People have different problems—and I have mine—I am incapable of shedding tears. You might console my untouched heart and tell me that it is a good thing for a boy. You would tell me that tears are the symbols of my weakness, vulnerability, fragility, and everything that makes me less of a boy. You are likely to think back to the times when you are embarrassed by your own fall of tears when you are in front of the crowd and wonder—why would anyone be ashamed of not being able to weep?
I struggle to even ever feel the moisture in my eyes, experience the exodus of liquid rolling down my cheeks, and even the relaxation and relief I see in people when tears run down their cheeks.
I have always thought about ways to squeeze tears out of my eyes, and trust me, I really tried. I have tried yawning, but my eyes remained as dry as they were before—whenever the fatigue comes to me, I focus on blinking my eyes incessantly so that tears would come out—but they never do; I even waited for my nails to grow one time just so I could squeeze it to my palm flesh, leaving a red mark on my hand but no tears in my eyes; I watched sad movies—prepared myself napkins—I watched the ones labelled “emotional”, “heartbreaking”, and “touching”—from romance movies to movies about death—none of them made me cry. Amidst my sister and mom who start crying and wiping their eyes when it comes to emotional scenes was me—a boy with no tears.
You might think that I am a ruthless creature—a boy with no emotions. Let me tell you the truth, my dear reader: although I don’t cry, I feel the same pain you experience; I feel the loss; I feel the outrage; and of course, I experience the choke on my chest when an invisible snake takes away all my breathes.
Tears are interesting—for us boys, they are the worst thing ever—if they ever show up on our faces, unexpected, people around you would naturally place judgements on your vulnerable heart—they would think that we are “unmanly”. When it comes to girls, however, they work very differently, and I have witnessed the horrible consequences of sinful tears from a very young age.
I remembered attending my best friend’s birthday party, which turned into a complete disaster. James started crying when he lost his birthday present from Amy. Immediately, his dad came over and slammed him on the face; James cried harder and harder and the joyful party became chaotic and awkward. I did not remember how the fiasco closed itself, how I got home, or how my own perception of James’s dad and James himself shifted after the birthday party—all I could remember was the sight of endless tears on James’s cheek and the phrases his dad repeated constantly—“Boys never cry”, “boys should not cry”, and “boys can’t cry.”
It is weird. Whenever I come across any type of injustice, sad emotions, and intense feelings in my life from then on, the words of James’s dad would echo in my head. Boys never cry. Boys shouldn’t cry. Boys cannot cry.
Boys don’t cry, and things were alright. I was just this tough boy who never cry in school—a strong boy who stands back up after being hit to the ground, a boy who nods when someone points at his face and tells him that he is wrong, a boy, who, thanks to the inability to cry, was looked up to by the most popular girls in school for being a “real boy”.
However, I started to realize the problem was a serious one when grandpa passed away.
My grandfather has been very close to me since a very young age—in a way, he raised me up. I used to hold his huge callous hands when I learned to walk—I felt safe putting my tiny hands in his and holding on to the warmth of his palm. Grandpa was a great story teller, and one of those stories was the tale of Sun Wukong (the Chinese Moneyking)—a heroic, legendary character from Journey to the West. I was so fascinated by Wukong’s Golden hoop, clairvoyance, firing eyes, and his ability to transform into 72 things that I thought all day about the character—I wanted to become Wukong.
Understanding my obsession with Wukong, grandpa used his magic and transformed a household mop into something that looked perfectly like the Golden hoop—he painted the mop red and put two yellow tapes on the sides. I was convinced that the mop was the Golden hoop, and I could not stop playing with it and imagining that I was Wukong himself. I even chased after Grandpa when he role played different antagonists and monsters from the story and pointed the “Golden hoop” at him, fighting for justice.
As much as I wanted to be Wukong, however, I have always secretly looked up to grandpa as my Wukong, my absolute favorite fictional character—not only because he introduced the character to me and built me a Golden hoop, but also because he truly embodied the characteristics of Wukong. Grandpa was everything that Wukong represents—he was extremely intelligent, masculine, and proud (in a good way). Grandpa could do as many push-ups as I could imagine, and I became the proudest person on earth when his neighbors and my friends compliment his athleticism and masculinity. When I was young, I wanted to be just like grandpa—a man just like Wukong—someone strong, intelligent, and humorous.
One time, I begged grandpa to let me “exercise” on his stomach. Convinced by my pleading eyes and overflowing energy, grandpa agreed— “you just have to be careful, but have fun”, he said. I jumped on his stomach, waving my hands in the air, bouncing up and down on the human trampoline. I had never had so much fun before; I jumped a little higher and landed a little harder. At such moment, grandpa could no longer breathe—I saw his pecs shaking, and he asked me to call my parents. There was no blame in my eyes—all I saw was the same gentle affirmed look.
