The Ugly Cry

I came unplugged today, on the drive from my apartment in Brooklyn to my weekend rental upstate (aka my little slice of heaven).

It had taken me an hour to pack up my car before I hit the road (I finally got a car with cargo space, another step toward moving out of the city), filling the double-parked vehicle with furniture I was taking to the house. When I was loading the last piece, I stepped around to the passenger side of the car to put the last bags in the passenger seat, and a woman on a bike, her daughter on a bike behind her, passed me. Then the woman said, “You shouldn’t be in the bike lane.”

I felt a white-hot flash in my brain, for just a second, before I screamed, “I’m not in the bike lane!” (My wheels were slightly in it, but there was plenty of room for bikes to pass,even with my car door open.) She yelled something back at me over her shoulder and I screamed again, “I’m not afraid to call you a bitch in front of your daughter. Go to hell!”

Classy. Real classy.

I got in the car, my heart pounding and tears smarting in my eyes. “I will not let that get to me, just let go. If she knew you were heartbroken maybe she wouldn’t have said it. Doesn’t matter. People in Park Slope are smug and spoiled. Move on.”

So I began my drive after calming myself down. My new (old) car is much bigger than the one I used to drive (which I am selling to the ex-boyfriend…. which I felt good about selling him because it would “stay in the family,” as my son put it…. now it’s not staying in the family. There is no family…. Well, of course there is, but not the family I was hoping for, trying for….), so focus on the maddening roadways of New York City is key.

Thirty minutes into the drive, I’m feeling better. Driving always calms me down. When my parents were dying and I was driving between Brooklyn and Philadelphia four, five, six times a week, the hours in the car were my only time to be alone with my thoughts, torn as I was between caring for my parents and my son, who was having his own crisis at that time. When my company in San Francisco went belly up in the crash eleven years ago, leaving so many people I’d convinced to come work with me without a job, I had a three-thousand mile drive across the country, long stretches of empty highway during which I could look at all the mess that had been created and unpack it slowly, the constant pace of pushing forward through grand American landscapes keeping me centered and calm.

So I was starting to settle into the groove of the drive when I hit the tollbooths in the Bronx. I slid up to the EZ-Pass lane, and… nothing. Oh, shit. The EZ-Pass is in other car! Upstate! At the house! Crap. Cars are backing up behind me, and I’m swiveling my head around, trying to find a person in a tollbooth to ask how I can pay the toll and move on.

A female employee approaches, and I put down my window, already apologizing, explaining I have a second car, forgot the EZ-Pass was in there. She cuts me off and starts taking me to task, railing against my apology. “Don’t apologize. You just don’t go into an EZ-Pass Lane without an EZ-Pass. Now look, all these cars are backing up behind you, they have to wait. You’re making this situation. I don’t care if you have another car or what your excuse is. You know you should get a ticket for this. There’s tickets for this. It’s two points on your license, but I’m going to let you go with a warning this time….”

I’m taken aback. I feel tears start at my eyes. I don’t know why she’s being so … cruel. I fumble through explaining why I was explaining and asking how to pay and can we just move on and I’m sorry and I know and….


I open wallet. Only twenties. Of course. Cash-machine currency.

I start to lift a $20 toward her and she says, “Oh no, don’t think you can pay with a $20. It’s $6.50.”

“Just take it,” I say. “Just take it, and let’s move on.”

But of course I have to have a last word, as if I haven’t learned my lesson yet today. “And thank you for making this as unpleasant as possible.”

I start to pull away. I scream, again, but this time, no words. Just anguish. And then I start to wail. A hideous, bottomless wail, and hot tears pour down my face. Oh God, here it is, I think. And I just lean into it. Five, ten, fifteen minutes. I start to sweat from the sheer physicality of the crying. And yes, I am driving. Driving with a focused attention, clearly in control of the car. And dying at the same time.

What the human mind can handle. It’s remarkable, really.

Twenty minutes later I’m empty, but I leave the sticky tears on my face until I can’t stand the sensation of their drying any longer. I’m almost to the weekend house. I’m almost to the happy place, a home I knew my boyfriend would love, nestled in the trees, close to hiking trails, gorgeous bedrock boulders everywhere. And that incredible view of the Hudson River.

Of course I didn’t get the house for him. But he was in so many decisions I made, even well after we’d separated. A truth that is very painful to face. To see how much I was still living in hope, even though I knew how bad things had felt when we were together.

How can I love his spirit so, so much, even knowing that we were so ill-suited to make a life together? It’s maddening.

And then smaller inside my head, a whisper:


                                                                  How can he give up on us?


Oh, the ache, it’s so deep.

But the Ugly Cry has partly cleansed me. The lump in my throat has lessened in size. The nausea a degree lighter.

When I was first pulling away from the tollbooth, I was wailing because how could the universe send me so much poison when I’m reeling already?

But now that I’m here at the house, I feel that I am the one who shed some poison. Not in my irrational, stupid comments to two different women having their own special kind of bad days. But in the twenty minutes of crying myself clean.

The only way to the other side of pain is to just live right through it (as Amanda so kindly reminded me in her comment yesterday).

And with the first Ugly Cry behind me, I am on my way.

About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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16 Responses to The Ugly Cry

  1. Alexandra says:

    Oh, what a read.

    SO very sorry. S, I wish I were there now. To spend Saturday night with you.

    What a bunch of *(#&# you do not need at the week you’ve had.

    xo I love you. xo

    And a BIG FAT CRY is better than anything a Dr. can order.

