I love stories.
When I was young, I did not want to have ugly feelings, so I only read happy stories. I watched happy movies. I filled my head with silly, fluffy stories of girls who looked pretty and met boys who were always nice and everything came together perfectly and everyone lived happily after. Oh, there might have been a sad moment or two floating ambiguously in the middle there somewhere, but it was quickly and easily resolved and everyone got straight back to happy.
In what I thought was merely an unremarkable coincidence, I also spent a great deal of time in my youth lamenting my poor, pathetic existence, fretting about being pretty enough to attract nice boys and making things come together perfectly so I could live happily ever after, and complaining about the lack of all of the above in my life.
In high school some random thing possessed me to read Gone With the Wind. I had never seen the movie (Still haven’t. Not sure how that is the case, but there it is.), so I didn’t realize it was sad. I walked through the hallways of Louisville High School in a daze and cried at the drop of a hat every day for a week after I finished it because I did not know how to handle the lack of a perfect, fluffy ending.
I also accidentally watched Two Rode Together – even though I didn’t really ever like Westerns very much – because who doesn’t love James Stewart? Only it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen, and if you ask me to tell you about it tomorrow, I will. I will tell you of the scene that put a crack through the center of my soul which has never healed over. When I get to the bit about the music box, when I tell you how he screamed, “Mine! Mine!” when they took him away, I will cry, even though I’ve only seen it once and it was more than twenty years ago. I’m crying now from thinking of it.
In my mid-twenties, when being as pretty as I could figure out how to be had landed me some jerk who wasn’t very nice most of the time and happily-ever-after took on more of a til-death-do-us-endure-each-other-in-misery hue, I started to read sad stories. On purpose. Tragic stories. Horrible stories. No-one-nowhere-should-have-ever-had-to-live-through-a-thing-like-this-stories.
My Sister’s Keeper – I had gotten to the end of that one at just about the time my ex-husband came home (you might think I was crying because my ex-husband was coming home, and there were days that I most certainly did, but on this particular day, I was only crying over the story), and he walked in the door and said, “What is wrong with you!?! I could hear you crying from outside the house!” I pointed helplessly at my book, and made some attempt to hide my swollen, blotchy face.
Those people who can cry pretty? I hate those people.
I watched Swept From the Sea. Twice. (It’s quite good. Rachel Weiss, I think.) There are people who watch/listen/read a sad story and on an occasion that they choose to review the same story, they don’t cry as much, because they already know what is coming. I am the opposite of that. The sniffling, sobbing, swollen-eyed, blotchy-faced opposite. I had seen it the first time, and then had a group of girls came over one night and we all watched it together and eventually my friend Kay leaned up to me and said, “Audrey, could you cry a little quieter? Some of us haven’t seen this before and no one can hear the movie.”
My shift into sad books and sad movies made me feel sad for the time that I was immersed in the stories. However, it seemed to make me happier in my real life. I became aware that we live in a world where truly horrible things happen far more often than they should to people who should not have to suffer through them. My comparatively charmed life became remarkably more tolerable after gaining this perspective.
I’ve started reading sad stories again, because this election is ridiculous and people are mean to each other and I’m angry at life, so I need some perspective.
I read a story about a man who was falsely imprisoned for 14 years. I read a story of children collected from rural villages in Burma to walk in front of the soldiers during the civil war so that when the land mines were tripped, the casualties would only be those ‘dispensable’ children rather than the ‘valuable’ soldiers. I read a story of the life of Japanese immigrants in the US forced into camps during the second world war. I read Viktor Frankl’s story of German concentration camps, and life after them. I read a story about a woman who was raped and could never forgive herself for giving the child up for adoption. I read a story about a man who ruined his own life by taking revenge on the people who had interfered with his. I read stories about how entire nations of people went round killing their own countrymen because they had vilified each other beyond the point of healing.
And then I stopped looking at the news and unfollowed those of my Facebook friends who won’t stop bitching.
And I have nothing to complain about.