When all you can do is deal with it, whatever it is, I find a nice smile is the way to go. Even if you’re crying your eyes out and there is biological castoff coming out of your nose, just smile as though you’re the Queen of Texas. Yes, I truly believe this.
Since last April, I’ve done a lot of smiling. That’s all I know to do. It’s a skill learned during early childhood, and finely honed during a thirty year marriage. Although it can be difficult to have such a short range of emotion, smiling through it has gotten me through a lot in life. When my last boyfriend before hubby put his sawed off in my face, shaking and positively scarlet with rage, I smiled. I continued to smile until he pushed me out of the way and shot the gun out the door I’d been standing in front of. Later, on the terror trip home, I smiled as his big arm reached across me, pulled the door handle, and tried to push me out of his truck. Actually, I got a genuine belly laugh out of that. When I got my son out of the dope house and that dirty gangster motherfucker put his pistol to the back of my head, I smiled. I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of my fear. I was also smiling when the time came when it was my gun to his head. Ah, Life…It does come round and round, doesn’t it?
Most times that I’ve smiled my way through did not involve gun play. It began when I was tiny and my grandmother began beating me. She would hit me with anything she could find, as well as her fists. She’d beat me until she was tired from it. She always only wanted one thing; for me to show her respect in the form of an apology over some thing she’d imagine I’d done. Till the last time she beat me, she never got as much as a tear. I knew that, if she ever got one, she won. How could I let that happen? I still have a letter that she wrote to my uncle while he was in the Navy during Viet Nam. She told him she hated me and that I was the most cussid child ever born. He gave me the letter before he died because he hated that my mother left me with her. I kept it, all these years, because it reminds me that I am, at my core, strong.
Being raised by that insanely cruel cunt of a woman and my grandfather, who was a violent drunk, made Smile Pretty words to live by. Because of that simple motto, I was able to go to school, engage socially and, eventually, raise children. I never once lied to my husband, or cheated on him, or allowed his torment and that of having an addicted child, prevent me from anything I had to do.
I’d wager that no one who knows me well, having read this, would ever imagine it was written by me. My family, and people who know me, mostly only know the me who smiles pretty, no matter what.
All of that being said, since Bennie died, my most natural defense has begun to crumble. I’ve never experienced pain on this level. Never. I keep saying I wished him dead a million times. That is true. But I’d take it all back if God would bring him back to me for even a second. Never did I imagine he’d die first, even though he’d outlived his prognosis by three years. I honestly thought he’d kill me one day. But he was only trying to intimidate me. It worked. It’s difficult to smile through one day after another of a pill head with his hand on the AK he’d keep by his chair. Towards the end, things had gotten so intense. They had only been slightly less so during the decade before. Then, one beautiful Mayberry morning, I received a text from him and everything changed. That night, he was dead. And I never got to say goodbye or tell him I was sorry or hold his warm hand. The next time I held his hand, it was freezing and swollen….and dead. The doctors said he was alive, but I’m not stupid. I swear, I curse each and every one of those ghouls to their graves. I’m so angry with them…and him. When I saw him, for the first time, at sixteen, I knew we’d marry before I even knew his name. But I never dreamed that loving him would take me from lofty heights to unbearable depths by the time it was all over. I did not know he would be the center of my universe, no matter what. And I certainly never dreamed I’d live a day without him.
No matter how much I smile, I best not speak these days. It’s as though he’s in every breath I take and if I talk, I cry. I’ve cried so much. Surely, there are rivers with a lesser flow than these ever present tears. I feel dead inside. Except for the pain. This very peculiar and powerful pain. It occupies physical space within me. I think, at times, I could plunge a knife into my stomach and pull it right out. I pray that it leaves me before it’s my time to take leave of this world. There is so much life to live, and so much I have left to do…things that I’m finding increasingly difficult to smile my way through.