Hours later, grandpa ended up in the hospital. I was only three years ago back then, but I have already tasted the immense feeling of guilt. Seeing grandpa’s understanding eyes and toughness, I choked down my tears—that was the closest time that I came to crying.
All I remembered when I got older was seeing his grey hair grow white, his back a bit more bent every time, his hands shake when he held the chopsticks, and wrinkles that spread themselves on his once handsome face.
I did not know how to react when I learned that he was dying. The childhood memories came back to me, but I didn’t cry—a few days later, I was at his deathbed.
I walked slowly to the bed— I saw grandpa lying peacefully in the bed of the hospital, breathing heavily—his face looked a lot thinner and paler than the one that lived in my memory—the Wukong that I knew. I realized how aged he looked with all the wrinkles on his face.
As I sat myself besides his bed, his eyes opened and looked at me. My parents said, “We are all here to see you. You see, both your grandson and granddaughter are here.”
I looked over at my sister and saw tears streaming down her face. She wiped her red moisturized eyes with her sleeves and held tightly to my mom, who too, was crying. I then glanced at my dad and heard him mutter, “dad, we are all here”. His voice was shaking, and I saw drops of water tumbling in his eyes but didn’t find their way out. Like me, I thought, dad was struggling to express his grief through tears.
I wanted to say something to my beloved grandpa, tell him that I have always loved him, let him know that I would always remember him, and make him believe that although life, as fragile as it is, can always be celebrated through the forms of memories. I wanted to tell him that he has been the Wukong I have tried all my life to become—the tough, fearless monkey hero. None of the words came out, of course, or a single drop of tears.
Grandpa opened his eyes again and seemed to nod his head using the last strength of the body. He then closed his eyes again.
I wanted to cry. So badly. I wanted to release the feelings (kind of like sneezing so there is nothing left to hold on to)—I urged to signal my family that I am sharing the loss, grief, agony, and pain as much as they are.
The next day, grandpa passed away. He left us in the middle of the night, and I strongly believe, peacefully and happily.
In the morning, all my family members and relatives gathered in the room. Everyone started crying hysterically and yelling his name. My parents’ eyes were also wetted by tears—the vulnerability of the two strongest people I know surprised me. I felt something strong struck me in the heart, pinching every muscle of my body, but I just stood there with my eyes dry.
My parents never brought the day up again, but I knew they were disappointed in me for not showing any emotions. My dear reader, you are the only one who understands—I wished I could cry, but I just can’t—from knowing that crying is bad and always resisting my own tears from a young age, from wanting to be Wukong—a character who never cries, I have officially diagnosed myself as incapable of crying.
Days after grandpa’s death, I went back to the hospital room one night when I was in my dream. I finally had my own chance to pay a revisit to this great man. I went there alone (without mom, dad, or my sister). I went quietly inside and saw my grandpa lying on the same bed, breathing peacefully, with a happy smile on his face.
I sat beside him, held his hands to mine just like I used to when I was young, and whispered with all my guts, “I love you, grandpa. Please don’t leave me. You are my Wukong.” As soon as I opened my mouth, tears ran down from my eyes, washing off the guilt on my desperate face. Grandpa heard me and told me that the day would come for all of us, sooner or later. He then opened his eyes and looked me into the eyes and told me how he always knew that I loved him, even though I didn’t cry when I hurt his stomach at the age of 3 or cried when he actually died days ago. He told me that love and emotions don’t have to be expressed through words or tears because they are always there. He then said something that grips my heart— “hey, my Wukong,” he said, “you are the Wukong I know. You are a strong young boy, and you have a courageous heart. Remember, it is okay to cry, because as strong as Wukong is, I am sure he cries too, just not in the books.”
The same intense pain came back to my chest, and to my surprise, endless drips of water continued to run down my cheeks, and the tears turned into cries, accompanied by grandpa’s happy tears. The tears washed away the shame I experienced for “not showing any emotions”; they flushed away the insecurities of being judged as weak and unmanly; they combatted things that hold me back from showing my feelings.
As I wiped my eyes, knowing that I cried, I woke up and found myself in my own bedroom, with tears on both cheeks of my face, and the recurring pain I just experienced was still fresh on my mind—the same moment, I knew that what has always been broken is finally put together—I tasted happiness in the pain of losing grandpa a second time. This time, however, I have no regrets.
Written in Claremont, California.
By Sunny Yu