Smile

I have this thing about being told to “repeat after me” or to raise my hands.  It makes me instantly, irrationally, intensely angry.  In church, where, I confess, I don’t regularly attend, if the pastor tells the congregation to repeat something he’s reading…a scripture, prayer, words of affirmation…I find myself thinking, “Screw you.  The hell if I will!”  If they encourage people to raise their hands in worship, though it sometimes makes me uncomfortable not to because I am the only one who doesn’t conform, the intensity of my angry reaction pretty much guarantees my hands are not going up.  No matter how much I stick out or how “awful” it makes me to stand there with my arms down, I refuse to be manipulated in this way.  While I will say the Pledge of Allegiance and even say it with pride, when someone is trying to coerce me to say or do something that my heart cannot fully and completely support, something rises up inside of me and I stubbornly refuse to comply.  I feel like I would choke on the words if I tried to say them.  The thought of being that dishonest and disloyal to myself infuriates me.  I would be a total fake if I raised my hands just to go along.  So I don’t…go along.  And I get really pissed that I’m being put in that position to begin with.
 
I have always had this type of strong reaction to this kind of coercion or manipulation.  I’ve not understood why, but I’ve recognized it and decided it was just another one of those quirky things about me that didn’t make sense, but that I wasn’t going to worry about.  It doesn’t come up that often.  And I mean, really, it’s not like I don’t have enough “issues” to work on!
 
Then I remembered…
 
“Wipe that frown off your face.”  “Smile.”  “You need to smile.  You’re embarrassing me.”  “Your face is going to get stuck like that.”  “I’m telling you, smile!  Now!”  “Stop looking like that.”
 
Like a broken record, when I was a teenager, my parents constantly told me to smile.  And it used to make me very angry.  And I refused.
 
For some reason, I started thinking about this.  Made the connection between “repeat after me” and “smile.”  I then began to wonder at my intense, angry, defiant reaction.  I decided to dig a little deeper.
 
 As I’ve shared, my parents were both very abusive to me.  They hit me, slapped me, screamed at me, made me take care of the house, the laundry, the ironing and things of that nature at a very young age, they didn’t take me to the doctor when I needed care unless my need was extreme (and then they threatened me that I had “better be sick enough” to warrant the attention), they put me down, told me their problems, fought horrendous fights in front of me (my father hit my mother occasionally during these fights), they rejected me, hated me, told me I was not good enough, and, like icing on the cake, my father sexually abused me for years and years and years.  I tried hard for many of those years to comply and please them, to take care of them, to fulfill them, make them proud, to be a better person so they would love me.  I wanted to be who they wanted me to be.  But by the time I reached my mid-teens, I was done trying.  The sexual abuse ended when I was about 14, but the damage was done.  I emotionally disconnected.  I no longer cared what they thought of me.  Oh, I still kept the secrets.  I continued to protect them.  I was still a dutiful daughter in that I made good grades and wore the mask when I left our house or on those rare occasions when we actually had a visitor.  But I stopped smiling, at least at home.  And I decided no one was going to make me smile when I didn’t want to smile.  Not any more.
 
I decided they were, at the very least, going to have to look at what they had done to me.  I was depressed.  I was in pain…horrible, destructive, damaging anguish of my heart and soul.  I was confused, broken, decimated, wounded, profoundly unhappy.  Disconnected.  Numb.  Barely alive.  Barely able to hang on.  Suicidal.  Heartbroken.  Annihilated.  Ruined. I had been living in a world without oxygen; a hostile environment.  They had hurt me so deeply, rending my soul, smashing my heart into a million pieces.  I was, by God, NOT GOING TO SMILE.
 
At the very least, the absolute minimum, they were going to have to live with my downcast expression, my blank face, my dead eyes.  It was my one act of defiance.  My one expression of pain.  My single cry to the universe.  Didn’t I deserve, at a minimum, the right to control the expression on my face?  To let it say what I truly felt as long as I was out of the public eye?  They wanted me to make them look good and hide what they had done to me.  I did that.  I felt I paid my dues and then some.  So I didn’t smile.  Not when I was at home.
 
Suddenly, I have a connection with my past; a direct emotional link to the child I used to be.  This is a first.  I struggle to feel at all these days, so I think this link is positive, even though it’s kind of painful.  I am going to explore it a bit.  See if it can help me find the little girl I was, the one who was so terrified of her world, who was unwanted, abused, alone.  The child who did the only thing she knew to do to tell the world about the darkness in which she existed.  And now, if someone tells me to repeat after them, when the anger comes, I will think of her and her tiny act of defiance.  I will think of her and pay homage to her for surviving the hellish nightmare she endured.  I may even shed a tear for her.  And in her honor, I will not say the words others would try to force me to say, I will not raise my hands and I most certainly will not smile.

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