When I was a kid, my brothers and I had a tree fort. It was built high above the ground between three oak trees. When I think about it now, I realize that the fort was not particularly safe for children since we built it with our dad, who believed that duct tape could fix anything short of a broken marriage. In some cases, it might even have been able fix them too. We built the fort out of old lumber. The railings consisted of a single two by four on each side placed at about hip height for us. There was also a rope, which had a pulley, connecting the fort to another oak tree about forty feet away. This was our escape and the idea was that someone could slide from the fort to the ground by hanging onto a rope handle connected to the pulley. I remember the rope snapping on a couple of occasions when my brother and then a friend of ours tried to use the pulley-rope escape. Each of them fell to the ground and would have cried had the wind not been knocked out of them. Luckily, neither of them was seriously injured. This is the kind of fort we had.
Often, when guests with annoying children came over, my brothers and I would climb into the tree fort away from the little brats. Of course, when these kids saw that they were not allowed in the fort, they only wanted to enter it more. This is why my brothers and I had a bucket of acorns stored in the tree fort as ammunition against would be intruders.
One particular weekend, a family with two boys came over to visit. The younger of the two was named Jeffery. He was still afflicted by baby-speak although he was about five or maybe even six years old. Jeffery could not pronounce the letter “R.” His r’s sounded like w’s. Consequently, Jeffery, when asked to introduce himself, would call himself “Jeff-we.”
After my younger brother, who was the same age as “Jeff-we,” and I scrambled up to our tree fort to escape these two boys, they ran after us and tried to approach the fort.
“Acorn time, David,” I said to my brother. We waited until the boys were in firing range and then unleashed a hailstorm of acorns at them from our perch. In about twenty seconds, the battle was over due to “Jeff-we” bawling like a baby.
“Something hit me on the head,” he screamed. “It felt like a wock.”
His crying sounded like a fire engine’s siren and I knew that my brother and I would be in trouble with Mom soon.
I have a hard time remembering the last time I cried. I recall choking up on several occasions. I believe my eyes have even started to water once or twice. But I simply do not remember the last time I actually sobbed and just let myself go. I do not know why this is.
People always say that it is good to cry. In this day and age, even men are invited to “cry it out” as a sign that they are confident enough in their masculinity to release their sadness, frustration, etc.
I know all this.
I remember when my grandmother died. I must have been about eight years old. My family sat and wailed on our living room couch together when we got the news. We all hugged each other and sat for what must have been twenty minutes. When we were done, I remember feeling better. The release felt as though we had flushed away a lot of bad feelings. It was like having a stomach ache and going to the bathroom. When you are done, you flush the toilet, stand up and say, “ahhhh, I feel so much better.” (Maybe you don’t say that, but I do. I make it a point to say this in public bathrooms especially.)
I know I must have cried at some point after that, but I honestly cannot remember when. The next related incident that sticks in my mind was during my eighth grade year at my school in Indonesia. It was between classes and I was so angry at my classmate, Thomas, that I threw a small pink eraser at his back as hard as I could.
“Ow!” he yelled. “Don’t you know that really hurts?!”
I was so upset that I ran out of the classroom to avoid crying in front of him and his friends. If I did, he would have won our fight because winners do not cry unless they are winning an Olympic medal. Yet, this incident sticks out in my mind not because I was crying, but because I did not. I ran to the bathroom, stared at myself in the mirror and willed myself not to let the feeling overwhelm me.
Don’t even think about crying. Babies and girls cry. You don’t. I thought to myself.
Since then, I do not believe I’ve cried. I have wanted to. Believe me, I have definitely wanted to.
I wanted to cry when I moved away to college for the first time. I think most kids are excited to go to college, but if your college was the one I went to, you would understand. I had never lived away from my family for an extended period of time and when I brought my luggage into the dorm room. I realized that I was no longer just a kid. From then on, I would virtually be an adult. I would not be able to expect my parents to be my final authority. I would not be able to go home after the end of a school day. I would not be able to sleep in my own bed. Most importantly, the college was run like a conservative, Christian, military school. This alone, should have reduced me to a bucket of tears. But, it did not. I slapped myself on the side of my face as hard as I could and held back the emotions.
I wanted to give in once more when I graduated from college and my parents could not be there because my dad had just suffered a debilitating stroke. Instead, I smiled and hugged my brothers and friends.
I wanted to cry at my grandfather’s funeral when literally my whole family was gathered around the casket saying their final farewells to him and not one of them had dry eyes. A lump the size of a basketball gathered in my throat but my eyes stayed dry.
Cry, damn it! I thought. I was sad enough to fill a swimming pool with tears that would not come. My body refused to cooperate with my emotions.
Someday, I would like to be able to cry on demand. I will press the little, red, round button located on my wrist. Immediately, tears will gather in my eyes and my knees will buckle. My breathing will become shuddering sobs and my body will begin shaking as the tears flow down my cheeks.
Instead, the rock inside me grows a little bigger each time I want to but cannot. Soon, I am afraid it will take up the whole interior of my body. Soon, if no tears come, I will become hard and dry. If I trip, I will shatter into gray, rocky chunks all over the sidewalk.
One winter night, we received two inches of snow at our house. Although there was not much, it was enough to topple one of the trees holding up our tree fort. I was upset at the time since the falling tree took our fort with it. We would now have to launch acorns at other kids from the ground.
I suppose, in retrospect, that this was a good thing. If a mere two inches of snow could bring down the oak tree, I imagine it could have fallen over at any time while one of us was up in the fort.