DeenaByrne.com
Author.Traveler.Eater

Fact

I've written a bunch of nonfiction essays as an as-yet unpublished collaboration with my sister I wrote several years ago. Read on and let me know what you think!

Crybaby

I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I think I’m one of the few people who can actually cry at the drop of a hat. It’s hardly for show, though, because I think the loss of such a predominant piece of one’s wardrobe can be quite heartbreaking. In fact, I find it difficult to watch the last scene of “The Chipmunk Adventure”—one of the greatest films of our time—without fixating on Alvin’s red baseball cap being stolen by a gust of wind. Not to say that I equate the scene to, say, baby seals being slaughtered, but it does get to me every time. Alvin loved his cap; we rarely saw him without it. I always wonder if he thought of the hat for years after its disappearance, as I tend to do with a particular sweater of mine that went missing directly after its inaugural appearance in high school. I bet he does. Either that, or he replaced it with an equally wardrobe appropriate hat immediately afterward. If he’s anything like me, though, I’m betting on the former.

My sentimental tendencies are organic, and I doubt I’d even be aware of their existence were there not dozens of photographs of proof. My father, an avid photographer, turned the camera on me several times in my childhood when I would burst into tears in public. I think the goal was to get me to man up and stop having public displays of emotion (PDE), but it wasn’t so effective. Hence the dozens of photographs of me: crying at a dance competition, bawling at Disney World, weeping at the beach, etc. I didn’t discriminate by crowd or location.

One memorable crybaby moment took place when I was no older than six, steeped deep into a boy-phobic whiny phase in which I once tattled on a boy for “blocking my light” as I tried to color. Later that year, I packed up my box of 64 Crayolas with the on-box sharpener and attended my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Dallas, TX. I remember feeling misleadingly adult during that trip, because my sister, cousins and I were given free reign with the hotel elevators and the swimming pool. We even claimed the Jacuzzi as our own, and I distinctly remember us pulling down our swimsuit straps and pretending we were naked beneath the foam. Coquettish as we were, I remember our intentions were no more than to scare boys far away from our warm watered sanctuary. We reluctantly donned clothes and joined the Bar Mitzvah group for the service.

Immediately following was the party, when the DJ announced he had a surprise for the Bar Mitzvah boy. He instructed the entire party to shuffle into a circle on the dance floor. He then requested, “Deena, please come forward.” Having grown up in a community that runs rampant with shiksa goddesses, I was the only Deena I had ever known. Assuming I was being called forth, I began to walk to the middle of the circle. I was not aware I was in on the surprise, but I was willing to perform for the sake of the shtick. Would the crowd like to see my rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A?” Or did they prefer a dance number? I was making great strides with my “Yankee Doodle Dandee” routine from my tap class, and I think I may have actually packed my horse costume! I wonder if I had time to run upstairs to change into it? Thankfully, my mom noticed my mistake and pulled me out when I was just a few steps in. She realized the DJ was actually announcing Deena, the famous stripping chimpanzee to take the stage. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

I burst into tears on the spot as utter humiliation set in, and I was forced to banish myself to the hotel lobby for the remainder of the party. I replayed the moment over and over again in my mind, wishing I could jump in the De Lorean and make it to where there was no brief instance of mistaken identity. In such a scenario, the DJ would announce, “Deena, please come forward,” and I would remain confidently in my place in the circle. There were other alternate scenarios in which I hardly flinched at the sound of my name being called into the microphone. “Oh, I think I’ll go to the bathroom,” I’d announce, choosing to touch up my Tinker Bell lip balm rather than see the performance by the disrobing chimp that proudly bears my name. Or, I could have casually walked over to the bar to get my Shirley Temple topped off with extra maraschino cherries. All are preferable options to the moronic, confused stumble I chose as my course of action.

The chimpanzee experience set me back, and I sunk into the persona of “shy girl” for the next several years. It wasn’t until I began to entertain notions of having a discernible personality, namely in the sixth grade, that I had more of my famous sentimental outbursts. The teacher’s assistant in my algebra class was a woman of good intentions, and she believed in rewarding moments of sheer brilliance with Jolly Ranchers. I have always been exclusively right brain, so achieving sheer brilliance in math is like asking me to contort myself into a pretzel. And, while I would go on to win the “Most Flexible” superlative two years in a row on my high school dance team, a human pretzel is still a ways off for me. Point being, I am just as hopeless at mastering long division. Still, I yearned for the affirmation only a fruit punch flavored Jolly Rancher can provide.

