have a girlfriend anyway. Womanfriend. The only women he understood hated him. From what place did all of this hate originate? Humans seemed to have evil as an integral part of their nature, or they were at least bent on destruction. True, there were some good and even great people. We were so petty, though, that even the greatest people were quickly forgotten. The highest achievements of mankind led to little more than buildings bearing the person's name. Other people then razed these buildings overnight when parking became scarce.

He couldn't even look forward to his own building. Look at his apartment, for that matter. This bold attempt at bettering the world was a predictable failure with an unforeseen atmosphere; the room was somehow both fetidly messy and institutionally stark. The ugly bedcovers were weighing oppressively on his toes, and sweat was being pressed out of his pores. He was becoming claustrophobic, but couldn't muster the motivation to change his position in bed. His back hurt. He was hungry, but mold almost surely covered any food he might have. How could it not? Green bananas purchased at the local grocery turned brown and soft before he could unload them at home. At least he had a home. There were homeless people all over the world, and the few people who cared were impotently suffering in their knowledge of this. He was probably impotent since his equipment hadn't been used in months.

He was failing at Life's petty purpose: redistributing genes. His jeans were too tight. He could blame that on the clothes dryer, but it was a result of being so fat, of course. He had become so fat and fatigued over the past months that he was depressed by his own face. Why did he persistently look for answers in the mirror, or on his face? People persistently used the word ``interface'' as a verb. They couldn't communicate through language without using their hands and pictures. Language was a barrier between people, even if they spoke the same tongue. His tongue hadn't been employed for pleasure in months. That was a disgusting way of looking at the world. He disgusted himself and all around him. No one was around him; he was lonely.

This went on through the night without pause.

She stopped by the next morning to apologize but to also reclaim her ``Young Fresh Fellows'' tape. It took her a long time to summon the courage to knock, but it took Tom longer to open the door.

She was not so cruel as to be delighted to see him crying, of course, but she was glad that he wasn't some kind of automaton. She did think that the rivulets of tears that ran down his face were beautiful, in a way. Wouldn't anyone feel the happiness that she felt? Wouldn't that happiness border on elation? Wouldn't anyone's elation stir the same coals of sexual passion that hers did? And wouldn't those freshly stirred coals cause the same hot flash and sweat as hers? ``Oh, poor baby,'' slipped from her mouth and started caressing his face even before she could. As she stepped forward to reach him, her foot hit the water puddle and slid forward, and she splashed to the floor.

Though she was expecting ``water,'' the taste of the liquid that now soaked her was more that of tears. Although she was thinking ``puddle,'' the span and depth of the water really belonged to a pond.

Tom seemed to be upset that she had fallen, and a low but loud groan poured forth from his contorted mouth. Looking up through the drizzle of his tears, she couldn't help but think that he looked a little ill, like a zombie with salmonella. His somewhat less beautiful rivulets of tears gave way to more torrential streams, and his pitiful animal howls had to spatter their way through as best they could. He sloshed across the room to the kitchen sink, positioned his twitching mouth under the faucet, and began to drink. Sensing that something was amiss, she arose and began to console him.

``Really, don't worry about it,'' she reassured him. ``This shirt dries really fast. Really.''

``There is nothing, ...'' he managed to spit out between sobs and swallows. He labored on, haltingly but with manic determination. ``... there's no point in anything that we do. We may not even exist now ... ... but if we do, we'll certainly cease to exist ... ... and fall into a blacker, colder, emptier ... ... gap than we can grasp.''

``Aren't you being a bit too melodramatic?'' she asked. He finished rehydrating and faced her, his eyes showering her with a hot spray as he spoke.

``Don't you see? There is no almighty, no right, no reason, no purpose, no goal line, no playing field, no center, no creamy filling. Our being is a house of cards, but the cards don't exist, and the house is built in a void which is relative to itself, and it itself is nothing. What are we? Nothing. What is? Nothing. What? Nothing.

``Nothing exists, except that it exists in our perception. That's it ....'' He closed his eyes as best he could.

``Well,'' she said calmly, drawing closer to him, ``if everything is only perception, then why worry about it?'' She raised her hand to his cheek and touched him.

Peace settled lightly on the city of cacophony. The clouds broke above and swept out to the horizon, leaving a clear sky of purest Spring. Sunlight streamed into the apartment, which quickly dried to a resplendent sheen. Every object, every person, every spirit, every feeling vibrated with the energy of glory.

Tom looked up, and he smiled.