Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Stephanie

I'm in college. I won't lie, I party. Sometimes it's embarrassing. Most of the parties I go to are at my house. There are times when my house will host a party three or four weekends in a row.

One time my roommate, in an over-the-climax-of-the-night state of intoxication, told me her cheeks were involuntarily perky, forcing her face to smile. She said whenever this happens, she is having a Stephanie.

Aww. How flattering.

In elementary school, in the state of California, there is usually a lunch break and something called "snack" recess a few hours before that. Just a fifteen minute break to run around, socialize, burn off all your kid energy before returning to the jail cell of a classroom.

I didn't get it. I liked the jail cell. I didn't understand why we had to waste a bunch of time running around when we could be learning stuff. I guess I was that kind of weird.

I spent most of my recesses walking alone around the perimeter of the playground. I didn't know what else to do. Obviously playing with the other kids wasn't an option? I didn't know. I didn't want them to yell at me for trying to join their game or something.

The black top was speckled and had pretty, colorful shapes and lines painted on it. So I stared at the ground as I traced the border.

One day a girl from my class came up to me. "What's wrong?" she asked.

What's wrong? I had not made the connection that people look at the ground when they are sad. I couldn't think of anything to complain about. Not that I would ever do that as a kid anyway. "Nothing," I said. "I'm good."

"Okay!" she said and ran away.

This happened several times over the next three years. Then I realized: If I have nothing to complain about, then I must be happy, right? Happy people smile. If I smile, people won't bother me to ask what's wrong when nothing is wrong. So I started smiling all the time.

Except I never realized it was a habit until my sophomore year of high school, when I took Spanish I. The teacher was still trying to learn who we were. "Ah, Stephanie," she said during roll call. "The one with the big smile."

I didn't think anything of it at first. I didn't want to just look at her with no expression.

But then she started saying it almost every single day during roll call. "There she is with the smile!" And then it evolved! Instead of saying my name she would just say "Smiley?"

I will now interrupt my story with a rant about nicknames and about how people speculate things. I don't go around verbalizing every single behavior of someone I interact with, to them. So don't give me a nickname about how I behave when I see other people. I was taught to always treat people nicely. I am a shy person who can't always muster up the words to communicate pleasantries clearly. So I use my facial expression.

That nickname, Smiley, is creepy. Nobody always smiles, including me. Just the implication that I do makes me feel somehow very conflicted. I only want to acknowledge people who acknowledge me, without having to say anything. And now I'm being punished for it with a stupid creepy nickname?

It spread around to the point where my classmates started calling me Smiles. It bothered me so, but I only verbalized that once, to a friend who was in a couple of classes with me.

Then, my freshman year of college, one of my guy friends started calling me Smiley. I don't know why. I hate it. So. Much. Again, I don't go around naming other people based on their facial expressions. Someone else had to tell him I didn't like it. "Why didn't you just tell me?" he asked.

Just tell you. Like it's that easy. I feel like such a teenager when I think this, but people don't understand how hard it is for me to just talk to people. But that's a topic for another discussion.

Back at the party, my roommate describes the sensation of her face forcibly becoming a smile and calls it a Stephanie. That somehow doesn't bother me so much. Because I never even think about it when I smile. My face just does that on its own.

And it's interesting, whenever I don't smile I'm called on it. Once I was in Raley's, the grocery store, with my friend and her mom waiting for them to do shopping and my mom to come pick me up there. I stood by the door with all my school stuff, tired, damp from rain. Suddenly I hear a voice say "Smile! It's almost Valentine's!" I looked up from the ground to see a random scruffy middle-aged man in a wheel chair. I didn't care at all about Valentine's, but just the fact that I'd been seen in public not smiling struck my attention. Once I was trapped in one of those "Do you ever not smile?" conversations when a friend said, "I saw Stephanie not smile once!"

I guess I can't complain!

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