The 10 Second Smile

It is not that uncommon for New Yorkers to have some sort of summer cottage upstate (Upstate: anything north of the Bronx), and my family was no exception.

The cottage belonged to my father, and we spent many summers there together in the country side, and I was fascinated with it; there were many people from Ireland who lived there, along with authentic Irish pubs complete with live bands that played traditional Irish music.

So, Luna, how did YOU spend your summer?
I spent it watching ‘Sailor Moon’ and learning traditional Irish dances, betches!

Yes, the kids were welcome into the pubs late into the night; it was a family affair, and even though I’d never witnessed it, the waitresses told us that kids would bring their sleeping bags sometimes.

Talent shows were popular, as well, though they called it something else that escapes me, and I loved those.
One night, dad and I were at one of those talent shows, and it was almost painful to watch; that particular night, it was mediocre act to the next and so on.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you something about me:

There are very few things that I love more than singing.
Before my anxiety disorder kicked into full swing, I was so at-home on the stage, it was disgusting…singing, dancing, acting…I loved it all. I was in a few plays during the summers, had countless dance recitals, played in band, etc.
Once my anxiety disorder was decided that it was panic attack time, the only thing I could do without freaking out on a stage was sing solos; it was the only time the world faded away.
When I tried-out for plays or had to be placed into a section for choir, if they wanted me to sing a song, I’d usually do a song from ‘Annie.’ I’ve known the freaking soundtrack from ‘Annie’ ever since I was a young child; hell, I knew the freaking DIALOGUE to that movie…I loved it.

Back to the point.

I looked at Dad, and he looked at me.

‘I could win this show…I just know it,’ I said.
He smiled.
‘I know you could. Get up there.’
I looked back at the stage, then at him again.
‘I don’t know what I would sing. They probably don’t know any of the songs I’m thinking of.’
‘Just ask. All you could do is try.’

So, I did.
I figured…who doesn’t know ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘Annie?’
Irish guys who are playing a talent show in a pub, that’s who.
But they said to sing, and that they’d follow me.
Ok; that doesn’t seem too horrible. I’ve sung this song so many times, I could acapella this shit.

AMATEUR NIGHT! THAT’S what they called it.
…I think.

Anyway…
So, they call my name.
I grab the microphone.

The sun will come out…tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…there’ll be sun…

…and then, nothing.

I completely blanked out on the lyrics.
They were GONE.
COMPLETELY.

I’d sung that song so many times…in front of people, by myself…I’d never forgotten the lyrics to a song or the lines to play or the routine to a dance (ok, ONE step, ONE time, but in my defense, it was one of the saddest nights of my entire childhood), and here I was, completely silent in front of an entire room of complete strangers, waiting for me to continue.

I do not remember what happened afterward, but I gave up and went back to my table.
And cried.
My only consolation was that I could sit in the dark, away from the eyes of all of the people who’d just watched me embarrass my 12 or 13 year old self.

Little did I know that it wasn’t over.

To my absolute and utter horror, one of the band members looked in my direction and started to talk about me, how brave it was of me to go on stage…
…then asked for a spotlight to be shown on me.

‘Luna, let’s do a 10 second smile! Everybody, count with me! Smile, Luna! Smile!’

Those 10 seconds of absolute hell were spent fake-smiling so wide that my face hurt, despite the tears that ran down my face. But, what else could I do? I felt that it was necessary to go along with what this man was doing because I wanted to regain the smallest ounce of dignity that night…even though I cried even harder afterwards. It was probably the most humiliated I had ever been. And my dad knew it, too.
‘What you sang sounded great,’ he assured me, but it didn’t matter.

As an adult, it is something I haven’t thought of very much; I sang solos all throughout high school, and I know now that it just wasn’t my night. I feel like what he did was kind of…sadistic, though. I mean, not a purposeful sadistic; I do believe that he felt pity toward me and was trying to make me feel better.

Sometimes, the things people do to make others feel better, no matter how good-intentioned, are hurtful. I’m a person who is, more or less, a self-healer…I NEED to be. My anxiety disorder is clinical; when I’m not taking St. John’s Wort and Passionflower, I am in damn-near CONSTANT panic. My organic state is just horror. Imagine that you had to wade through a lake of poisonous snakes every time you emerged from the house…that’s what it feels like. And that’s not mentioning the details of how difficult everything else is, everything that is seemingly so easy for everybody else to do…and everybody’s judgement of you when you are panicking.

I find it frustrating that the once-in-blue-moon that I break down and cry, and tell somebody…
‘You know what? My life is hard. I worked so hard at everything and nothing seems to go my way. And I’m upset.’
…that they come back at me with platitudes and antiquated bits of wisdom.

‘You need a new perspective!’
‘You need to empower yourself!’
‘You know you’re a strong person!’
Et cetra.

They want so much for that 10 second smile.

Here’s something interesting that they don’t think about:
I need a new perspective, self-empowerment, and every ounce of strength that I may have to even get out of bed in the morning.
Do I whine about it?
Do I fish for pity?
Do I show these people my tears?
Nope.
But once in a while, I need to talk about it.
I am not trying to gain your wisdom on how to try to make myself better because I do that on my own.
I am not ever going to say, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought of it that way before!’
I don’t want your optimism…I don’t want your advice…I don’t even want your pity.

I want you to say, ‘Luna, you’re right. It is not your imagination…things are hard for you, and you’ve every right to cry. It is not that you aren’t trying hard enough…it is not that you lack perspective…it is not that you don’t know how to empower yourself. You’re doing these things, ALL of these things…I know you are…but for some reason, you haven’t moved forward. You do that stupid fucking 10 second smile everyday, and it’s ok to stop doing it. You’ve earned the right to cry.’

Advertisements