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By Clarissa Walker

I have an extra tear duct. You can see the little hole in my face, like a pin prick, just below its working counterpart. Every time I show someone they ask if it works. I feel a little reluctant to tell them, “No. It doesn’t work.” I don’t know if it ever has. I believe it never did, but I know it doesn’t work now. They say “huh,” as if my extra nonfunctioning body part has just disappointed them. I don’t like to dwell on that.

I want to make you as aware as I am of my broken tear duct that there are highways in your face. Inside of your face, just below the very polite layer of skin that makes your lover blush and your great aunt coo, there are tubes and tunnels, bustling right there. We call them veins. They pulse and flow and clot without your permission. You have no idea what they’re doing; they just function. They’re a secret. When a person looks at your face, there is a hushed understanding that beneath your surface, your sinuses sit. It would be impolite to point out, but we know it to be true. The insides of us hold scandals. A woman’s uterus, your blood, urine, and excrement. Say anything and it’s potty talk. Sweat seeps from your pores and we do not bring it up. We don’t talk about these things because grandma would glare from across the table, and you’d sink in your wooden chair with a deep regret that only the elderly have authority to call. When you’re a kid you know very few things, but you know that you do not own anything except yourself; your parents own everything. Jokes about bodies are only funny to kids and Dad, and being disappointing is worse than being anything else, except maybe being bored. Here I am, reminding you that you are not to remember that your nose is not an extension of your skull. Do not remember it’s not bone marrow. Do not think about how when you die, your skull will sit with an empty echo of a nose, like a morbid Mr. Potato Head. If you do think about it, you most certainly shouldn’t say it out loud, so as not to be impolite.

The hole in your skull, stuffed with cartilage, is blanketed by skin. Your skin has holes too. An average adult has about 20,000 porous openings on their face alone. Of course, most people also have two nostrils, a mouth, two eye sockets, and four tear ducts. That’s about 20,009 pits in your face. Some animals don’t have any tear ducts; humans have four. Rabbits and goats, as well as every single aquatic mammal, do not have tear ducts. Even then, animals with tear ducts do not produce emotional tears. Their ducts are used to clear out dirt and debris so that their eyes might remain healthy. But we cry. If all is well, from the moment we exit the comfort of our mother’s womb, we scream. Our tear ducts are one of the first parts of our body to perform their function. Under the light of the flickering fluorescent in the maternity ward, your tear ducts are bursting within milliseconds of your first breath. It goes: your heart, your lungs, your eyes, tear ducts, then vocal cords. If you were to imagine yourself in the position of a newborn, you might dare to say that crying is ecclesiastical. Jesus wept. His lacrimal glands, lined by stratified columnar epithelium, which houses mucus-oozing goblet cells and is hugged by encompassing connective tissue, take up the space of the head of a sewing pin in the corner of His pretty eyes, so that He might cry.

And when you force your tear ducts shut, when you close them off, your tears travel still. Inside of you they move. They make their way down your nasal passages and your throat. Your face’s concealed freeways are traversed by swallowed-back saltwater pride. Echoing the water cycle that nourishes every living creature in the world, your tears follow their own cycle. Where you hold your nervous chuckles and biting words, on the inside, at the bottom of your neck, tears have already laced the way so that your secrets might sit as an uncomfortable lump in your throat. Which makes some sort of sense. If you are to refuse access to something’s entire purpose, it would be uncomfortable. It should be. It should be painful. And it is.

To stand on the indented carpet, slamming the ducts shut and staring as blankly as you can muster into your disappointed father’s eyes, is pain. Smiling at your best friend while the words happier than I have ever been ring at a decibel comparable to a train whistle in your head, is pain. Your older sister icing her knees every night, your mother staying home on Sunday mornings, you laughing with your brother’s friends at the size of your gut, you stumbling on a Facebook post about your cousin’s baby dying while you were trying to look busy on your phone as you wait for your date to come back from the bathroom, is pain. And to firmly say “No” to your body’s right at release, is pain. It is unnatural and excruciating.

You were born with open tear ducts; you will die with open tear ducts. When your body lies soft in the earth, you will have no control of them just as you didn’t at the beginning. The weeping willow that is nourished by your bones will bow her head in prayer over you, and you will weep with her. That is pain finished. To laugh so hard you fold in the middle is to cry. To wipe dust from your eye is to cry. To place a contact. To blow on an eyelash. To remove a beam from your eye is to cry. And each of these is to be a person. Tear ducts, so integrated into the bones of your face, open and prayerful, make you a person.

Sometimes I wonder if I practiced slamming shut my tear duct with such ferocity that it gave up on me. Maybe that’s why God gave me a second chance? So that I might weep as Jesus did. Or maybe, much like our Mr. Potato Head skull buried under the dirt, it is a funny side effect of life that I shouldn’t talk about anymore—so as not to be impolite.