I officially broke the seal today. I cried at work. In front of everyone.
Anyone who has ever seen me in an office setting has seen me cry at least once, guaranteed. Maybe it was the anniversary of Paul Walker’s death. Maybe it was one of the thousands of times Leo took “an attempt upon his own life.” Maybe I was recounting my trauma with Steven Universe (because why does this fat fuck have a bejeweled belly button and idfk there’s something about the way the characters are drawn that I find unsettling). Maybe The Dodo posted a really emotional video about an emaciated dog with hella-bad mange turning into a beautiful butterfly, and I cried quarts of happy tears and rose from my office chair to give a standing ovation while deskmates looked on in horror, or annoyance.
But sometimes—like, every once on a double rainbow—I’ll cry for real. Like, real tears. For real reasons.
Last August, I lost someone I didn’t want to lose, in a way that I would never wish upon even my worst enemies (I don’t think I have real-life enemies, but if I do, at least I’m a merciful bitch, feel me?). It was the scary kind of hurt, like someone taking a relatively sharp bread knife and cutting bacon strips off your back fat like a doner kebab. It hurt like dry-swallowing a pinecone you found on your weekend spirit quest through the nearest forest, aka any cluster of three or more trees not encased in concrete, and pushing it out your butthole a mere two hours later. It hurt like how I imagine being awake through getting your dick amputated would hurt, and similar tortures in the nine circles of hell. And I was alarmed and confused by how much it hurt, and I designed and performed comprehensive tests in Harvard-funded labs to determine whether or not I even had permission to feel this pain (you know, as someone who wasn’t her best friend). And then I flogged myself twice a day—once when I woke up and once before bed—with broken shards of my many wine bottles superglued to one of Leo’s disgusting, disease-infested leashes to punish myself for feeling anything in excess of tidy, respectful sorrow.
Grief and I do not tango. We are either zero to 60 in under six seconds or not at all, until x-number of years down the line when I go on a surprise-killing spree because I have unprocessed emotions that have resurrected with the full ferocity of the herp, simplex 2. And what am I left with when that happens? Unarmed with any healthy tools for coping that well-adjusted white people with therapists for parents would have, I default to collecting shame, and undetonated anger, and strap them to my body like football padding, waiting for that one golden opportunity to shoulder-check a newborn in a Baby Bjorn because secretly I think it would feel like heaven if I could actually get away with it without going to hell, or prison.
Imagine where I was in August 2017, starting a new job the week my person is taken, and my Asian fight-or-flight instincts tell me, “Persevere,” and my new overlords tell me that they’re sympathetic up until it inconveniences my output, or their workday, and then it’s “I’ve noticed you’ve been dropping the ball lately,” or “You’ve been sick a lot, haven’t you?” Or, worse yet, no one (of a certain pay grade and higher) acknowledges that anything happened at all, that my person ever existed at all. And so, I sit in my grief-soiled desk chair for the next six months telling myself that, from 9am to 5:30pm Monday through Friday, she didn’t exist at all.
Fast forward to today’s staff meeting with a facilitator, brought in to diagnose why we were all so broken. “How does [redacted name of workplace] not live up to its values?”
First lesson from freshman year, English Honors: answer the damn prompt. Yours truly did not. My intention was to respond diplomatically, using carefully diluted examples from my experience, scrubbed of names, dates, and other specifics. What I did instead was balloon-animal the question to talk about how our workplace was a conspicuously disguised gulag that hypocritically flew under the banner of feminism, using as an example how management handled this bereavement. But as soon as I opened my mouth, it all went to shit. My voice immediately started to quiver. To steady myself, I thought to insert thoughtful pauses. WELP. That apparently translated into rapidly sucking in air, artfully accompanied by gasping noises. C’mon Frances, you’re blowing it! My eyes began to well, the tears were hovering, and then, full blown weeping. THE GOTDAMN SHAME. I even had to Days of Our Lives pause, right hand clasped over my mouth, eyes mournfully shut, with my left hand waving the despair away. ‘Tis too much! I daren’t continue… Except I will because I’m oh so strong and resilient and have a pathological desire to end my sentences with a dramatic finish. And I did, somehow. But you know what else I did? I shared specifics (thankfully not all of them, though). And do you know what I did after that? I MADE PEOPLE CRY. I moved people to tears, either because they are earthly angels who felt true, unfiltered compassion for me, or because they were so taken aback by this wailing woman in front of them that their bodies spasmed and they just started crying to be in solidarity with me, because what is the right reaction in this instance? REGARDLESS. I AM AN ASSHOLE.
You see, here’s the thing: I was angry. I hated that my supervisor’s only concern was to industrial-milk me until I died. I hated that it never occurred to her supervisor—our divine leader—to ask me how I was doing. I don’t think she even knew my name until, maybe, last week. More than anything, I hated that they (the overlords) validated my fears. They decided, over their mesclun salads and cans of La Croix, that I didn’t have the right to acknowledge what I was feeling. At least, not in the daylight. Ain’t that a bitch? And then, to add insult to injury, they told me to handle myself but didn’t help me find a shrink.
So, I used a professional group forum as a Breakfast Club therapy session that no one wanted to participate in, and I broke people. I damn-near broke the facilitator as copious WTF vibes began to radiate off her body. After my Trojan Women reenactment, I thought about whether leaving the meeting with the three shredded ribbons that remained of my dignity was an option. ‘Twasn’t. After we closed (because my ultra-mega-trauma-fart took us over time), I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes, kept my gaze down, and tried to walk out of there the same way I had walked in: with the confidence of a person who had yet to cry at work.
I think they put me on suicide watch the rest of the afternoon. Not too many people approached me afterward, but the ones who did spoke to me like a parent would to their loser child who was the only kid in school not asked to the dance (“I don’t know what to you tell you, Bud, but, like, this is shitty, and I’m sorry!”). One of them left on my desk one half of her chocolate chip cookie, a #selfcare gift to herself to emotional-eat after that heavy-shit meeting. Nothing makes you feel more like a lump of shit than some kind soul sacrificing half of her $4 Culture cookie so that you don’t drown yourself in the toilet later. I did, indeed, feel like dying in that moment (but like, after I ate the cookie, of course). I burned the hours till 5pm listening to Post Malone, letting my humiliation carve Swiss cheese-like holes throughout my body, and fantasizing about using the memory charm from the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter (embarrassing) to strike the entire episode from my esteemed colleagues’ recollections. Alas, I live in the real world, and today, I lost all credibility as an adult. Again.
I went home and did what anyone who’s hurting would do: I rummaged through the entire kitchen looking for expired British chocolate, ate a fuckton of string cheese and wine on the cusp of vinegar-hood (waste not!), and watched an episode of Family Guy I’ve seen 16,397 times in the two months of 2018.
Grief, when left untreated, will not only bite you in the ass but knock you out cold. And then take your kidney. No one knows that a Broke Bitch has actual human feelings until they’re projectile-vomited all over your nice new ZARA work outfit in the large conference room, on a Wednesday of all days.
Find youz a gig that treats you like a human being when shit hits the fan. S’all I’m sayin’.
That’s a real kind of tree by the way, weeping beech.