"You need to smile more."
Right. Smile more. It might be pasted, but I could smile. Wasn't I smiling enough, though? People always told me I smiled a lot. Like too much.
"Oh, and talk slower. They can't understand you."
Check. Slower. Lifelong bane. Too many thoughts and not enough words, syllables or letters to express them. Just pretend I had marbles in my mouth. It would slow down.
"Oh, and try to be happy. We want the students to remember their time here as a good time, and I'm afraid they'll think of you and not be happy."
It took the remainder of the day to formulate the response to that. Thankfully, the remainder of the day was only an hour away because the bus ride home and picking up a few items at the store was all I could do to keep the tears inside.
Trudging up the last flight of stairs, I paused, took a deep breath and started forward.
Micheline, American, lived on the same floor I did. She worked at another school, but she never seemed to have any problems making friends or having things to do.
I always had, but I always chalked it up to being me. My brain worked differently than others. Not a problem. Just me. They say heartache comes in threes, but I didn't want yet another boot to drop on my head. The first two had been painful enough - first the rejection of my book (tenth publisher) and now this. I began to wonder how I was supposed to make it in this world.
My worlds were infinitely more interesting, and if I could create myself into their world, I would have fun. Not be their god, or even the coolest person on the planet, just have a good job, doing what I like with the powers I wanted. I'd have problems, but they would be ones easily handled.
How did one become bloody happy?!
I was happy.
I had a good job which I did well at ... Or I thought I did well with it. Apparently they were hiding things from me about what the parents would say - I learned that one in the mid-term interview.
I made friends here - impressive enough, considering I had only ever had a handful of people I really felt I could trust over my lifetime.
I was happy.
Then why didn't others see that?
"There's that resting bitch face, again," Micheline greeted.
I looked up. "What?"
Micheline, as always, glowed. She wore skinny jeans, brown boots, a bright turquoise sweater and a big floppy black hat atop her curly hair. Despite her size, she pulled off the ensemble in a way I never could imagine. She had a Mona Lisa smile, always half-there, like a sun peeking around a cloud. Any moment there would be a brilliant ray of light to blind the wary traveler.
"Are you happy?" I blurted out.
Micheline stepped back a moment and cocked her head. "No. Why do you ask?"
"You seem happy."
Her smile broke forth. "That's good. I'm rarely happy, but people tell me they think I am, so I become happy." She cocked her head the other direction. "What's the reason behind the question? You think too much, Izara. Something's twisting in that brain of yours." Leaning closer her smile faded and her brown eyes welled with tears. "Oh, dear. Unlock the door, kiddo. You're going to break in a moment."
Micheline had been one of my few good expat friends while I was here. We arrived around the same time and instantly bonded. Though I rarely had a chance to talk with her, it was these moments when her plans changed that astounded me.
"You unpack your things while I make the tea. This calls for strong tea and sweet cookies. What happened?"
I unloaded my groceries as I unloaded my heart. First with the easy news of the rejection letter than the harder news of the school assessment.
"Smile more? Be happy? What sort of inane, incompetent, idiotic and downright insulting suggestions are that?!" Micheline exploded. "This whole damn culture doesn't care one wit about whether or not you teach well only that everyone is happy and joyful. It doesn't matter if the students can't learn anything only that they're happy and joyful. And what the hell is this whole smile thing?!"
I rolled my shoulders. "Apparently, I look angry with the students."
"Of course you do. You have a resting bitch face."
"I can't discipline them well, though. They walk all over me."
"Kids do that."
"I don't think I'm cut out for teaching."
I glared at her. "Aren't you supposed to be helping me feel better?"
Micheline grinned. "I thought I was. Listen, I've seen the way you interact with people. You do well with adults and teens, but you're lousy with little ones. Really, I want you to marry so you can have children. I would love to see how they turn out."
My gaze narrowed.
Micheline's grin grew wider. "Oh, scary. Now. Let it all out. The anger, hatred. Curse the whole superficial world."
So I did.
I felt a little better.
Micheline stared at me. "You know, for a church girl, you know some words. Dang."
I rolled my eyes. "I can slow down."
"No you can't."
"Realist. You can't slow down. It's a given fact. Even when you try to, you can't. You're in a rush to do everything right, Izara. Everything has to be done last week, and it isn't. The world can't keep up with you, so you tend to push it farther."
"Is there something wrong with that?"
Micheline sighed. "Can't really say yes or no, girl. All I know is that it's you. It works for you. You have this drive to do things bigger, better and greater than anyone else. Your passion burns within you, and sometimes, I think it'll burn everyone around you. You run so hot somedays."
"But people don't think I'm happy."
"To hell with happiness. There are plenty of people who are bloody happy and do nothing to be happy for. You," she leveled her finger at me, "have plenty to be proud of. I think that's a hell of a lot more to be happy for. Just because you don't smile all the time, doesn't make you unhappy any more than smiling all the time makes someone happy. Who makes up this stuff, Pollyanna?" She rose. "Do you still have that bottle of wine here?"
"On the wine rack."
"Good. Now, for the bad part. You need to cover their egos, and they only assume it will be from everyone being happy, so smile more is the easiest way to do this." She poured two glasses of wine. "Unfortunately, you can't imagine everyone naked like they tell you to do that in speeches. It doesn't work. Someone still has to be the adult. What about your older students?"
I shrugged. "I think I do well with them, but I thought I did well with the others as well."
"You do better with older students anyway. You can't treat them like older students, because, they aren't ..." She tapped her finger on the table. "Bloody mess."
I sank back into my chair. "Great."
"Oh, not you. It's just the whole foul mess. People don't want to tell you anything because they're scared you'll get angry, and you angry is a sight to behold. Yet, when they unload on you, then you don't know what to do, and you always defend. You argue - it's you."
"I do not."
She lifted an eyebrow. "Of course you don't."
"It's who you are, and on a guy, it's to be encouraged, but you aren't male. You are female. A highly logical, very rational female, but female nonetheless, and therein lies the problem. They expect you to behave a certain way because when they see you, you're female. They don't know your brain, Izara."
"So you don't have an answer, do you?"
"I don't know if anyone does," she admitted. "In the stories, the girl always becomes what they want her to be, and she lives happily ever after. The shy girl becomes the life of the party; the ugly duckling is a swan; the klutz finds she's good at sports. What if the truly beautiful is the woman who accepts herself and is happy the way she is? If she doesn't change herself to fit the stereotype, but adjusts the stereotype to fit her?"
"Fine for a book, but what about real life?"
Micheline shrugged. "Regardless, your face isn't so red. You've calmed down a bit, and you seem less gloomy. You look happy, but you aren't smiling."
I felt happy, as though a great load had been lifted off my shoulders. "I feel content," I answered.
"Happiness if fleeting, but contentment is great gain, isn't that what your Bible teaches you?"
"I can be content, but how am I supposed to be happy enough for people when I don't know how to do that?"
"I think that parts come out from you, Izara. You are a happy person, but it takes people who know you to see that. Your supervisor said you didn't look happy. It was an observation because you normally do. You smile easily, but when you teach, you put on your game face. I've seen that. You focus on the task."
I finished my wine. "Then what am I to do?"
"Have fun. Find what makes it fun to teach, for you, and enjoy it. The secret to being happy, is to find what you love in life, and enjoy it."