Did you know it was you who taught me? I bet you don’t know that, even though I told you so. You taught me so much:
- how to smile through abuse
- how to laugh in spite of pain
- how to remain gentle in stormy seas
You sent me out into the world believing that it was worth enduring misfortune and pain, poverty and abuse. And so I smiled. I was such a happy child, even when my heart was heavy and I was stricken with fear and doubt. I had such a gentle and giving spirit, a ready smile for anyone. Everyone. You remember, don’t you? How I had such a hard time steering clear of strangers? It took me a little while to learn that people don’t mean well after all.
But wait, you didn’t teach me any of that, did you? When did you smile? When did any smile ever reach your eyes? When were you ever playful or joyful or ebullient? You weren’t, were you? And I forever battled your demons because you wouldn’t. No, you gave up ages ago. Before you even had us, I suspect. You know what you taught me?
- how to keep it all in
- how to withdraw from the world
- how to lose faith
- how to criticize myself and everyone else
- how to hide my ideas, my mind
- how to deny myself
- how to submit
- how to give up
Why are you so damn happy all the time?
Stop smiling so much. There’s nothing to smile about.
But we’re alive, aren’t we?
Who cares if we’re alive? Everything hurts. My back hurts. My feet hurt.
At least you have feet. (I meant it so sincerely when I said things like that to you. But you you hated it. You said it was cruel. That I was being intentionally cruel. That it’s useless to try cheering you up. Remember?)
Whatever. I’m sick to death of cleaning up after you people. I sacrifice Everything, and Nobody cares.
Whatever. Leave me alone. I’m going to bed.
I followed you to bed, putting my sister on my lap. I’m a ventriloquist now, and she’s my dummy. I used your eyeliner and lipstick to draw on her face to make her look the part.
We put on a show for you. I’m in full form now, laughing, cutting up, being a smartass. Telling jokes and making faces.
You’re laughing! It’s working! You’re crying… Oh no, now you’re crying again.
You’re so sweet. You were always so sweet. And funny. How’d you get to be so funny?
Leave me alone now. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.
You better not have ruined my makeup. And wash your sister’s face.
(Rolling over in bed now, facing the wall.) Goodnight.
I hugged you and kissed you, anyway. And I begged you to be okay. Please cheer up, mom. We love you. Doesn’t that matter more than anything?
But I did tell you to leave me alone.
Wash your sister’s face.
How many days and nights did we repeat some variation of this until I gave up? I couldn’t fight your demons alone. I needed your help. How many times did you watch me sobbing for you, begging you to talk to me. Play with me. Read with me. You said I’d be better off just forgetting about you. How could you say that?
And how dare you for getting angry when I did give up trying to fix you. And how dare you for abandoning me. Yes, you taught me much.
I was such a happy little asshole. That’s what I was to you, wasn’t it? The little asshole thorn in your side who just wouldn’t quit fucking smiling no matter what life threw at her. Did you ever stop to think that I smiled for you? It doesn’t matter anymore. I was always the happy little asshole to you. The one who had the nerve to smile in the face of adversity. The one who dared ask you to be a mother.
Just do me a favor, would ya? Don’t come back. Don’t. I can’t do it again.
To the little girl that broke my heart and my nerve: do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve to approach you? You looked so lonely and sad. And I was so shy. But we were both alone at recess, and I wanted to help you. I needed to make you smile.
Do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve? How difficult it was? How my heart lodged in my throat as I approached you? How much courage it took for me to ask five little words of you in the softest voice? Will you be my friend?
Do you know what it did to me when you replied,
and walked away?
My little soul was crushed. I cried so very much. Do you want to know something else?
That was the last time I ever approached anyone. That was the last time I ever made the first move.
I know, now, that you were probably hurting at least as much as I was, if not more. But my little heart couldn’t see past the pain then.
To Marshall: I’m sorry I never worked up the nerve to approach you. To tell you that I knew it was you. I recognized your handwriting. On the Secret Admirer card. But I had already lost trust and faith in people. I thought it was a joke, you see. A scam. I learned later that I hurt your feelings, ignoring your gesture.
To the boy at the dance: I didn’t even want to be there. I had been forced to go. People were starting to worry…at my lack of friends and growing social anxiety. I had been made fun of far too much by now, and I couldn’t. I wanted to trust you, when you asked me to dance. But I couldn’t. I just knew it was a joke. So I went inside and stuffed my face until the party was over. That’s the first time I remember medicating with food.
Why did you ask me why I smile? Every day, at least once a day? You were a grownass woman in her forties. Why do you feel a need to rob a teenager of her smile?
Every day I smiled and greeted you with a happy countenance and hope for a good day. And every day, you shot me down. Confronting me in angry tones,
Why are you so happy?
I mean, really. Look at you. What do you have to be so happy about, anyway?
I woke up this morning.
Would you rather I told you, “This is my mask, and it helps me get through the day”? I suspect you would have liked that, to know that I shared a fraction of your misery. But no, I was too busy trying.
It took me a couple of years, but I finally stopped. Smiling at you. You didn’t deserve my smiles. But then, one day, I started smiling at you again. Out of spite. Because fuck you, that’s why.
And again, I was the Happy Asshole.
Thanks, Marie. For reminding me of her.
Dear James and Everyone Else I hurt in Jr. High & High School,
You told me one day, later on in high school, that I had been a bitch to you. I’m sorry. I really am.
I was afraid of you. I didn’t trust you. I never did. And I still didn’t. Hell, I still wouldn’t. Even now. I had been bitten so many times by then, that I used meanness as a defense mechanism. To keep people as far away from me as possible.
But at least I started smiling again. Greeting you. Refusing to take my pain and inner turmoil out on you and everyone else.
Thank you, for being so honest with me that day. I needed that dose of awareness. It hurt to know that I’d been hurtful. I’ll never forget it.
Please allow me – and anyone else – the right to be down sometimes. Please don’t beat me with your happy stick and try to force your idea of happiness on me.
You see, I’m fighting really hard. No, I mean it. Really fucking hard. To lift myself out of this funk. It’s a daily battle, and a tough one. And while I’m thankful for words of encouragement and positivity, it hurts when you’re dismissive. As though I don’t have the right to be down because it offends you.
I understand now, why it hurt my mother for me to say things like, “well, at least you have legs!” But I was a child, and I didn’t realize it was dismissive of her pain. I thought I was being encouraging, but all she heard was “your pain isn’t valid.”
So be encouraging of each other. Be positive. But try not to be so fucking militant about it. Just as my depression isn’t an attack on you, your positivity shouldn’t be an attack on me.
Live and let live and Kumbaya, and all that.
You’re at risk of no longer being the Happy Asshole, but instead just an asshole. And if that happens, they win. Is that what you want?
So keep smiling at work. Keep saying goodmorning to the world and all its inhabitants. Keep telling off-color jokes and being a raging smartass. It’s fun. It makes people laugh, and it cheers you up to do it.
Don’t let them destroy the last remaining vestiges of you.
Cling to life. Cling to joy, even if you can only find scraps of moments here and there. Those scraps count. Those scraps matter. Those scraps are what keep you coming back for more.
You matter. You probably won’t think so in the morning. Or even an hour from writing this.
So keep reminding yourself. And try to believe people when they say nice things about you.
Don’t be an asshole. It’s no fun without the happy.
The Happy Asshole