Eyes

I saw an old picture of myself recently.  I’m about 12 years old, sitting in front of the Christmas tree in the house I lived in from age 9 to 17.  I’m sitting sideways to the camera, not frowning, but certainly not smiling and I’m looking decidedly nervous.    There is no excitement on my face.  I appear to be dazed.  No happiness.  No anticipation.  Instead, I look like an anxious rabbit about ready to run.  Edgy.  Fearful even.
 
In another old picture taken of my aunt, brother and me after we had been swimming, I have a half-smile playing on my face as we clown for the camera.  But my eyes…my smile doesn’t even begin to touch my eyes.   And when I cropped the picture to include only my eyes, just to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing, it became even more evident.  They are flat, without emotion, blank.  Dead.  I appear to have receded within myself.  The shell performed while I hid myself safely away.  My vacant eyes tell the story.
 
I don’t have many old pictures of myself.  It’s difficult to gauge what I was like as a child because of this.  My memories tend to fade from nightmarish experiences to big black holes where I took cover and endured the onslaught.  I was living so much inside of myself, trying desperately to survive the abuse, I don’t have an “outside looking in” perspective.  When I do find pictures, I tend to scrutinize them to see if I can pick up any clues as to what the casual observer might have noticed about me and how I might have been perceived.  I’m searching for who I was in hopes of figuring out who I have become.
 
In several of the pictures I do have, I appear to be nervous and wary, even as a small child.  In most, if I’m smiling at all, it’s a pinched smile; perfunctory, cautious, forced.  There are a few rare pictures where I seem to be smiling with genuine joy.  In almost every one, I’m under the age of 5.    Does this mean anything?  I’m not sure.  But it does make me wonder.
 
I can remember my parents getting extremely angry with me on many, many occasions because of my facial expression.  I tried not to have one…a facial expression, that is.  But even a blank face was offensive.  They would yell at me to smile.  Scream at me.  Smiling didn’t come easily.  And I resisted having to plaster a smile on my face to make them happy.  Even my expressions weren’t free from their manipulation and demands.  That seemed wrong.  I didn’t feel like it was right to smile just because it would make them feel better.  Everything else I did was to make them feel better; make them look better; to make them happy.  But the expression on my face?  I wanted it to be my own. Even though, a great deal of the time, it wasn’t allowed.
 
I knew I had to act adjusted and normal when facing the world or suffer the consequences.  I knew I had to make my parents look good.  I knew I had to keep the many, many dark family secrets.  But I wanted to have one thing that was mine, that was genuine, at least when I was home, away from prying eyes.  My expression.  I didn’t want them to be able to force me to smile when my heart was in so much pain.  I didn’t want to have to smile as if I enjoyed the abuse and the abusive environment in which I grew.  Evidently, my eyes were the keeper of my pain.  They told the story.  Even when I was forced to place a smile on my face.
 
It was my one rebellion.  In the privacy of my bedroom, when no one was looking, I never smiled.  It was the one time I could let a little of the pain I carried show through.  Sometimes when I was alone at night, I even cried a little when I was younger.  But always very softly.  Always under the covers.  Always after everyone had gone to sleep and I was totally alone.
 
I still don’t smile easily.  In fact, most of the time, I only smile when I’m playing with my little Miniature Schnauzer, Zoe.  She brings some happiness to my heart.  Otherwise, I only smile when I feel like I’m supposed to, when I have to so as to appear to be more “normal” and “acceptable.”  My heart rarely ever smiles, so my face rarely smiles.  And my eyes still look dead.  Try as I might, I’m still trying to recover from the mortal wound caused by abuse suffered in my childhood.  And I’m still more dead than alive.  Most of the time, even if I have a smile on my face, it doesn’t reach my eyes.  My eyes tell the story the way nothing else does.  They are dead and etched in pain.  No tears needed.  They speak when I can’t.  They tell the story, should anyone cares to see.

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