The Origin, the Soundscape, and the Broken Crybox

Since I started blogging, I’ve been repeating something to myself in a corner of my brain: don’t write about the Holocaust yet. From day 1 I wanted to write about the broken swastika in front of the D.C. museum…how I felt when I saw it….the strange sense of loving the artistic impact and being repulsed by it (because it worked so well, I suppose)… also about how much the tour guide’s explanation “it represents how the children’s lives were broken by the Holocaust” seemed so dissonant with what the piece was doing.

But now that I want to sit down and write about the Holocaust, I want to talk about something else. This morning, scrolling through facebook on my phone trying to wake up, my eyes stopped at some random post about the 70th year commemoration of the liberation (of Auschwitz). I say random because it was one of those cheap click-bait stories and not an actual piece of substance. For some reason, in my half-asleep brain, I started flashing back to this day about 3 years ago when I watched Ballet Austin’s Light/ The Holocaust performance. And that’s what I want to write about.

So there I was… PR intern, sitting on a dress rehearsal for the ballet next to my boss, the VP of PR. Every other seat on the concert hall was empty (about 2500 red velvet seats, balconies, etc) except for the first row where the production crew was (about 10 people). We were seating about halfway between the back of the house and the stage. A few rows ahead of me was the sound/ light control area: lots of computers, soundboards, a couple of technicians with headsets and mics (like the airplane pilots kind of headset with mic). The sound/ light area was dimly illuminated for the technicians to work, but everything else was pitch black.

The stage was a wash of gray light that somehow managed to be kind of warm. The only physical object on the stage was a tree (no leaves, just branches, trunks, roots sticking out) that stretched by cable all the way up to the ceiling. It was brown or black and it looked like a million things at the same time. But whatever. I’m not here to talk about the tree. The tree is cool. That’s all there is to it.

Before I talk about what I want to talk about, I want you to know the soundtrack was Philip Glass, air raid sirens extended into a single continuous sound harmonizing with more air raid sirens, Steven Reich (those I could identify), and by those I had to look up: Evelyn Glennie and Arvo Part. If you wanna knwo what the main theme sounded like:  And that’s not even the air raid sirens bit.

Alright. We’re ready. I want to talk about how I reacted. In retrospect, I’ve dubbed the incident “the day I broke my cry box.” But that’s lazy naming. Something really fucked up fucked me up that day. Here we go:

About 5 minutes into the performance I wanted to cry, of course. But because I considered myself to be on the clock and I was sitting next to my boss, I kept telling myself: don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. My body started tensing to keep a hold of itself. My fists were squeezing harder, my shoulders shrinking, my feet pushing against the ground, my eyes were probably bugged out starting, almost not blinking, while the dancers danced on, and the goddamn modern music and the goddamn air raid sirens, and the goddamn tree did their fucking thing. Some gradual metamorphosis must have happened, but the actual conscious thought hit me in one single flash of extreme present tense awareness: I can’t cry. I don’t deserve it. For them, I must keep my eyes dry. They are suffering. I don’t deserve to cry.


When we left the concert hall, the VP of PR asked me what I had thought of my first dress rehearsal. Then the Marketing person (forgot her title) crossed the street from the office building carrying a box full of glittery things. Actually, I don’t think she actually was carrying that box. I think my brain just put it there as I typed this…probably to match the way I remember her general person, or the tone of the greeting, or something. So I started talking about my work with exile studies, and how my professor was a child of survivors, and how I was writing about the Holocaust, and how… Suddenly they were hit too. I don’t think I broke their cry boxes, but something happened. The air changed. It was me, of course. I wasn’t me anymore. I was an origin or a disturbance in time and space… just enough to get the soundwave traveling. You know the soundwave. The soundwave that carries the memories. Like when the past breaks the present’s back, or its thin membrane. The ripples, cabron.

So really, I didn’t break my crybox (btw, I say that because it took me almost a whole year, or maybe it was more, to cry again after that year, and to this day, i don’t cry the same). What happened is that I became the dumb dull origin. It was me and the memory, baby. Right in the same spot. When you’re suspended like that, you don’t cry.

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