Behind the Smile

I think it’s hard for us sometimes, to think that beautiful people have issues. If we really think about it, it makes sense that they’d have hardships; that’s life. But in passing, when you see them on social media, when you’re in line behind them at the store, it’s easy to feel jealous, thinking how much easier things must be for them. “They’re so pretty/handsome!” It’s only when you talk with them, peel back the layers, that you’re reminded that no one escapes life unscathed. No one goes without heartache, fears and insecurities.

Here’s a peak behind the beauty. The life that happens behind the smiles.

“I’m still that sweet boy you knew in high school. If you leave me, I’ll never get better – I need you.”

She stays and she loves. She sees him through rehab and she believes in him. She has a baby boy with him. But he never gets better and the day she holds their 3-week old baby and watches him berate his mother for some meaningless transgression, she knows she has to leave. Looking at her child, her heart breaks thinking of her boy ever speaking to her in that way. Staying with this man would mean he’d learn this behavior and she can’t have that. She leaves, moving back in with her parents, depleting her savings on legal fees.

She cleans houses, scrubs toilets, wakes at 11pm to clean restaurants so she can take care of her son. She smiles every day, telling herself, “There are people watching their children die. There are people who don’t have clean water to drink. If this is my biggest burden, then I am lucky.”

She meets a man. He’s vastly different from her first husband; calm, mild mannered and loving to her son. He offers her the world – love, safety, acceptance and the ability to stop working to stay home with her son. She’s happy and because of the happiness, it takes her a while before she sees the changes.

“Did I train you well?”

This is the question she’s asked when her husband returns home one night. She’s too stunned to speak and the air is heavy with her fear. “I asked, did I train you well?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she says, as understanding begins to flow through her, making her sick and ashamed all at once.

“Don’t ever ask me again who she is, where I go or what I do,” he says and walks away.

Her “training” began right after they’d moved in together, when he began to dole out just enough money for her to pay bills, get food and have enough gas in her car to get her son to school and run a few errands. He stopped coming home every night and reminded her anytime she asked where he’d been, that she was not “allowed” to question him. Ever. The security cameras he installed around the house ensured she knew he was watching – always.

It’s happening again, she’s messed up. She’s picked the wrong guy. She can’t go through another divorce, so she stays and focuses on her son. He’s the only thing in life that makes sense, he’s everything.

But it’s not so bad right? He doesn’t hit her. He’s kind to her son. It’s not so bad.

Until it is. Until his constant insults about her body not being perfect, her bottom teeth being crooked, the occasional pimple cropping up, are too much. When he stops sleeping with her she is broken. She’s wounded and wanting, so the night he comes to sleep with her, she embraces the closeness.

“There’s nothing we can find. There’s no reason you should have lost your baby.”

She’s 18 weeks pregnant when she doesn’t feel right. Her stomach hurts and she’s hot. She goes into the bathroom and she’s bleeding. She’s in pain and starts vomiting and before she can comprehend what’s happening, she’s having her baby. A tiny, perfect little boy. She passes out and wakes to paramedics loading her onto a gurney. “Please don’t let my son see me like this,” is all she can say.

She spends 5 days in the hospital, has 2 blood transfusions and is pumped full of antibiotics, while Dr.’s run every test imaginable to try and figure out what went wrong.

“You’re too fat.”

Is all her husband says in the weeks that follow.

“I have cancer.”

She can’t wrap her head around the words when her dad tells her his diagnosis. He’s her best friend, her biggest supporter; this can’t be real. She’s with him through the next year as he battles and she’s there when he loses. The grief is unbearable and the only thing that gets her through, is allowing herself to feel the sadness and her son.

Life goes on. She knows she should leave her husband but she can’t. She has no money, no job, he doesn’t let her work and she has her son to take care of. When her husband comes to her one night, she once more embraces his touch. Always hoping to make things different, to have him love her again, she accepts him. And when she becomes pregnant again, she is scared.

When she delivers her second son, her heart is full of joy. He’s perfect and she’s happy. Until she realizes she’s repeated herself and she has to get out before her new baby grows and sees how his dad treats her. She doesn’t want him thinking theirs is a healthy marriage.

She begins making baby blankets for her son’s teachers and they’re a hit. Even though she isn’t allowed to work, with the help of a friend in the legal business, she gets a business license and sells her creations, putting the money into a private account. “You’d better not be selling those for money,” her husband says.

She assures him it’s just for fun.

“I’m leaving you.”

Finally, the day comes when she has enough money to leave. He’s stunned but he doesn’t fight. He’s not a fighter, he’s a sad little man who needs to control. He’ll move on, maybe to the younger woman he’s been seeing and he’ll control her.

She’s found an apartment and is beginning to build a new life.

“You are not your father. You are a truly good young man.”

Today, the woman you see carries all of this with her – silently. She has guilt, crushing in its weight at times, when she sees the men she chose. She lives to teach her sons better, to show them how to love, how to accept and how to be good men.

She has a secure job that allows her to be with her boys and provides financial security. SHE did this. Her boys adore her. She has no child support and both of her exes are dealing with their demons but it doesn’t matter, because she’s happy. She has a family of friends who support her. Her boys mean more to her than anything and she tells them every single day, how much they’re loved and how proud of them she is.

She’s still beautiful, stunning. Life today is working on letting go of guilt for her decisions. She’s working on being kind to herself, kind to others and finding the joy. She doesn’t give up.

She’s the woman you stand behind in line at the store and marvel at her lips, eyes and hair. She’s the high school prom queen you see on Facebook, smiling, always there with a kind word for others, always lifting people up. She’s the woman you envied, thinking how great her life must be with two adorable kids, friends for miles and that hair.

She’s a woman. She’s us.


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