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The project aims at looking beyond the smiles of the next person, to see what’s really beneath, what’s really going on? How people really need help and won’t bother saying anything about it but would rather cover it up with a façade of strength, with a smile.
It’s time to look beneath the smile and lend a helping hand. People are going through real things, these are their stories.
We hope that you’d be kind enough to leave a comment. Your feedback is important to us.
Today’s true story was sent in by one of our Anonymous readers.
This is her story.
The ‘Beneath the Smile’ Project.
“Always the odd thumb, always different, never fitting in, not social, the odd man out…”
When you’re the only girl of four kids, this is usually your lot to deal with. I was the one that couldn’t play foot-ball (believe me, I tried), the one that couldn’t watch Sledge Hammer with everyone because it was time to cook, the one that had to dress up to follow my mum to the market, the one that was dictated to the list of things in the house. After a while, I gave up on fitting in with the boys.
I thought my mum and I could be the girls of the house, we would be Batman and Robin. That’s what I thought. I would use fruits to make smiley faces, I would show off her my good grades, I would compliment her cooking, I read all her books (she had lots of them), I would try to arrange the house before she came home… my mum would have none of it.
The first time I had watched the fruit salad smileys being made on TV, I had spent an hour making it… she had come back home, taken one look at it and said I should get it away from her. I remember getting angry and gobbling it myself, muttering things like I didn’t care, but deep inside, I had been numb with hurt. She rejected things I did a lot, and over-time, I learnt how to hide my feelings, to pretend everything was alright… if you decided to hurt me, you had no right to see me cry.
I was a very intelligent child. At first, she would use it to taunt me, everything I said, she saw as a way to put her down. I think she even reported me to her mom once, because grand-ma just arrived one day and slapped me. My twin brother wasn’t as intelligent, he was alright and he more than made up for it in cheerfulness, but my mum would have none of it. I remember once she flogged me because she had told us to do our assignment after school and he didn’t do his… I still have a blur of two marks of the cane somewhere on my fore-arm and another on my thigh. However, when my uncles and aunties started to praise me on school-work or whatever, my mum joined in… I started to hate school then… I started to hate anything that remotely made her “proud” of me. I wanted her to like me for me… not because of something I did or can do. I couldn’t really handle that my mum completely disliked me but for my little achievements. I still struggle with this mindset; that people could only like me for something I had that they wanted or liked.
When it was time for family gatherings, she would dress me and put make-up on my face, telling me how one particular cousin of mine would show up and I’d end up looking like a monkey. At first, I let it be, I was always desperate to be on her good side. But, even that didn’t help. ”You would have looked better if…” Was always the result. After a while, I didn’t allow her dress me in what I didn’t want or put make-up on me. I didn’t care if I was ugly. It was pride, not self-confidence and at a very young age, I was filled with the image of myself as a fat, ugly kid… A proud, fat, ugly kid. I learnt to walk with my head down.
When my mum came home, the happiness evaporated. There was always something to complain or shout about. Always. No matter how hard you tried. The table mats weren’t straight enough, there was a spoon in the sink, the TV was on, we didn’t rush around her when she came in… anything. With time, even a knock on the door in the evening was enough to put a frown on our faces. “she is around” we would think, and she never disappointed… She would come in shouting and shouting, ready to beat. At first, my dad used to get to us by saying if she died of high bp, it’d be our fault. With time, that threat lost hold… it was like she WANTED to shout, WANTED to complain.
I usually took the brunt of her attacks, in beatings or slaps or shouts. I got lots of clothes and toys for those. She probably believed that to be a way of saying “I still love you” maybe? My idea of love was very warped by then. At first, I looked forward to these tiny validations but, they lost their hold too and I started to reflect her hate too. I got scared, scared that I would turn into her… I started to be afraid for myself. I used to ask myself if I loved her at all, my friends would talk about their mothers and you could hear the love. I couldn’t sense that love in mine. If I didn’t love my own mother, what hope did I have… my only proof of love was a thought that if she died, I would cry.
Boarding school was a welcome escape. I learnt how to be closer to people. I learnt how to interact with people. I even had people I was really close to. But after school, they all left. None of my best-friends stayed in Lagos and time and distance worked their magic. I was alone. Again. So, in university I decided to be the funny quiet girl… it’s so easy to put people at arm’s length that way. They are too busy not talking to you or laughing to notice the absence of substance. Very few people broke thorough that bubble. And I really do love them plenty. #winning!!! Even though I forget to contact them… I always imagine all my friendships are one-sided (mine)… it takes a lot of convincing for me to believe someone is actually checking up just to make sure I’m happy… always means a lot.
My mother and I might never be close… probably because I will never, truthfully, allow her. She tries nowadays, probably because her friends have good relationships with their daughters… asking me about what she’s wearing and her make-up but I can’t help the caution I put to relate to her because she’s always ready to strike back… to get angry. She’s a really great person with everyone else, but with me? It’s another ball game!!! Better to be on the defensive than the offensive. Her actions had hurt me too deeply for us to ever freely relate. Looking back, if I had been older, I might have been able to handle all that. But I wasn’t.
I only started smiling. Ugly people aren’t supposed to smile. It took a while to get over that ugly image.. to build self-esteem and confidence that wasn’t based on pride. It actually took people telling me I was pretty to convince me. I didn’t grow up smiling. But when I do smile, it’s because I’m struggling through the issues life has dealt me with, because I’m learning to love everyone freely without wandering when they’ll slap me down. But most of all, I want to one day look at my mum and tell her “You tried to mess me up… you almost succeeded but guess what? I still love you.”
Yours in Vodka and arrows,
• • •
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?
N.B. The project goes on with Tomorrow’s ’Her Story, X’ by an Anonymous writer.
You can still send in your own true stories to email@example.com
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