Grief is a sacred journey

When Tears Tell the Truth

In the mountains in 1969

In the mountains in 1969

We met at the beginning of my senior year in 1966. I was a government major at Cornell focusing on South East Asia and China. The more war protests Vic and I attended and the more sunsets we shared, the more I fell in love. He hesitated–repeatedly. Every few weeks, I returned from classes to find my books and clothes packed by his front door.

“I can’t commit. I’m afraid I’ll hurt you,” he said as he piled my bags in the back of his VW. I forced back tears on the drive up the hill to the apartment where I still had a room. They erupted when I was alone.

Around 3:00 AM, the phone rang.

“Let me come and get you,” he pleaded. “I want to be with you. I’m sorry I’m a scared jerk. Please come back.” I hid the hurt, dried my tears, and went.

Uris Library where he found me

Uris Library where he found me

One night after he took me home, he didn’t call. I forced myself to go to the library the next morning. He found me in a room overlooking Cayuga Lake where I liked to study.

“Please come to my apartment. I need to talk to you,” he said in a hushed voice.

“No, Vic,” I said looking up at him with fat tears rolling down my face. This time I didn’t hide my feelings.  “I can’t do this anymore. I have to study or I’ll flunk my classes.”

“Something important happened,” he said. “I have to tell you.” I can’t say why, but I gathered my books and walked down library slope with him to his apartment on Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca. I had never been a doormat. I had never allowed men to fool me.

Lib slope at Cornell

Lib slope at Cornell

“This morning I got a letter saying NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) will pay for me to go to a conference in Germany this summer,” he said.

“So?”

“You’re going to Berkeley. Let’s live together until I leave for Europe and you go to California. After that we’ll figure out what to do.”

These were the words of a man who wanted sex with no commitment. Right? I was stupid to fall for it. Right? I knew he cared about me and was afraid, but hearing from NASA on that day felt like a sign. It gave us another chance.

“Yes,” I whispered through tears. “Yes.”

I moved into his apartment. He stopped packing my belongings when I was at class. We studied during the day and made love all night. It was April. Departure day was  June 1. I delayed my trip once and then again until just before his flight in July.

Those last summer days, we kissed and held each other, but we wept instead of making love. He broke into the choked sobs of a man who had long ago buried his vulnerability. In July, I wiped his tears and he wiped mine as I boarded a bus. He was leaving the next day for Germany. I made my way to California, distraught and abandoned.

“Come back to Ithaca,” Vic said when he returned from Europe six weeks later. “Please come back.”

“Only if you commit to talking everything through instead of running. You have to commit that much.”

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“Yes,” he said. His voice was wet and choked on the long distance line.

“You taught me how to love,” he said for the next forty years.

I owe our marriage to my naked feelings. I owe it to honesty about the raw pain of being sent away. I owe it to the risks I took for love.

“I don’t mind your tears,” Vic always said. “They show me what you value. They show me what you love.”

***

Do you hide or repress tears and feelings? Did you learn that from your family, other kids, or your school? After Vic’s death, I wept every day for three years and learned that he was right. My tears often tell me what I value. They tell me what I love. For other articles about falling in love in the 1960s, see My Hippie Wedding: May 18, 1968 or Make Love, Not War: 1967.

20 Comments
  1. The turret at Uris Library reminds me of Rapunzel’s tower, but I don’t see that tale having much in common with your story, except for the part about love.

    Well, it’s all about love, isn’t it, a never-ending story.

    • It is all about love, Marian. And persistence and a willingness to be vulnerable and take a risk. At least those were requirements for us. We never closed our hearts to each other again.

  2. I love reading your wonderful tales of love, compassion and understanding. A special love you shared with Vic. You really know how to express emotion Elaine and tears filled my eyes from the beauty of your love.

    • Thank you, D.G. Sometimes it’s best to put my emotional nature to work. There are fewer places to put these feelings in life now, but there is the blank page.

  3. Elaine, your honesty takes my breath away, not only in your writing, but in your relationship. It is one of your true strengths as a writer and is something that allows your readers to connect with you and learn from you.

