In the film Broadcast News Jane Craig, played by Holly Hunter, who is caught somewhere in her thirties or forties, sits down at the side of her bed, takes a deep breath, and starts to sob, really sob. She proceeds to succumb to a spluttering, messy crying fit, the kind that includes hiccups and the unfortunate intermingling of tears and snot. Soon enough she stops, dusts herself off, and moves on to the next item on her lengthy to-do list. As stealthily as this terrible, wracked state has overtaken her it has moved off. The audience might well describe Jane Craig, for at least a minute or two, as possessed.
If this morning you had observed me, late to work as usual, you would have witnessed a facsimile of Jane’s possession scene in Broadcast News. On the radio Neil Young was singing “Heart of Gold,” and I reached to double the volume, because Neil Young demands to be loud. I started to sing along, forgetting that I was late to work, and then? I found myself bawling. With shock I touched my face, wet, and heard myself crying, as if there were two people in the car, one falling to pieces and the other documenting the crash. Within a minute it was all over, and I breathed in and out a few times, steadying myself, and pulled into the school’s parking lot.
This is forty-four years old, when life — and by life I mean the people in one’s life, because most of us at forty-four have many people, young and old, depending on us, demanding of us, pushing us this way and pulling us that — does not give. There’s no time to process feelings. There’s no time to have the feelings one might wish to process. So every few weeks or months, we make room, as we must, for hysterics, our bodies’ only way to handle all of the unexamined dross that builds up until there’s no more room to accommodate it. We cry tears utterly foreign to us, because we lack the space to investigate their source. Then we take some shuddering breaths and press on.
One day, I’ve been told, when my life contains some hollow parts, and time stretches before me like taffy, seeming to expand beyond all rhyme and reason, I will look back on these busy years with fondness, even longing. I am skeptical. I wonder why life’s stages seem so lopsided, either maddeningly busy or poignantly empty — never any middle ground. So to the grandmotherly type who once advised me to enjoy these years when I am betwixt and between, not able to settle in here or there or anywhere, I ask, “Have you forgotten about the alien crying jags? What of those?,” and I add that I yearn for nothing more than a moment or two out of time when I can listen to Neil Young with something closer to pleasure than to pain.