Laughing Man

Men don’t cry like women. I’ve always thought that most of the ways in which people say that men and women are different was bullshit. We’re not from Venus, they’re not from Mars, and all that gender stuff. That layer’s not as thick as everyone wants to believe it is. Maybe it’s just that I’m not all that womanly, but other than the dangling genitalia, I think we’re pretty similar. Not when it comes to crying, though.

The first time I saw a man cry I was thirteen. It was my aged, alcoholic godfather. A friend of my father’s and a writer of some repute, he was sitting on the linoleum floor in our kitchen, with his head tilted back against the wall, looking up at the ceiling. He didn’t make any noise. The tears streamed down the sides of his haggard face as if his eyes were organs whose only purpose was to produce tears. The shoulders of his dusty black suit jacket rose and fell in uneven jerky shrugs. I thought at the time that I should have at least been able to hear the breaths he was taking as his chest moved, but his body was utterly silent. The woman he’d been paying for sex, week in and week out for twenty-seven years had died.

Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of men cry. It’s what I do for a living—a profession that I just sort of fell into. In a way, I’m a lot like the woman my godfather wept over. Men pay me to watch them cry. Some want me to hold them. Some sit rigid in the worn, comfortable couch under the window in my office and prefer me to keep my distance. Some talk and some say nothing. I’m not a shrink; I don’t give them any advice. I just watch them cry.

It usually takes a while. Sometimes hours. But I’ve always charged a flat fee; that way, they don’t feel rushed. It would be indiscrete to mention a figure, but let’s just say it’s sufficient. And it’s a curious thing: it costs most men a lot to cry. If I didn’t charge something that felt vaguely like the monetary equivalent of their resistance to the act, they just wouldn’t feel they’d had their money’s worth. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this isn’t about sense.

Of course, the flexible session length can make scheduling a little difficult, but they all seem to understand that it takes however long it takes. And god knows, men know how to hold it. If I need to postpone an appointment, it’s not usually too much of a problem.

Men come to me to cry for all sorts of reasons. Bereavement—that’s an obvious one. Failed relationships—more common that most women think. Professional meltdowns are another big one. But you’d be surprised at the variety. And sometimes they cry just to cry. Just for the sheer pleasure of being able to cry in front of a stranger who won’t judge them for it.

Very few of my clients want to acknowledge why they’ve come to me. It’s like they need to pretend that they’re there for some other reason. They want to believe I’m the accountant of their feelings, or the tax consultant of their heart or, if they’re semi-honest, they’ll treat me like a therapist. But that’s not what my card says. They know that’s not what I am. They just need to pretend. I’ve got one client who tells his secretary that I’m his mistress. As if that’s somehow more acceptable than what he’s really doing with me. Yet, in a way, what we do together is just as intimate as sex, just as physical, just as exposing, just as unguarded and freeing. Sometimes, for me, it’s much more exciting.

I remember the first time a client asked me to slap his face, just to get him started. That was hard for me, but it was a good lesson. Some men need something to jolt them out of their everyday way of being. I’m torn over whether it’s the pain or the shock that makes the trick work. And I know what you’re thinking, maybe I have a client who’s just a masochist that can’t admit it to himself. Hey, maybe. But he’s a good crier, and a good client. I’ve been seeing him once a month for a few years now.

Watching men cry, I’ve come to understand how hard it is to be a man. Sure, I know. You’re going to say that men don’t have it half as hard as women. And historically, they’ve had it a lot worse. But this isn’t really about whose had the hardest time. I just know now—it’s hard for men to be men. You think they’d just grow up knowing how to do it, but it’s not true.

My favourite client—I’ll call him John—is an interesting guy. I’d guess he’s about forty-five, maybe a little older. He’s one of my oldest criers. I have to factor in extra time for his appointments because he needs to work himself up into something close to a blind rage before he can open the floodgates. Not that he’s uncivilized, or abusive or anything. When he first came to me, he’d try to build up steam in my office, but that didn’t work for him. He said I was just too nice. So, with a bit of trial and error, we figured it out. He needs to walk up and down the street in front of my building for about thirty minutes, working himself up into something close to a mute fury. When he’s ready, he comes upstairs, takes a seat on the couch and I ask him what’s wrong.

Then John starts to laugh. At first, he’s like a guy watching football on TV. Big, bright guffaws. Then it turns to belly laughs, as if he’s at a comedy club. But the laughing curdles, growing glassy and thin. The tendons on his neck get tight, until the laughter has died down to nothing but a long rumbling chuckle. That’s when he begins to sob and, once he gets going, he’s a phenomenal crier. Loud and long, full-bodied howls, so physical and intense, it is as if his misery is a pleasure that transports him beyond the everyday world. Watching, listening, feeling his slow climb towards open crying, I’m also transported to a state of raw, vertiginous bliss. It’s a terrible and wonderful thing to see him obliterate himself through weeping, like sharing in his unmaking. John lets it all out, and there must be a lot in there to let out because it takes him a while to get through it.

I make a rule never to ask my clients what they’re crying about. Often they want to tell me, but sometimes they don’t. I leave it up to them to share if they want to.

But my laughing man? Never says a word. I’ve got a real sweet spot for him and, I’ll admit it, my desire to know what’s causing him his pain is almost too much to bear. But I know he’ll never tell me; he’s just not the type. It’s bad though. I know that much.

Sometimes, after he leaves, I need to take a break and have a good hard cry myself, on his behalf.

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