    • stacy says:

      Thank you, love. I really do feel better. But I couldn’t have prescribed myself to have the wailing. Sometimes you do have to wait. I am so glad I have friends like you to help me through. xx

  2. denise says:

    This is exquisitely explored and beautifully written. You describe the raw, lava emotion so vividly. I leave this comment wanting to bring you a hug, tissue for Big Cry 2 and a bottle of your favorite adult beverage. But since I cannot, I send. virtual good wishes for the continued ability to be gentle with yourself.

    • stacy says:

      “Lava.” I like that description. Please allow me to use it in a future post! Probably tomorrow! ; ) Thank you for your good wishes. But know that being witnessed is the best gift of all.

  3. Laurie says:

    You’re going to think I’m weird(er) if I keep telling you that we’re having similar experiences, aren’t you?

    They do help. I thought all of mine were gone, but this week proved me wrong. It almost scared me, but afterwards I felt a combination of awful and wonderful for which I’m not sure there’s a word in English. (Maybe Eskimo, or Vietnamese. Their languages are much more flexible. :)) I really believe it’s our body working stuff out, and you know what, it turns out that sometimes what I thought I was sad about wasn’t really it at all. There were remnants of lots of things in my episode this week. You’re right, our brains can store and handle a lot, for the sake of survival, but it all stays in there.

    And a lot of times it is an encounter with another snippy human being that can trigger me, but by the time the lady yelled at me in the early voting line, I was already done. So at least they didn’t have to escort me out of the county executive’s building.

    I am finally feeling flashes of hope, and that is what I wish for for you. I can’t wait until you reclaim everything — that house, your apartment, your family — for you and Z, and whomever is lucky enough to come along next.

    • stacy says:

      I agree with you, the way the body stores up what we can’t immediately handle, and finds moments for us to live through it, release it. I’ve been in therapy a hundred years, and I continue to be amazed how there’s something deep down INSIDE THE VERY CORE OF IT ALL where I am always hurting. The trick of it is to keep bringing it to the surface until it’s gone. Or integrated, as the therapists say. So glad you didn’t have an “incident” at voting…. But as fast on your feet and as funny as you are, it would have made for a good story to tell!

  4. Julie Marsh says:

    I’m going to sound like my toddler son, but I don’t care: It’s not fair. It’s not fair that you have to endure all of this, because you are good and kind and don’t ever deserve to feel so awful.

    May tomorrow be kinder to you. And all the days after that as well.

  5. Rita Arens says:

    Ah, the ugly cries. Boy, have I been there this week. I’m so sorry you are back in this space, and I wish I were close enough to hand you Kleenex and maybe something disposable to destroy.

    If it happens again, I recommend stamping your feet. I got so upset I actually stamped my feet three days ago and it did help.

    Yours in classiness,

  6. Maureen Flatley says:


    Your posts take me back to a very tough time in my life. Heartbreakingly sad to read. But just keep moving. Because what I know is that you will pass through this grief and sadness and life will gleam again. In my case it took me to the very happiest and most productive period of my life. Just keep moving. The only way out is through. The best is yet to come!

    Love and light,

  7. Rita says:

    I once had the ugly cry to end all ugly cries. It lasted 5 hours, and, like yours, happened in my car. That’s the thing about being in a car; you’re trapped in that small space with yourself. But it was a corner, and I turned it there. There were plenty of cries to follow, lots of them ugly, too. But that one in the car–that’s the one where I saw what I needed to see to start moving through, not around. And through is the only way to a better place. I don’t know much, but I know that. Keep fighting your good fight (which means surrendering to the truth, and the pain it brings with it). It truly is worth it. And so much better than the alternatives, which will only bring more pain.

  8. Rita says:

    PS–There’s a piece of writing I’d like to send you that might provide some small comfort–too long to paste into a comment. Don’t see an email address on the blog. If you’d like it, feel free to send me an address and I’ll pass it along.

  9. Beth says:

    It’s the “car melt downs” that always seem to be the most cleansing for me for some reason. You will have more, but take it from me, they do help some how. One of my favorite quotes I read somewhere says “Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.” I find myself leaning on that quite often. You will rebound somehow, someway, I know it. And find the courage and strength to do what seems impossible now. Every time I read one of your posts, I am amazed at your honesty and incredible spirit. You are an inspiration to so many, especially me. I leave you with this last thought…..although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. I KNOW this will be you.


  10. Ann says:

    I’ve been reading along and thinking of you. Sending you strength and holding hope and faith in your journey.

    My girlfriends and I had brunch yesterday. Someone brought up the analogy of the dog and the electric fence. First he tries to go through it and gets zapped, eventually he never even tries to go through it. But if he could just endure the zap he’d bound through and be free.

    You’re in the zap. I’m so sorry you’re in the zap. But on the other side is freedom.

  11. Ah, the joy of the ugly cry. The feeling when the hurt bursts out and you don’t care how loud it is or how much liquid is pouring out of your eyes and your nose and your mouth. Abandoning classiness and adulthood and reason and logic and just letting it all out, without a limiter, spewing it … the emptiness left behind is so much better than the knot in the gut before.

    Been there…. done that….. so sorry you’re bumping up against it again.

  12. melanie says:

    Stacy, we haven’t seen each other for so long, but I still keep up with you as much as I can because you are so unavoidably a caring, giving, smart, and worthwhile human being. You were always more than hospitable to me – you were interested and encouraging and 100% there even if we only saw each other briefly. I just want you to know that I’m sorry that the days are hard. And we’re all rooting for you, here. Love, love, and more love to you. Take care of yourself. xo

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