    • Our relationship was as honest as we knew how to be. This started early on and was nurtured in the 1960s by experiences in encounter groups, psychodrama, and other experimental forms of psychological exploration. This all worked well for us, although it sometimes meant we had interactions that made us squirm or feel hurt. But I think, in the end, we all have those sorts of interactions if the relationship is to survive. Thanks for your encouraging feedback, because connecting with the reader is just what I’m after.

  4. Thanks for your beautiful love story, Elaine.

  5. Beautiful, as usual, Elaine. I learned in my family of origin that emotionality was a sign of weakness. My mother cried and bemoaned her fate. I was my father’s child. Tough. When I would get hurt, I expressed it as anger, not tears…or at least not tears that I would let anyone see. It took me many years to overcome the idea that vulnerability was weakness. First, my children and then the love of my husband Harold, who was tender and vulnerable and showed me that it was safe to be so too, helped me to express my feelings openly and without embarrassment. Vic was lucky to have you to show him the way…

    Hugs,

    Jenna

    • Thank you, Jenna. In my world, my dad’s side of the family carried the emotional thread. My paternal grandmother was a mezzo-soprano with a big body, a big voice, and big feelings. My mother did not approve. Grandma was an extravagant cook, too. Oh, those baking powder biscuits. Oh, oh, oh, those heavy-on-the-cinnamon-and-butter apple pies.

      My sons are my teachers and helpers, too.

      Do you remember encounter groups in the 1960s or the Midpeninsula Free University in Palo Alto and Mountain View? Maybe you weren’t there then. We specialized in expressing our feelings openly. Not always gracefully, but we got better at it in time.

  6. Elaine, my friend, you have so much more to do and to share – another book. Your writing draws me in and I just want more. Your raw emotion comes through in such a unique and honest way; I love the way you tell your story. Keep it coming… you make me smile, think, laugh, and cry with your gift of words. I feel like I’m right there as you and Vic fall in love and build your life together.

    With love and appreciation,
    Ann

    • Thank you, Ann. I went to the big blaring city and came home again to the quiet country where I can watch the bird feeders and nesting boxes.
      I’m looking for the thread of a new book this summer. I haven’t yet figured out the focus, although there are some possibilities. It’s all in infancy. We will see. Thank you for your encouraging words.
      I am so very far behind in reading what you and others write, so that’s my first priority. You give me a sweet boost. I look forward to everything you do. You have an important focus.

  7. What can I say but thank you for this beautiful love story? I like your honesty in your writing and I love your Leaning Into Love, too.

  8. Oh, Elaine. The story, the photos. It’s so – romantic. And beautiful. Cheers!

  9. As always so beautiful and heartfelt

  10. Hi Elaine,

    I don’t hide or repress my feelings.. in fact, my feelings are quite intense and real. I let them pass through me, but they are sometimes quite raw and strong. What I notice is that people are extremely afraid of this. The second they see it coming, they tend to run. Even when I speak from my heart and soul, it stuns some people.. they don’t know what to do with it. I guess I know why, but I still don’t understand it. Even with therapists, I have left them just sitting there not knowing what to do with real, raw emotion. The older I get, the more blessed I feel that I am able to feel so deeply and let the feelings with the tears wash over and through me to be fully processed and released. I feel that society has deemed emotion and tears as weak and bad.. however, I feel it is connected to true strength and authenticity.
    Thanks, Elaine, for all you do.. I love your work!

    • Maggie, I resonate with your feelings. It isn’t easy to find people who can accept our full honest rawness. I was fortunate to have a husband raised by Italian women–his grandmother, mother, and three aunts, all of them emotional powerhouses. My brother was rarely emotional, but perhaps since he’d known me all my life, he also accepted my tears and grief. He was a wonderful support after my husband’s death, but now he’s dead, too. My therapist is another safe place, but otherwise, I’m careful about sharing too much. I guess I do it in writing now. The forest is a great place to howl our laments and dance our joyts, but not everyone has forest nearby.

      Thanks so much for commenting and for your lovely compliment.

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