A good friend of mine asked me to guest post him and I will be featuring his story in a 3-part series. In his own words, he has suffered it in silence for long enough and hopes that telling it will help someone out who could be going through a similar situation.
Let me tell you about my smile. It’s not a particularly pretty smile. I have chipped teeth. Several of them. Others have decided that they will pose like Instagram models by turning a little to the side so that you can see their curves properly. It may look sexy in my mouth, and to one or two randy dentists, but to the rest of the world, it’s just crooked. Then there is the yellow. I brush my teeth until they feel like porcelain when my tongue glides over them. But I can never quite get the yellow out. I sometimes consider whitening them but, I am not one to make changes to things which work perfectly fine. After all, I can smile.
I do smile. Smiling comes naturally to me. I am always smiling. I always have an inappropriate joke, or a funny dance or pretty much anything to do that will make people smile. It’s what I do. I am that guy in the group. The guy who never shuts up but when I do, everyone worries. Why are they so worried? I better not let them worry. So I smile. They feel a little safer when I smile. I don’t know how I know. But it just does.
My dad had a great smile. His teeth were just like mine. Maybe not as sexy with the Instagram poses, but they were just like mine. Whenever things were going South for the family, he smiled. He cracked jokes. They were inappropriate jokes but they were jokes all the same. His smile made us feel safe in a way. I don’t know how. But it just did.
But “South” is a relative term. It just means downwards. Nobody ever predicted just how low “down” could go. I have heard the phrase “financial hole” get thrown around from time to time by different people. But I never really fathomed how deep and how wide a hole could actually be. It’s like when you go online and you see the size of those massive sink holes in Russia. You think you know a hole. But there is always a bigger hole.
A bad decision here. Even worse decisions there. Some excessive borrowing elsewhere. Before anyone knew what was going on, dad had stopped smiling. He lost his smile for a while. But when one loses a smile, a new one can be found. Yes, he found a new one. It was at the bottom of a brown bottle. It was temporary but it kept him going day to day. Whenever he felt his current smile fading, he popped open a bottle and found the next one. A system that worked. He smiled. But when he found this other smile, his smile ceased to make me smile. It was more maniacal than calming, this new smile. It scared me.
The new smile was accompanied to his face by words. Dad was always a quiet man. One or two words or a joke here and there but now he had a lot of words to share. Words I had only ever heard him reserve for politicians and bad drivers. “Idiot”. “Fool”. “Useless”. It took me a while to realize that he was addressing me and he meant it. It took me even longer to grasp let alone accept that he was slowly forgetting my name. In time, I ceased to be me and became, “You” and “That boy”.
In times like that I still had mom’s affection. I should have been OK. But mom had her own issues. Mom could not hold on to money At all. It had to go somewhere. It was one of the things they argued most about. Where does the money go? And she would just look at dad with a bewildered look and say, “I don’t know.” And that was that. But she knew. Mom had a problem. She was a gambler. Not your typical casino gambler. No. Her’s was high risk ventures, church groups and relatives. She was always starting businesses which failed as soon as they started, or making donations to the “less fortunate” which eventually just became donations to her relatives who had the ability to make her feel like they were less fortunate. But the bottom line is that the money never came back. A stay at home mom does not have an income, so the money had to come from somewhere in the first place. How many days of school did I miss because of this behavior? I lost count. Dad sent her money to deposit with the school. But she was convinced that if she took the money and “invested” in something she would be able to send me to a better school. Stories I grew very accustomed to hearing. They were nice.
Until I one day realized that all my friends had graduated from school and I was alone in a little town with very little to do.