I could feel the tears welling up. My throat tightened. My chin trembled. I put my fingers to my mouth to cover it. To control it. Vocalizing that memory was too painful and my body reacted. I stopped talking for a moment in order to stifle the tears.
“Breathe,” she said.
What do you mean breathe? I am breathing.
“Breathe,” she repeated. “Come on, Lina; breathe.”
I dropped my jaw and gave a shaky exhale.
And the dam broke loose. In that moment, in front of a woman I didn’t know very well, I lost control. I cried. My stomach tightened, my chest heaved, my head dropped as intense pain pushed its way up from hidden depths and rushed forth in sobs. And endless tears rolled down and dropped in tiny splashes.
She waited in silence while I cried.
I reached for another tissue and gave another exhale. “I’m not used to crying in front of people,” I apologized.
“I know,” she said. “I can tell. You cover your mouth and swallow your pain.”
And I thought, she’s right. I looked back over the years and saw how many times I didn’t cry. I didn’t let myself cry. It wasn’t safe to cry. I was so accustomed to stifling my tears that I assumed I was one of those people that just wasn’t emotional. I’m not really a crying person. I would cover my mouth, blink back the tears and blurt out something funny. A quick laugh and the moment passed. My eyes stayed dry and my pain stayed buried.
Now when the pain rises in sharp bursts, I breathe. I open my mouth and let the air escape. I let the tears roll and the sobs wrack and the hurt emerge. And dissipate.
And when my body quiets and the tears stop, and I’m sitting in that moment of raw vulnerability, I keep breathing.