Dear Well-Meaning Stranger in the Grocery Store,
No, I won't smile. Thank you for asking. But right now I am going through something. I'm the kind of depressed where I feel like a stranger in my own skin. See I was already feeling kind of good. Getting out the door was an incontestable victory for me. And your insisting that I smile is reminding me of how far I still have to go.
Being in this store is hard enough. I feel like an alien in this land of soft rock and small talk. I'd much rather be on my home planet, the one where I wear pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up tight, listening to Sia all day. But I am here and trying as hard as I can despite the difficulties that will arise. Let's not add smiling like an idiot to my grocery list.
In the juice aisle I will hear a song by Bryan Adams that sticks in my throat like a blade, and I will fake a cough to push the choked-up feeling away while my children select cereals and a blue raspberry drink. But by the time we hit the bread and milk a remake of "Nothing Compares 2 U" will come on and the tears will flow freely. I will pull down by baseball hat even lower and tell my girls my allergies are acting up again. And because they love their mom, they will pretend to believe.
They know that soon the numb will come, and it does. I check out without another sniff and float out of the store like a ghost. Both of girls will give my hands a squeeze giving a little grin. Neither of them ask me to return the favor.
My girls know that I'm hurting and that I have to process this pain before I can appreciate real joy. (They've seen Inside Out.) They know that sadness is not only necessary, but that it's okay.
Why can't you?
Don't get it twisted, sir. It's not that I don't want my happiness. I want it so bad. And I get glimpses of it now and again, that real smile that breaks through the storm inside me. It's amazing when it happens, like spotting a unicorn. It's magical really. And that's precisely why I won't fake one.
So thank you for trying to help, random Samaritan in the Shop Rite. But I've got this. And when I'm ready, I promise you- wait strike that.
I promise me.