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A dose of teardrop therapy

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Work of Art

By Art Trujillo

I needed to reach for my box of Kleenex before starting this column. I promise this effort will not be the “‘bawl-o-rama’ of the ages,” but since I’m in a bit of a funk anyway, well, what better way to vent than to put things in writing?

Many years ago, cousin Chris, who is about my age, chummed around with me when I visited in Santa Fe. Soon, an uncle drove up, and I ran to greet him. But before I got to the car, his terrier leaped up from the back seat and took a chunk out of my chest, right at the nipple.

Well, the aftermath of that nip convinced me WWIII had begun, given the amount and quality of the questions and comments that ensued:

• What did you do to upset the dog?

• Do your parents have insurance?

• If you rub yourself on the place he bit you, it’ll stop the pain.

• I’ll bet you teased that dog.

• Did you hit the dog first?

The difficulty came with the barrage of questions and suggestions. And the answer could have been: Nothing. No. I’ll try. No, I didn’t. Never.

It was during this interrogation that I became dewy-eyed. I tried to stop the first tear from falling, thinking, “Well, I’m not the first 8-year-old to let out tears. But no matter how hard I tried, they kept flowing. In fairness — as best I can recall — it was not a sonic-boom-breaking bawling that I did, just a few sniffs.

And that’s the gist of years of conditioning wherein any manifestation of emotion — whether it be joy, anger, fear, sorrow — often signaled to everybody that I was abnormal.

My only, older brother, Severino, exploited that, as he was a master at manipulating my moods. I believed he woke up each morning thinking of ways to get certain lachrymosal reactions out of me. At three years my elder, he was bigger, tougher, smarter and by far more devious.

I believe that he’d consider it a great day if he could coax a tear from just one of my eyes. When he succeeded, then he was free to begin his favorite ditty: “Cry, baby, cry. Stick your finger in your eye.”

I heard that ditty so often, I almost expected it to appear on Saturday evening’s “Hit Parade” on radio.

Well, in time, I generalized that feeling and ceased blaming all of the world’s ills on him. At school I noticed that a bunch of times on the playground some students (usually bigger, more bullyish and with breath that could slay dragons) made it their lifelong goal to force a teardrop or several to fall.

There was a classmate who must have had a built-in spigot, as he could turn on the waterworks instantly. Just the smallest amount of teasing caused him to go into paroxysms. Even I, the most peaceful student in the second grade, tested the boy.

Just a couple of words questioning his heritage released the floodgates. I realize how easily I’d affected the boy and decided not to experiment with his feelings again.

We’re discussing things that happened decades ago. Why, then, was there a relapse?

Let me explain:

About 10 months ago, we welcomed a pair of Asian students as our guests for the school year. As foreign exchange students, they lived with us, dined with us, and in short, became our alternate children, as our own three children had left the nest, gotten married and become parents.

In previous columns, I’ve mentioned some difficulties in communicating with these newcomer girls, who came from China and Thailand. My wife and I discovered that part of the communication barrier was due to our sometimes-sloppy use of idioms.

For example, I once asked one of them whether she’d carried out her plan to join softball. “What do you mean by ‘carry out?’ she asked. She absorbed the literal meaning of carrying out, as in toting it outside the house. “Carry out” means something different.

But through studying together, going places together and becoming a family, we persisted. Soon the girls comprehended our idioms, and things went well.

Then, last Sunday, on the day our church gave our two girls “bread for the journey,” meaning we were about to say good-bye to them, I felt a tear escaping my left eye. As I presented the short speech, my voice broke.

Suddenly, I had the same feeling my cousin Chris and other relatives created after the dog bite more than a half-century ago.

Growing up in a tough neighborhood and being exposed to lots of teasings, taunts, tortures and turmoil, I tried to appear macho. Why, then, was a two-minute routine in church unsettling? I took a deep breath, attempted some silly comment about how a head cold had caused the sniffling, and went on.

But again, a tear or two forced their way out. And people noticed. The experience must have steeled me into accepting that tears simply demonstrate a different kind of emotion. Don’t people sometimes “laugh until they cry?” My tack has changed by convincing myself — and I hope others — that tears aren’t just for babies.

So I admit: The time with our foreign exchangers has been profound. And if it looked as if I shed a tear or two last Sunday, well, I’m not ashamed. The teardrop therapy was good for me — and others.

Enough tears shed. Enough words said.

Art Trujillo is a staff writer at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net