The Currency of Tears

From The Paris Review:

One day in nursery school, when I was five I think, I cried. My teacher, in her floral apron with gigantic pockets, handed me a paper cup. She handed me a paper cup, and told me to collect my tears as they slid down my face and drink them. “And when you drink your tears,” she said, “think about your ancestors who were slaves in Egypt.” It must’ve been close to Passover. She didn’t intend to be cruel. Her face was covered with freckles the same rust color as the flowers on her apron. The other kids wanted to taste the tears, too. The teacher told me to pass the cup around. And I did. And from the little paper cup the children drank.

I wish I could remember what I was crying over.

In 2014, a story appeared about a Yemeni woman who cries stones. She produces as many as a hundred stones a day, and she cries most of the stones in the afternoon and evening. She is one of twenty children, and she does not cry stones while she is sleeping. None of her sisters or brothers cry stones. Her name is Sadia, which means “happy” in Arabic. The tears look like tiny pebbles, and they collect under her lower eyelids. It is not impossible that the girl’s tears are the same pebbles Hansel and Gretel use to make a path home. Local doctors cannot offer a scientific explanation, but some villagers agree she is under a magic spell.

One year earlier, a fifteen-year-old girl from Bajel city, six months after her wedding, began to cry stones, too. In addition to the stones, “she experienced a swollen belly.” And in 2016, in China, a farmer removed silvery white stones from his wife’s eyes with a wire hook. The farmer and his wife believed the stones to be her tears, but doctors who couldn’t explain the phenomenon called it a hoax.

I believe these women really were crying stones, but I also can understand their desire—the farmer’s wife, the girl with twenty brothers and sisters, the child-mother-bride—to play a trick. How else do you call attention to your sadness? There are days I wish I could cry one whole boulder. A city of rubble. Glittering hail.

. . . .

In the mid-nineteenth century, Franz Xaver von Schönwerth compiled five hundred fairy tales that were boxed up for over one hundred years. Dusty and asleep, these tales were unpacked in 2012 and translated by Erika Eichenseer. One of my favorites is “Pearl Tears,” the one about the girl with a dead mother, a wicked stepmother and stepbrothers, visions of God, and an indifference to the stirrings of love. The stepmother spent the father’s fortune, and the family lives in miserable circumstances. One day Maria’s stepmother and stepbrothers beat her so badly she bleeds.  “She retreated to the kitchen and leaning over a washbasin, she began weeping. Her blood trickled into the basin, and each teardrop that fell into the basin made a ringing sound … She noticed something shiny in the basin and discovered some of the most beautiful pearls she had ever seen.” Newly rich, the family can now return to festive times. Maria is so thrilled she begins to laugh, and as she laughs one rose after another drops from her mouth.

. . . .

Tears, like pearls, are currency. I ask my eighteen-year-old stepdaughter what she plans on doing (job? school?), and she bursts into tears and runs into her room where she stays for days and days and days. So I’ve stopped asking. “Let her be,” says my husband. Snow White cries, and the huntsman lowers his knife. Cinderella plants a hazel sprig on her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears. A beautiful tree grows, and in this tree lives a little white bird that grants her what she wishes. And the Little Mermaid would have cried, “only a mermaid hasn’t any tears, and so she suffers all the more.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review