The Ability to Cry

The Ability(əˈbilədē) to Cry

If I shed(SHed) one tear(ter), I might become Alice, swimming in an ocean of my tears.

By Yiyun Li

I’ve been ghosted(ɡōst), I told a friend on a Friday afternoon, when I hadn’t been able to reach Julia for days. The following week, I would be out of town, and Julia—I have changed her name—was scheduled to take care of our dog and our younger son in the hours before my husband got home from work, but she had not replied to my messages for confirmation(ˌkänfərˈmāSH(ə)n). It was unlike her. The previous two summers when we’d travelled, she had sent multiple photos and video clips, from our home in New Jersey(ˈjərzē), to let us know that the dog was happy and the garden was prospering(ˈpräspər). On the days that I was away, she picked up our son from school and had dinner with him. She transcribed(tran(t)ˈskrīb) their conversations, about history and politics(ˈpäləˌtiks), physics and feminism(ˈfeməˌnizəm), Internet memes(mēm) and Tokyo’s rush hours, and sent them to me, accompanied by emojis(ēˈmōjē).

Our little cockapoo(ˈkäkəˌpo͞o) was attacked by a pit bull(bo͝ol) when he was a puppy(ˈpəpē), and subsequently(ˈsəbsəkwəntlē) lost his courage, like the lion in “The Wizard(ˈwizərd) of Oz.” Our younger son is a reticent(ˈredəsənt) boy, and the person closest to him—his older brother—died by suicide(ˈso͞oəˌsīd) shortly after we met Julia. She had befriended both the boy and the dog as no other adult had.

The calls I made to Julia went straight to her voice mail, which was full. Increasingly agitated(ˈajiˌtādəd), I Googled, and found a two-sentence obituary(ōˈbiCHəˌwerē). Death, in the past sixteen months, had not been a stranger, having taken my elder son, my mother-in-law, and my father. I had not cried the day that Vincent died, or later when first my mother-in-law and then my father died. But, seeing Julia’s obituary, I broke into uncontrollable(ˌənkənˈtrōləb(ə)l) sobs(säb). A friend listened to me cry on the phone and told me that I was crying for the others, too. Another friend wrote to me that night and said that she, too, belonged to the “delayed crying club—and those tears do collect interest.”