Each day I would attempt brilliance, and consistently fall short. My friend who sat behind me felt my pain, as he was more hopeless than me and would often try to copy my flawed homework. The two of us entered into an unspoken competition of the dimwits, and the end prize was, obviously, a Jolly Rancher. I thought for sure I’d sweep the floor with him, for he spent the majority of class figuring out new number combinations on his calculator that resembled dirty words. For example, “8008” spelled out “boob,” which he never tired of showing me. Surprising even himself, it was he who caught his chucked candy weeks before one was chucked my way. I sucked up my jealousy and became even more determined to receive my affirmation. The end of the school year was creeping dangerously close, but the day finally came when I correctly identified the answer on the overhead projector. I shot my hand up in pride, and the teacher’s assistant called on me. I announced my answer with confidence, and she congratulated me for my rare moment of brilliance. This was it! Wait for it….

I smiled proudly, opening my hands in anticipation of the long awaited candy. The candy jar remained firmly shut, mocking me, as she continued with her lecture. I was stiffed, I realized, lying low in my chair in shame. I liken that moment to Susan Lucci being incorrectly identified as the winner of a daytime Emmy after years of failed nominations. Her half acceptance speech was just pitiful, something I can relate to as I myself had a similar moment with the expected Jolly Rancher. I was already turned about 45 degrees in my chair, ready to proclaim “Suck it!” to my friend, before dramatically unwrapping my hard won candy and eating it in front of him. His victory was weeks prior, and mine was the new act in town. Sadly, I blinked back tears and continued on through the rest of class candy-free.

True to form, my friend asked to copy my notes at one point, and must have noticed my tear rimmed eyes. He said nothing, but seized the opportunity to prove himself a good sport at the tail end of class. He raised his hand, and told the teacher’s assistant about her lapse in judgment regarding my Jolly Rancher worthy moment, in which I was still Jolly Rancher-less. She agreed that my moment of brilliance was overlooked, and rewarded me via Jolly Rancher. It was one of the top five proudest moments of my life at that point. Even the apple flavored one I received, which is clearly inferior to the fruit punch, could not spoil my moment.

That moment caused me to fully realize the power I wielded with my tears, and that is to say, great power. I had three best friends that year, and we bonded due to a shared love of smiley face t-shirts and the movie “Now and Then.” We frequently had sleepovers, one of which took place just days before my twelfth birthday. The three girls planned it without me, and, pushing aside suspicions of a birthday gifting excursion, I was convinced they were excluding me. I cried to my mom in private, which she took as her cue to unleash the mama bear impulse. She promptly called the mother of one of my friends and complained of the apparent exclusion. News of the phone call spread through my group faster than gossip about a premature New Kids on the Block reunion, and I suddenly found myself included, albeit begrudgingly, in the sleepover.

That Saturday, our sleepover host’s mom dropped us off at the local mall, and my friends instructed for me to limit my zone to two stores while they went off to look for my gifts. I felt like an intruder for crashing the shopping trip, and followed their orders without so much as a complaint. I was itching with anticipation once my birthday party came. I invited a group of friends over to my house for a low key party, and a few of my guy friends were in attendance. They mostly entertained themselves by putting Green Day’s “Dookie” in the CD player and demonstrating how to “mosh” in the living room. We girls much preferred to discuss the virtues of “Boy Meets World” while we casually observed the seizure victims formerly known as our guy friends. Per tradition, we all came together at the dining room table to open gifts. My excitement piqued when I saw the precariously wrapped mound of gifts from my three besties in the pile. One of the girls handed it to me, and they all narrated the order I was to open the gifts. The gifts started small and got bigger, as I opened several snarky phrased key chains, the height of popularity at the time, a smiley face printed nail file, and bath beads from “Bath and Body Works.” They had even gotten me a smiley face baby tee that was far cuter than any of them I owned. I was thrilled with the gifts, and was about to cast aside the superfluous wrapping paper when they told me not to overlook the tissue paper at the bottom of the box.

