Last night I cried for the first time in a long time.
I didn't cry at my sweet Grandpa's funeral last week. Or during some painful relationship stuff the week before. When, during our camping trip Friday night, torrential rain flooded our tent, Margaret felt sick, and she and I had to sleep sitting up in the front seat of the car. Or when all the moms/daughters I know were at the Taylor Swift concert, which would have been the perfect 14th birthday present for my girl, if only I'd had my act together and $300 bucks sitting around.
I cried in Chipotle.
I went to grab some carryout because Chipotle was donating 50% of its proceeds to an organization that gives extra support to families whose kids have cancer. I hoped to run into a few friends who also support this organization. What I wasn't ready for was to reach the restaurant at the same time as a big crew of 16-18 year old boys. How did I know their ages? Well, I am a student of teenage boys, their mannerisms, their size. I search their faces for signs of my kid in them, in their joking and jostling, their acne, their abs.
I saw my friend Dawn and asked about her son, one of Jack's buddies. He has started driving. He just got back from motorcycle camp. I wondered what Jack would be doing this summer before junior year.
Teenage boys all around me.
Dawn's son spreading his wings.
The moms and dads whose kids have cancer.
It became too much. I was trapped in line. Hemmed in close behind by another boy I knew from church, the son of another friend, I started my routine to try to stop the tears. Biting the inside of my lips. Digging fingernails into my palms. Looking away from Dawn's kind eyes when she asked if I wanted her to stay with me as I made my way through the line.
No, I shook my head, unable to speak. I wanted to regain control. Not that I think crying is bad. It's cleansing, healing, and natural. But last night I just wanted my damn burrito bowl. I didn't want to be different. I didn't want to show my inward pain on the outside. Others in the restaurant surely didn't want to be different either. The adolescent girl with her hair gone to chemo. The kind dad in front of me who noticed my crying, told me his daughter is a cancer survivor, and asked if I needed to talk. "It's okay if you don't want to talk, but I'm here if you do." I am guessing had his life not fallen apart one day in some pediatrician's office, he wouldn't have taken the time to notice a middle-aged woman sniffling behind him.
But he did notice.
His perspective, like mine, changed and can't be changed back. Same with Dawn, whose red-headed boy, Cortland, lost his friend in the creek. Christine, across the restaurant, who didn't feel snubbed when I finally got my food and darted for the side door without saying hi. Her new path started when her baby's bloated stomach turned out to be neuroblastoma. Even the laughing, joking teenage boys around me were surely acquainted with difference and pain.
When I made it to the car, I let it all out. Heaving sobs, hands gripping the steering wheel for some semblance of rootedness.
I cried all the way home.