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September 20, 2020

The Caterwauls

Rhienna Renèe Guedry

Jean? She wasn’t the crying type. Not that she thought tears were unbecoming or a sign of weakness, no, Jean was just someone who operated in clear returns: what does this get me? Crying wiped her out, left her in a hangover state that bled into everything around it. Puffy, imprecise. She hated that feeling.

It was the local grocery store parking lot on Division on a Tuesday, that first time. The person in the passenger seat had been wailing, their whole face tilted toward the sky, a jawline you could cleave firewood with. The shape of grief had caught Jean’s eye with it’s raw, red, asymmetry. Instinctually, she had averted her eyes. But then she heard wet, small whimpers behind her, and turned to see a young couple jointly pushing their shopping cart, in tears. Jean soon realized it was happening all around her: another person crying. And another. Two more.

Jean went home with neither tears nor groceries. She searched the news for a headline that might explain what seemed to be a collective and specific misery, but she found nothing. For the days that followed, Jean walked the city block with a hungry curiosity undertow, a sea of what does it mean and why. Answers didn’t come, but acceptance brought about the indisputable conclusion: she resided in a sorrowful community of wailing. Individuals solemnly arrived and were transformed: each arriving and exiting grief like a rain shower. Jean was their unafflicted witness.

Over time, watching became lonesome business. Jean’s observance bellowed—a low rattle at first, then something more raucous and constant—and it called on her to participate. Her mind raced in animated urgency and created a roll-call of sadness, each small and large grief of equitable weight. First, Jean remembered watching things die: her mother. Her mother’s mother. A baby squirrel hurled out of a tailpipe. Then the memories of things deteriorating, followed by the things that could no longer be. The ticker-tape of sadness was vast and wide, and it moved quickly through the annals of Jean’s memories until the volume of it overcame her. She let the heft of sadness unmoor her, because she now knew that tears served a purpose: belonging. She let a sharp catharsis overtake her. The others welcomed her, warmly. Whatever it was, she became a part of it.