He isn’t screaming anymore.
He’s not yelling “Fuck! FUCK!” like he was a few minutes back. He isn’t weeping into a phone, shouting through tears “I want to kill myself. I want to commit suicide.”
The man in my front yard isn’t screaming anymore. He’s no longer yelling about Sarah.
I tell two stories about weeping in public. The first is about death. The second’s about a nun.
The first was at a hospital in the Quad Cities, a cluster of river towns on the Illinois-Iowa border. My grandfather was dying. He’s been dead 14 years now, to put the story in time.
I had bright green punker hair and no cell phone when he died. That puts the story in time too.
I went down from the hospital room to call my other grandparents, now dead themselves, from a payphone by the elevator. They asked attentively how Joe was. I tried to say “It’ll all be over soon,” but the words caught my throat. I couldn’t say “over soon.” I tried and repeated but the words couldn’t come.
I burst into tears. I wept and squealed and I couldn’t stop shaking. My grandfather on the phone, soon to be my only grandfather, tut-tutted and soothed and told me birth was fatal. A nice family heading up to the elevator stopped to ask the sobbing greenhair in the tight black band T-shirt if he was all right.
I couldn’t answer. I just sobbed and shook and to this day I can’t remember if I nodded yes or shook my head no.
Grandpa Dailing died that night. I keep a photo of us on my dresser.
The man in my front yard isn’t technically in my front yard. He’s pacing along the sidewalk in front of my fence, sobbing into his phone about wanting to die.
He’s young and thin, with close-cropped blond hair.
He’s on the phone, which I guess is good. He’s reaching out to talk. He’s saying he wants to go to the bridge, not silently walking toward it.
That’s good, right?
With weeping and bluster, he heaves himself on the grass by the curb to bury his head in his hands and tell the phone about Sarah. His pain is palpable, even from two stories up.
I’m watching him from a second-story window. I try to hide behind the wall so he can’t see me.
The second crying story is about the bitch nun. This one was at O’Hare, so more appropriate for a Chicago blog.
It was 11 years ago. I was 24 or so, and my hair was back to brown but with massive rockabilly sideburns I never trimmed.
I had just dropped a woman I loved very much off at the airport. The benefit of hindsight reminds me we fought all the time. And there was an age difference. And we lived on different continents.
But the benefit of memory tells me it was a woman I loved and who loved me, and it’s sad that it wouldn’t work out.
After goodbyes and kisses and more kisses and promises, I was alone in the terminal, waving at post-9/11 safety standards that would let me see her to the gate.
I walked to the railing by the elevator to baggage claim and I just wept.
It was worse than weeping for death, I later decided. My grandfather was 91 years old, lived by himself until the end, had his marbles and got to see his three estranged children together before he went. That’s fair and right. That’s how people should die.
This was unfair and not right. The girl and I loved each other, in that all-consuming, problem-ignoring way you only can while young. We were on fire together in a way no one ever ever ever ever ever ever had been before or after us, man. And we were meant for the AGES.
We lasted less than a year after that, but we gave it a go. We at least tried.
The perspective came later. I wept in O’Hare that day. Another elevator. Another uncontrollable breakout sob like the man on my curb right now.
Then, that fucking nun.
A nun, a full-fledged habit and wimple, Christ-briding, ruler-wielding, black-and-white Blues Brothers-style “Da Penguin” poverty-and-chastity Sister of the One True Mister n-u-n NUN walked by on the way to check in baggage for her flight.
Even crying, I turned my head to see her. She turned her head to look at me. Then a merchant of Christ and a servant in distress caught eyes.
She straightened herself up, pretended she didn’t see me and walked on.
I think you can see where this is going. I didn’t go out to comfort the man sobbing on my lawn. I’m not the kind family at the hospital. I’m the bitch nun.
The police came by. They flashed their lights and did their little beepy siren thing and parked just out of eyeshot east of my building.
Still on the phone, the man walked in that direction. I hope it wasn’t coincidental. I hope they were the response to a call he placed for help.
He seemed exasperated, having to walk. It was the last I saw of him.
I hope he got help.
I hope he isn’t off killing himself right now.
I hope Sarah runs far, far away.
But mostly I hope the person on the other end of the sobbing man’s phone was able to be the person the nun and I weren’t. I hope he or she listened and was kind.
There’s enough pain in the world to go around, I guess. There are enough psycho exes screaming on lawns and sobbing in airports that I don’t know what the nun or I could have done.
The man is gone, off to cops or more weeping — I don’t know which.
I wish I had done more.