The Tracks of My Tears (a 2-for-one)

I’m a crier. No point in pretending otherwise. I’ve been caught unawares by Kodak and Hallmark commercials, by love songs on the radio, by Cliff Eberhard singing, “My Father’s Shoes,” and Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses” … a song I don’t even like. I’ve written here about crying both times I’ve had to fire a teacher. I am, as Valerie would say, “all emo and sh__” (I mean, of course, in the sappy, sentimental, weepy way, not in the cutting way).

My sister and I went to see Dances with Wolves the Saturday after it opened. On a frigid November morning we arrived early for the first show to beat the lines. We picked our favorite center-of-the-back-row seats, and we watched.

(If you haven’t seen this movie but think you might one day, there are spoilers here.)

My sister cried when the horse was killed, cried when the wolf was killed because those scenes were really wrong and sad and because she is ‘all emo’ about animals. I cried, too. And there were other crying moments for both of us.

As the film neared its end, I started crying. The Lakota have eluded the cavalry, Kostner and Mary McDonnell are riding off together, just about everyone has lived to fight another day. But I am crying. I am more than crying, I am melting down, sobbing just about uncontrollably.

Fox tried to stem the flood. “It has a kind of happy ending,” she said. “They got away.”

Yeah. They got away that day. We saw the cavalry two and a half steps behind them with their Pawnee trackers. We know it’s only a matter of time before they run their prey to ground.

But none of that was the point, anyway. I wasn’t crying about the movie.

When I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I read it in transit from my Brooklyn apartment to my job in Harlem and spent the long stretches of my commute raging and crying on the subway. I would arrive at school red-eyed, furious and impotent, wanting to lash out at someone, hold someone responsible for all the destruction I was reading. It’s a wonder I wasn’t picking fights with strangers on the street.

In that movie theater with Fox, I wasn’t crying about what we’d seen. I was crying about what had actually happened — to Sioux, to Cherokee, to Nez Percé, to Ute, to native peoples all over North America. Just as I had when I’d read Bury My Heart, I was crying about history.

… And I couldn’t stop. Fox didn’t know how to help me. I was a mess. She went to the concession stand and got me some napkins. She kept trying to explain how there were positive things to see in the ending, ways a continued storyline might not be wholly bleak. Nothing doing.

Yes, I’m a crier, and of course that means I’m a movie-crier, but never anything like that. Even in Gorillas in the Mist I was able to function post-movie. No, the Dances with Wolves experience was groundbreaking. Even as I was crying I was surprised.

Finally an usher came over. He and the rest of the crew had finished cleaning the theater. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, “but you’re going to have to move to the lobby. I have to seat the next show.”

Yeah, could I please go cry in the lobby? (But that isn’t fair because he was very nice about it, and he couldn’t hold up the day’s schedule for one hyper-sensitive woman.)

I mopped myself up a bit and Fox and I headed out to the lobby … which was full of the sold-out crowd for the next show. Full of people watching me — a complete basket case, still weeping quietly — walk out of the screening room they were about to enter. They looked horrified, surely all were wondering what they’d gotten themselves into, what exactly they were about to see.

They helped me. Seeing their faces made me laugh, broke the crying jag and let me get myself together.

Ah, but I said this was a two-fer, didn’t I? Yeah, that would be because that DWW experience wasn’t as much of an aberration as I would have liked to believe. Fast forward to 1994 and me walking alone and unsuspecting into the first-class second-run theater that only charged a dollar a show … There I was, cheap ticket in one hand, bag of over-priced popcorn in the other, strolling in to see Once Were Warriors. Clueless.

No spoilers here. See this movie. It’s painful, but worth it.

I watched it. As it ended, I was crying DWW-style. The theater emptied and the ushers came in. One passed me as he was sweeping a row. He looked at me and stopped.

“You’re crying.”

“Um, yeah.”

“But don’t you think the movie had a kind of uplifting ending?”


(He went off, came back to offer me some tissues, went off and came back.)

“You’re still crying!”

“Yeah, I am.”

(Moment of silence in which he stood there watching me cry.)

“Well, we’re almost done. Would you like to sit through the movie again?”

(I had to stop crying then so I could stare at him in surprise.) “You trying to kill me? You see what one viewing did to me!”

“But maybe if you watched it again, you’d see it the way I do, see that there’s hope at the end.”

I declined, but I liked that. It made me laugh a little, made me feel a less like the world was a soulless void (yeah, now there’s a rave movie review if I ever heard one!).

I’m still not sure what it was about those two films … or about me going to see those films. I cry in the movies regularly (not like a plan or anything, it just happens), but I haven’t had another of those wrenching, oh-such-a-headache- the-next-day episodes since Once Were Warriors.


is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.


6 thoughts on “The Tracks of My Tears (a 2-for-one)

  1. juliebrock

    I am a crier as well. Anything, you name it, I cry. We were at an all city track meet – a track meet for goodness sake – and I welled up as all the little kids ran their hearts out. I think emotion overwhelms me, especially the unadulterated joy of children…which is why, even before kids, I’d choose to see kids’ movies with a sea full of children. Their laughter heals…but I digress.

    The world needs more emos – the criers, not the cutters.


  2. I’m a movie crier, too, and a crier in general. I cried almost all the way through _School of Rock_, for goodness’ sakes. (It just seemed so touching, those little kids learning to play the electric guitar and so forth.) The movie that left me saddest at the end was _A Home at the End of the World_. I was certainly crying and if I’d been by myself in the theater, I would have thrown myself on the sticky floor and sobbed. Oh, I just read juliebrock’s comment–totally!


  3. Yeah, I’ve had to embrace myself as a crier. Nothing to be done about it. When I went to see my niece and nephew in their school musical, there were many moments when my eyes welled up. Seeing our GED grads march in their caps and gowns had the same effect.

    Oh, Linda, I cried in A Home at the End of the World, too! I hadn’t expected to like the movie really much at all. Boy, did it surprise me! And now I’ll have to rent School of Rock!


  4. You know what I’m struck by? The wisdom and kindness of the Once Were Warriors movie house attendant. The thought of seeing the movie a second time was clearly not a good option, but he wanted you to see the movie the way he did. Oh, sweet.

    I saw DWW but not Once Were Warriors. I’ll rent it this summer!


  5. molly

    I really like this memoir.
    At one time we had the luxury of watching films in class, with our students. I always figured it was educational for them, as for my children, to see me weep. Embarrassing for me, but I don’t mind so much as I get older.
    When I get teary-eyed when students tell me their sad life stories, I try to limit myself to the wettish eyes, and hold on to the self-control, since it’s their story, not mine.
    I, like w1kkp, am struck by the kindness of the people around you in this memoir, and you yourself are a very sympathetic character. As usual.


  6. I still haven’t let myself cry in front of my students. It’s been a close thing, though. When I read If You Come Softly with my class years ago, I was sure I was going to lose it, but somehow held it together. I think my adult students would handle my tears much better than my kids would. Not sure why I’m so certain, but I am.

    I, too, like the young man in the Once Were Warriors theater. I like that he was really trying to help me see that there was a way to see the film as uplifting in the end. It was very generous of him to think about me that carefully.

    And thank you for describing me as a sympathetic character!


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