I was studying last night inside Weaver Street Market, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman diagonal from me with her palms pressed against her mouth, eyes fiercely shut tight.
In all honesty, my first thought was, “It’s just Carrboro.”
Carrboro is the eccentric neighbor to Chapel Hill, and my expectations for social interactions there automatically switch to accepting the oddity of a micro-New York or a city without surprises.
I had noticed the woman sit down with her heaping pile of greens and yoga mat and pegged her for a Carrboro native, maybe taking a moment to meditate, or simply trying to hold back a yawn.
But after several moments I realized her position wasn’t changing.
I looked up to find her hands crept up to cover her eyes, and I asked, “Are you okay?”
Her hands dropped and released heavy, audible sobs she had been actively silencing.
As she attempted to collect herself, she quickly shook her flattened hand side to side, dismissing her own outburst.
“It’s stupid,” she finally mustered.
“I’m sure it’s not,” I said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I prepared myself to hear about the series of little things that had gone wrong that day, that can push anyone to a breaking point once in a while. Bad traffic, spilt coffee, or a long line at the store.
“My husband and I just separated,” she said.
My stomach dropped. Every assumption I made about her and her Carrboro life had vanished, and I became consciously aware of the girl sitting a few tables down who kept glancing over, maybe purely out of curiosity or maybe waiting to see if she also needed to intervene.
“It’s just really hard,” the woman said, as if needing to justify her meltdown.
“I can’t even imagine,” I said.
A classmate once shared the problematic notion of, “I know how hard that must be,” or “I know how you must feel,” in falsely expressing a level of empathy that cannot exist. I’ve never been close to the idea of marriage, much less divorce. I can’t compare a college breakup or any loss I’ve experienced to the way this stranger’s world has been turned upside down.
We ended up talking for a while, about each other’s lives, our thoughts on local restaurants, crowds, and moving to new cities.
When she left, she was unrecognizable. The wrinkles in her forehead had smoothed, and her movement was energetic.
“I’m sorry about all that,” she said again, this time with a laugh. “But thank you, really.”
She waved goodbye, and I noticed her wedding ring securely wrapped around her finger.
With yesterday also being International Women’s Day, we took time to thank and celebrate the strong women who achieved greatness and pushed for change. But let’s not forget to say that being strong isn’t a facade we all should aim to put up. Vulnerability makes us stronger, and reaching out to one another makes life easier to conquer.
So to the woman who cried in public, you have nothing to be embarrassed or sorry about, and you are not alone.