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Crying in Restaurants

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS
Crying in Restaurants
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1. Order onions. This is good, because you can make a joke about the onions and how they're making you cry. When you're crying in a restaurant, you badly need a joke, even a crap one, so that you don't have to excavate your murky interior, rooting around for the words to describe all the unarticulated misery of that moment. Instead, when someone says, "Why are you crying?" you can refer to the onions. Or say something like, "It's because I have to kill you tonight."

2. Drink wine. Not so much that you're slurring your words, and your mouth and tongue and teeth have turned purple, and your eyes droop to half-moons, and you accidentally spill on the tablecloth, and say things you only half-mean. But enough wine. If you find this balance, please tell me what it is.

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3. Before you start crying, when you first feel the red sting, go to the bathroom. Get ahold of yourself. Sit on the toilet, drop your head into your hands, dig your fingers into your hair. Pee while you're in there, because, well, there you are. Peeing can short-circuit the whole thing. It's like being forced to iron a shirt in the middle of a temper tantrum. Be warned, however, that the bathroom can be a trap, especially if there is a line. (If you are a woman, there will probably be a line.) Then you are not Getting Ahold of Yourself in a private place, you are sniveling in a line of bored women who may try to soothe you, who will ask you what is wrong, honey, who may possibly take your wet face to their large and foreign bosoms. Or else they will just stand there, indifferent and gnawing on their fake nails, and either way, you'll just want to scream.

4. Understand that the man you're with doesn't know what to do. If you come with an instruction manual, please get it out at this time. Know that when you start crying — wherever, but especially in a restaurant, one as posh as this one, with leather banquettes and clean, modern design — he does not know what to do. He grapples for whatever he can get ahold of, like a sailor watching his ship drift from the dock, unable to reach the anchor. Maybe what he says is clever ("Save it for dessert!"). Maybe it is stupid ("Are you having your period?"). But it's all a variant of one critical question, which is, "How can I get you to stop?" Probably the best way he can get you to stop, right now, is to give up his need to fix things. Maybe if he just stayed calm, it would rub off on you. But that is hard for him, because, if he is a sensitive man, he'll think you're crying because of him. As it turns out, this time you are.

5. Try not to involve the waitress. She's had a long night. She's probably a very nice person who would like to do nothing more than kick off her heels, do a bump of coke and lose an hour or four at the bar before going home to her loft and boning her scraggly indie-rock boyfriend. So leave her out of this. But sometimes you mean to, and you can't.

Crying in restaurants can't always be stopped, but it can be prevented.

Like when she comes to take your order, and you say, "Do you think I should have the fish or the steak?" and the man you are with says, "Order whatever the fuck you want," and then it's like the air was vaccuumed out of your lungs — why is he talking to you like this? — and the tears gush out before you can even stammer a response. You're just going to have to work the tears; they are no longer optional.

And so you say, looking down at the white linen tablecloth, "I guess I'll take the fish. And some extra napkins." And now she is a part of your fight. See how this happened? She doesn't know what to do. She is now helping to carry the stress and unhappiness that is weighing down your table. Though, frankly, you could use an extra hand these days.

6. Don't exaggerate. Yes, exaggerating is gratifying ("You always do this!"). It feels good ("You never listen!"). But it will get you into all kinds of trouble. It doesn't help this situation, which has become difficult and suddenly weighty. It's not really fair, either. For instance, in that anecdote I just told you? That wasn't exactly what the man said. He said, "Order what you want," which doesn't sound nearly as bad (it sounds, in fact, only logical). Were he to read this story, he would point out that he never had much of a temper, that he never laced his speech with F-bombs meant to wound, and even more damning, that I was the one guilty of such impulse and indiscretion (i.e., "Who the fuck is she?", "Where the fuck have you been?")

But anyway, what I am trying to telegraph to you in the above anecdote is the disdain in his voice, the cruel indifference to the situation — Fish or steak? Restraint or indulgence? Be good or be bad? — and how his words sideswiped me, reminded me of how he regarded all the recurring little dilemmas in my life, or the way I cried in restaurants, which used to unmoor him and now was merely another bump in another night that should have been great but somehow went wrong. And still cost $200.


 

        
 PERSONAL ESSAYS

        
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7. Oh, oh, oh: If you are going to cry in a restaurant, do not make it a luxurious four-star spread. Make it, like, Long John Silver's. Because shouldn't everybody be crying in Long John Silver's?

8. If you've been dating for three years (and unhappy for at least one), do not take this moment to point out his cruel indifference, because a) he will accuse you of exaggerating, and b) you might actually hear what he thinks, for the first time in a long time. He might uncork a surprising and bone-deep dissatisfaction, and it might spill onto the table, along with your red wine. And what he thinks is that he's done trying. He can't do this anymore. He's, christ, how to even begin? You need to move out. And then the fucking fish is gonna show up, and you're gonna realize — goddammit — that you badly wanted steak.

