I remember lying on my bed, as a teen, dreaming of being a drug addict. I swear I wanted to move into a dumpy apartment building and become addicted to cocaine and be skinny and feel the sweat of life’s heat on my stomach.
Other items on my bucket list were to be Jane Goodall and a person that lingered a bit too long at funerals. I wanted to catch a cold in Antarctica and read really good books to really old people. I wanted to save a lobster and buy a homeless person a house. And of course, I wanted to sing with Sheba Dawn.
There were many things I dreamed of back then, but I certainly didn’t dream of faking smiles.
I did what most people do though, and I grew up. Suddenly, I was the drug addict living in the dumpy apartment building. I was smoking crack out of dirty pipes, trying to clean every piece of dirt from the sidewalk. I got skinny, because all I ate was just three chips per day. I remember hiding in the closet one night, terrified of the “shadow people” outside, thinking back on how that pipe was once my dream. Silly girl, so innocent. I remember giving my nephew’s & niece a fake smile. I told them I would be right back, but I never went back. I ran away. Because I knew that my life couldn’t end with a crack pipe in my hand.
Then, I got a little bit younger. A friend of mine died from carbon monoxide poisoning and I saw her face in the casket. It was white and puffy. Solid streaks of red blush on the apple of her cheek; a short, bull-cut. She was in a suit. She wasn’t smiling. She didn’t say hi. I had never seen a dead person before. I ran into the bathroom and saw her face in the toilet. I passed by her mother and gave her a fake smile before I left. She was sad, and I was seeing her dead daughter in the crapper. I figured a frown just wouldn’t have been polite.
A few years later, I found Sheba Dawn at a local grocery store and asked to sing with her. You might not know who she is, but I have a sparkling black & white signed head shot of hers to prove her star-power. I had a rock in my shoe that made me lean too much to one side, and I remember my panty-hose were ripping on the knee. There I was, my moment to become a little star, and my body was falling apart. Needless to say, I faked a smile and left knowing that my career as a singer was over.
Younger still, but twice as old, I read a book called Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton because Oprah told me to. And I wept for a good few days, before trying to read it to my senile old neighbor, Ina. “Now Ina, listen to me! This part is where it really gets good!” I squealed, not questioning the sanity of my hanging out with an 80 year old woman. She moved quickly, but very slowly, to her toaster oven. She had made us mini frozen pizzas for dinner. “Sorry, Wheel of Fortune is coming on,” she muttered, taking my book and slamming it on the coffee table. She ignored the fact that her dog was humping the leg of that table. Of course, I faked a smile and ate the cold pizza. Because, okay, it was Wheel of Fortune.
I guess while I was lying in bed, dreaming of bigger things, I hadn’t really noticed the truth of it all. I didn’t really want to be a drug addict, or a funeral-lingerer. I just wanted to experience life in a way that I wasn’t able to then. I wanted the choice of experience. And during those dreamy periods, I let myself forget that faking smiles would be a regular part of my life … because I was already mastering the art.
Those were the loneliest times of my fake smiles, back in high school. Smiling while the girls were calling me a “slut,” and the boys were tripping me down the stairs. Smiling the day I found out that the girl’s had deleted me from the yearbook, or that my ex-best friend had taken my name out of the graduation ceremony line-up. I was fairly good at throwing on a smile to try and shut out the hate. But it was isolating. And it was cold. And right around this time, I vowed that being a drug addict would be better than that hell.
And you know, maybe – partly – I was right. Maybe faking smiles as an adult is a little bit better than having to fake smiles as a kid … because you get the choice. Your life as an adult is supposed to be a little shitty and a lot screwed up. As an adult, you’re supposed to be a drug addict or a “read books to old people” person, or a mini-superstar. You get to choose between grinning and frowning. But as a child, it’s not supposed to be that hard. It’s not supposed to be sad and lonely and dark and scary. And as a child, you don’t get a choice.
So yes, I may have had a really fucked-up bucket list, and I may have checked off a lot of screwed up things. But I am a dreamer, and I am a writer, and I want to paint my words through bitter experiences …. because now, I get the choice. Sure, I ended up mastering the art of faking smiles … but in the end, is that such a bad thing? After all, a frowning dreamer can only get so far …