Behind the Happiest Smile

img_4336fbI’m 6-years-old and I run around dead leaves in the garden, as happy as a child can be. I have to be a happy child, I think. There is enough suffering already so I can’t make it heavier. I find a safe place to escape and decide to bury the pain I feel there. From then on, I’ll be nothing but a happy child. It becomes my responsibility to take care of Mom, to make sure she’s okay. I want to help Dad, too. I know he’s hurting just as much as she does. I often stand between them two, begging them to calm down, reciting a never-ending list of reasons why we should be a happy family.

As years go by, that list gets shorter as the consuming chaos grows bigger. I stop believing we can ever be a happy family but I can’t give up on Mom so I dry her tears at night and whisper ‘I love you’ as she falls asleep. One day, Dad isn’t allowed to come home anymore. Although I feel relief, I can’t bear the thought of him being alone so I secretly meet with him in coffee shops. I tell him I forgive him and I still love him. Mom finds out and shouts the ugliest words at me. I think I was never as happy as I pretended to be. I could always feel the buried pain within myself, but I refused to let it out. I made myself a promise to never let it define me. I vowed to do better and grow into a happy human. I would take care of people. I would strive for happiness. All I had to do was step out of the darkness and yearn for the light.

I started obsessing over happiness. Everything had to be magically beautiful. By taking pretty pictures, I would persuade myself my life was beautiful. It was never about convincing anyone else. All I needed was to believe that, I, would one day be happy. I dreamt of traveling the world but I had never felt reckless enough to just do it, until I hopped on that bus to Germany four years ago. I had always lived in fear, but as soon as I stepped foot on that foreign soil, I felt a deep sense of wonder. I decided to live on the road and let every experience, every soul I met, shape my heart. I no longer had to seek happiness as it was right in front of me. I felt joy with every fiber of my being. Everywhere I’d go, I’d collect stories and memories. I was an independent young woman seeing the world for the first time. I was fearless.

Some days, it seemed like I had it all. Like I had made it, after all. Soon after, I started thinking about the missing piece in my life again. Love. That funny, abstract concept I knew nothing about. That made-up idea in my mind shaped by romance novels. Timeless love stories that led me to believe love was a fairy tale. I was 22 when I fell in love. Before that, I was too scared to even think about opening up to someone. The walls I had built up around my heart came crumbling down, and so I risked everything for the boy who became the missing piece to my utopia. To the carefree and happy life I was so eager to throw myself into. He became my family. Life would only get sweeter now.

He changed everything. I can precisely recall how overwhelmed I felt seven years ago, when our eyes met for the first time. There was something beautiful within his gaze that he couldn’t see. A twinkle so bright yet so broken. We’d get so ridiculously goofy together. We’d run at the grocery store and slide around like wild children until one of us would get serious and say ‘Let’s focus and buy some real food for dinner’ only to get out of the supermarket an hour later with nothing but sweets and chocolate. In the evening, we’d feed our soul and mind with love and dreams. I’d go on and on about how incredible it felt to even be alive. He’d look at me distantly and say ‘I believe you’ll do great things, Laura’. He had that faded smile on his face that meant he believed in me but could never find the same confidence within himself.

I think in a way I always knew he was the boy with a wounded soul. Maybe I was wrong from the beginning. Maybe I was never supposed to rescue him. I wore myself out trying to make him see life through my eyes. I wanted him to realize just how tremendously good he was. I believed the love I had for him could only make him warm. His would make me grow higher with every sunrise so how could mine be anything but soothing ? The truth is, the more I loved him, the more unworthy he felt.

It was never my fault and I can see it now. I have stopped feeling riddled with guilt. I have ceased to think I wasn’t good enough. I was. I did the best that I could, but I guess some things just don’t work out like they should. Maybe someday they will. Maybe we’ll be happy again. For now, I feel like I just need to seek truth within myself. I need to stop smiling when I feel like falling into pieces. Life can’t always be beautiful. I can’t always be happy. And I can’t keep on lying to myself and pretend it’s alright. It’s not. None of this is. It’s unfair and cruel, and I didn’t deserve it. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel a sharp stabbing pain in my heart. I gasp for air but I feel hopeless. I hold onto love but I feel forsaken.

It’s all so achingly ugly but I need to let it out. I need to be brave and release the buried pain behind the smiles I’ve learned to fake. I need to allow my heart to break. Only then will I truly heal. And when I do, I hope I can fall in love again. But it won’t be with Kevin or any other boy this time. It will be with myself. I’ve kept my disdain for myself quiet for too long and I can’t bear it anymore. I don’t love myself. I never have. I know it makes no sense that I would be so loving and forgiving to others, yet so crushingly hard on myself. Sometimes I feel like the things I do – my job, my passions, the way I behave around friends and family – are just a big act to fill the excruciatingly painful void inside myself. It’s time I look within myself. I’m only human, but it’s a beautiful thing to be nonetheless.

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