9. Crying in restaurants can't always be stopped, but it can be prevented. Let me explain. Your relationship is over. Your clothes and books have been dumped into cardboard boxes, which are still labeled with Sharpie from when you moved into this house. At this point, it is a bad idea to go out with this man again, at least for a little while. And baby, "a little

Crying in restaurants is like being a celebrity.

while" is not four days. "A little while" is weeks, maybe months. It's a bad idea to have a super-fancy dinner to celebrate the end of your relationship — because you are priding yourselves on being a different kind of couple, one that throws a party instead of a funeral — because you will show up in a slinky top bought specifically for him and he will say, "Have you been self-tanning? Your back is all splotchy." Then, later that night, when you've had enough champagne to hold his fingertips underneath the table, he will mention (by the way) that he has plans with someone from the bar tonight. You don't mind, do you? And you're off, crying in restaurants again. For this, you both deserve a special congratulations. This fucking meal cost $400.

10. Don't yell. Yelling is tempting. Lord, it feels good. Breaking glasses feels good. Reaching inside his chest and tearing out his heart feels good. (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as romantic metaphor. Who knew?) But you can't do any of this. Even if, a week after that super-fancy dinner, you see him at a bar where he knew you would be, only this time, he is accompanied by a twenty-three-year-old golf instructor who looks like a Disney character. Maybe Belle. Maybe Thumper. If he comes to your table, sighs and sits down nervously, and you begin to yell ("Are you on a fucking date?"), he will redden and shift uncomfortably and whisper things like, "Okay, okay, simmer down." Only he doesn't say normal annoying things like "simmer down," he says extra-annoying things like "Okay, okay, throttle back." By the way, who says "throttle back"? Astronauts. He is not an astronaut. He is a business-systems analyst who is wearing a light blue Mexican wedding shirt you once gave him, which you would like to take back now. By ripping it through his nose.

11. If you do yell, notice something. Notice that everyone is paying attention to you, but not looking at you. They are whispering about you, but scared to make eye contact. In this way, crying in restaurants is like being a celebrity. And you know what? It totally sucks.

He will remember you fondly, for the most part. You will do the same.

12. But you won't yell. It's not in your character. Somewhere inside your brain, you're throwing a cast-iron frying pan straight into his skull, but here, in this world, you are taking a deep breath, lighting a cigarette and saying, "I don't know what to do. I'm so fucking sad. I just love you is all." (Ugh. Why did you say that?) It will take you a long time to stop saying these things, these sort of minor-note, self-pitying things meant to redirect this story back to where it used to be.

And it will take you a while to realize you don't want the story back where it used to be. It will take you a while to stop text-messaging him when you are drunk, and to stop emailing him stories about your day and sending him postcards on a whim and buying him presents when you are out of town, because this is the kind of person you are. It is almost a habit. But eventually, you will realize that he is not the person who should get these dispatches, at least not from you. He is someone who will get on with his life, who will fall in love with other women and move them into the home you once shared, and who will be gracious enough not tell the world about all the times you staggered home drunk, vomited in the bathroom, tripped and fell, not just literally (ten times? fourteen?) but figuratively, because you were not the person you wanted to be back then. He will remember you fondly, for the most part. And for the most part, you will do the same.

13. I don't know what advice to give you about crying in restaurants. I used to think it was just me, my sensitivity, my tendency to wear my tear ducts on my sleeve. But now I think that, all along, I was trying to say something. I never could get out the words. Maybe because I kept ordering onions and making jokes. Maybe because I refused to excavate my murky, unarticulated interior. Maybe because I spilled wine, and blamed it on alcohol. And so I guess it eventually fell on him to do it. Because one of us had to, didn't we?

Three years, at least one of them not what we wanted it to be. It was all that crap that happens to a couple: swapping out sex for television, staying too late at bars while the other one waited at home, seeing insignificant flaws as major character deficits (my tendency to squeeze the toothpaste in the middle of the tube; his tendency to buy extravagant things and not use them). So now, I just feel grateful someone was there to hear me say the things that had been rattling around inside me for too long, silenced by fear and booze and inertia. I'm done. I can't do this anymore. And I could get on with my life, and move to New York, and make out in subways and under highway overpasses, and I could think about falling in love again someday, someday when I'm ready for it, and I could look back on that evening not as a tragedy, There's no need to cry, even. Though feel free to cry anyway. I certainly did.  

Next month: the sixth and final chapter.
 

        
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Hepola has been a high-school teacher, a playwright, a film critic, a music editor and a travel columnist. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, Salon, and on NPR. She lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
©2007 Sarah Hepola and Nerve.com