Sunday, July 14, 2013
Arrange your face
I'm not a cryer. I used to be. But not anymore. When Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I sort of came to the conclusion that as his primary caregiver, I wasn't going to be allowed to cry anymore. That doesn't mean I never cry at stuff, I definitely do, but it's more to prove a point that I don't get weepy anymore over "silly" things the way I did when I was younger, and I'm much more able to talk myself out of tears when I feel them coming on.
In the days following my D & C, I found myself on the verge of tears a lot. I know that kind of sounds like a "well, duh, you had a miscarriage and it's sad" sort of thing, but that's not what I was crying about. I was crying about really dumb stuff. In the days before the D & C, I cried, and I sort of made my peace with the situation. But I later learned that after a miscarriage - be it natural or medically-induced - your hCG levels start to plummet and that can cause moodiness and other good stuff. So that's the background.
I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel earlier this year. It's the first book in a planned trilogy, historical fiction with Thomas Cromwell as the main character. I loved it, it was one of the best books I've ever read, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies. I like to listen to NPR podcasts when I walk to and from work, and on the Monday following my D& C, I was pleased to see that Terry Gross of Fresh Air had posted an interview with Hilary Mantel. The first half of the interview just deals with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel's thoughts on Cromwell and Henry VIII in general, and so on. In the last ten minutes of the interview, which I was listening to on that hot day as I walked home from work, Terry Gross asks Mantel to discuss her lifelong battle with endometriosis. Mantel explained what endo is and then in her typical, matter-of-fact, British way, stated: "I suffered from it, I think since I was 11 years old. It wasn't diagnosed; I kept getting sent away and told that it was all in my mind. When I was 27, the whole thing came to a crisis, and I had surgery, big surgery. I lost my fertility. I didn't have any children; I don't know whether I would have been able to have children. Unfortunately, that surgery didn't cure the condition. It came back, and I lived with it for the next 20 years. It's now died back, it's quiescent, but it's done a lot of damage to my body."
I knew that Mantel was married, had been married for a long time, and I knew that she didn't have children. But I never realized that she suffered from endo and infertility. And by this point on my walk home, I'm snotting all over the place with big fat tears running down my cheeks. And the real reason, the real thing that was making me cry, aside from how frankly she spoke about her problem, was that Hilary Mantel has led a really interesting life, she is an incredibly gifted writer, and her work means something to me and to other people. And long after she is gone, it will continue to do that. Of course I logically know that if I never have children of my own, my life will still have value and meaning. Of course. But if I'm being honest, I don't always feel that way. I worry that if I can't have children, my life will mean less, will be less fulfilling. But hearing Hilary Mantel talk, it made me feel a little more like my life can still be full and rich and worthwhile not just for me, but for other people even if I don't have kids.
Then she started talking about her personal feelings on religion, and I teared up again in the middle of Duane Reade because I agreed with so much of what she said. But that's neither here nor there.
Thomas Cromwell of Mantel's telling would totally not have approved of my weepiness - that's the point of this post's title. Cromwell is always instructing himself and his underlings to "arrange your face" so as not to give anything away, to keep from looking shocked or angry or pleased when negotiating. Ultimately, though, my hormones stabilized and I stopped crying while walking to work listening to podcasts. And now I'll leave you with a little Wolf Hall. In this scene, Cromwell is talking to his wife about Queen Katherine, whom Henry VIII is trying to divorce:
"He doesn't like her crying."
"Men say," Liz reaches for her scissors, "'I can't endure it when women cry' - just as people say, 'I can't endure this wet weather.' As if it were nothing to do with the men at all, the crying. Just one of those things that happens."
"I've never made you cry, have I?"
"Only with laughter," she says.