I gingerly removed it in front of everyone and unwrapped, revealing a cotton bra, several cup sizes bigger than what I could support at the time, and a box of tissues with which to stuff it. The bra was meant to be a crack at my modest chest, yet I was hardly amused. I ran to the restroom, mortified, stuffing the bra into a bag and shoving it under the bathroom counter. True to form, I cried my humiliated eyes out while I ran the water and pretended to be relieving myself. Not my proudest moment.

That same year, my social studies teacher decided to broach the topic of the Holocaust, a moment of extreme pity for myself, the sole Jewish pupil in my class. As we watched videos of emaciated concentration camp victims, my classmates looked on in horror, openly wondering if any of my ancestors were involved. I had been inundated with these horrific images for years in Sunday school, so I was somewhat hardened to the footage so many of my friends were viewing for the first time. One particularly ignorant class member had teased me the entire year, so he refused to succumb to a moment of pity regarding me.

“I wish I could have been alive during the Holocaust,” he announced to a small group of people within earshot, “So I could put Deena in a Concentration Camp.” Everyone froze, a couple of people laughed uncomfortably, and I burst into tears on the spot. I relayed the moment to my sister later that afternoon, and she got protective and similarly offended. “How do you spell his last name?” She demanded, phone book in hand. I protested meekly, before resisting and firing off the letters. She easily found his home number in the phone book and angrily punched the numbers into our cordless phone. He answered the phone, and avoiding all expletives, she informed him of how unacceptable his intolerant behavior was. He never knew it was she who made the angry phone call, or tied it into the incident that had occurred earlier that day, but I felt a small victory anyways. My tears won out in the end, it seems.

By high school, the crybaby moments were less frequent, yet all the more significant when they occurred. Considering my nervous disposition and unnatural attitude toward driving, many tear-filled days were fated to comprise my auto forecast. I once borrowed my sister’s car to drive to my job at the local steakhouse, and my drive to work was surprisingly incident-free. I was driving home from work that night, thinking how fortunate I was that I had yet to get pulled over. It was during this self-congratulatory moment that, of course, I got pulled over for the first time. The male cop had pulled me over because I was driving with just the parking lights on, and had failed to turn the actual headlights on. This is undoubtedly a common mistake for new drivers, but I reacted as if I had been involved in a three car pile-up and was responsible for homicide. “I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry,” I bawled, fearing I was in danger of losing my license.

Enjoying the power he wielded in that moment, the cop decided to give this minor offense all he had. He asked what I was doing out so late, and I informed him I was headed home from work. He asked where I worked, and I told him through my hiccupy tears. He then made me get out of the car to see how low my lights were and took my brand new license to run a search on me. Meanwhile, I sat in the car, sweating bullets and shitting bricks alike. He was gone far longer than necessary, and returned only to issue me a warning as if I were being let off easy.

The next night at work, a man approached me with a giant grin plastered across his face. “Remember me?” He asked, and I looked back blankly in confusion. “I pulled you over last night!” He said, expecting me to laugh about the incident so fresh in my mind. It’s possible my tears worked as an aphrodisiac, which was the first time I witnessed that unwanted and peculiar side effect.

As I’ve gotten older, my sentimental urges have mostly been confined to moments of necessity. These include, but are not limited to, guy disappointments, good old-fashioned shouting matches with the immediate family, and—everyone’s favorite—drunken displays of emotion. This is not to suggest that I’ve grown to deny my emotions, because while cumbersome at times, they are far preferable to the stone-faced alternative. I cling to the notion that tears can be passed off as an indication of passion, so I barely attempt to hide my sniffling during all movies, including “Finding Nemo.” Solely the fear of perennial tear-stained cheeks keeps my emotions in check, and I am hardly apologetic that vanity is my Kryptonite. I own my emotions, am proud of my somewhat unique ability to release them, yet have realized that a public forum is usually not the best place to release a good cry.

Still, all bets are off when Deena the stripping chimpanzee decides to make her Manhattan debut. I think I’d lose it on the spot, no matter the venue.