At first, we thought it was laughter. The Novelist and I lay on my bed, on top of the quilt, mumbling about things; how nice the day was, I think. Suddenly we heard it, and we both grew quiet. Then the only sound was that of my hair brushing the pillow as I turned toward the window to hear it.
Laughter? We lay perfectly still, straining to hear.
No, not laughter; hysterical tears. It was a young woman’s voice, overlapping with a strong tenor speaking loudly but patiently. I didn’t realize how tense I was until The Novelist uncurled my hand from his. Show me it’s not violence, I prayed to the noises. Don’t let it be violence.
The sobs jerked out of the woman like each one was a labor pain. She was inarticulate, arrhythmic, sometimes choking and gagging on her own cries. I envisioned her curled up on the floor, hair sweeping the tile, rocking and sobbing.
Was she pleading? Was she angry? The Novelist said, “I thought she was laughing.”
“Me, too,” I whispered. We held our breath, listening.
The man raised his voice again. “You need… settle… be fine… You’re okay.”
“Stop it!” screamed the girl between choking fits. “I have to cry… Stop it!”
We listened for a long while. My ribcage seemed to shrink. I had to remind myself to breathe while I thought and remembered.
That’s the sound I made when Shane died. I didn’t know where the sounds were coming from. I remember those sounds and how much they hurt. It was like dry heaving for hours. I remember the actual sensation… Feeling like my face would crack open in its contortions, feeling the pain in my chest, where my heart was.
Those were the sounds I didn’t make when Grandma died. I started to cry. Someone silenced me. We were in the hospital. I’d disturb people. Those sobs are all the sounds I stopped making.
At some point the cries became a song.
Uaahh huh huh huh huh
Uaaaahh huh huh
Uaahh huh huh huh
“That poor girl.” I had almost forgotten he was there. He turned closer to me and I turned to him, his head below my chin, my hand brushing through his hair to his neck, soothing him. I kissed the top of his head.
“It’s stupid to tell her to stop.” We were silent again, listening.
“It’s a terrible thing to hear a soul being ripped apart,” The Novelist said. For some reason, this angered me. I found my throat clenching and my leg muscles flexing.
“That might not be what it is,” I snapped. “She’ll be… I hope she’ll be fine.”
“It’s amazing how close laughter is to crying, and how laughing can lead to crying and…”
“Crying can lead to laughter, yeah, I know.” Was I being bitchy? Why?
“It’s probably just something that developed,” said The Novelist. “I don’t know if it’s evolution. Maybe natural selection?”
“Maybe. I just wonder when it started. And whether it’s a trait of a more sophisticated animal. How does it help us?”
“Well there’s so much we don’t know about the brain…”
“I know,” I said. We both took a breath. “I wonder if it’s a trade-off, somehow. Like we get these complicated brains that are capable of amazing things which got us ahead, but there’s a glitch in the system. This brain makes us cry.”
We mumbled a while longer, until I was so mumbly that The Novelist declared beddy-bye time. He patiently helped me out of my skirt and let me lie like a dying fish.
I woke a few times, opening my heavy eyes to see him awake, staring at the ceiling. Then awake, sitting cross-legged, noticing me. He swept my hair back.
“I get so tired,” I said.
“I know you do,” he said.