By Al- Lateef
There were two days that I didn’t smile. Never. Not one grin, not once did I show all 32. I didn’t smirk, I didn’t even laugh. As a matter of fact, I didn’t watch television, listen to music and had no contact with the outside world. I was half past 30 and still smarting from the loss of my great-grandparents and the fact that Valentine’s Day was a few days away illuminated many of my fractured relationships. I was a broken man with three types of vodka, a bucket of fried chicken and a couple of grape sodas.
Yeah, I almost lost my smile.
I was beating myself up and calling the police telling life was the culprit, when life had done nothing to me that it hadn’t done to anyone else. Who was I to think I was so special that life zeroed in on me to wreak havoc? Why should I be immune to what I witnessed and advised others through? I guess I thought I would be exempt from the problems of the world, if I lived in my own world. Boy was I wrong…and stupid!
Somewhere between the second and third bottle of liquor and my last piece of chicken I stopped. Then I cried. I cried like all three times I was told one of my grandparents died. The tears had no end in sight, so I sat in the shower for hours to hide them, from who I don’t know. As that water washed over me and tears escaped me, I deconstructed who I was at the time and realized that was not who I had always been. My frustration with an inability to change the past shaded the fact that I had the power to construct my future. It was the most simple of lessons I’ve ever learned, but had totally forgotten in my current state.
I couldn’t change the fact that I didn’t eat dinner with my family that Thanksgiving when my great-grandmother passed or the fact that I was too busy to answer my great-grandfather’s calls during the last few games of the Mets winning streak before he died. However, I could work at repairing the fractures in the relationship with my mother; I could identify a growing problem with alcohol and relate my womanizing directly to the dysfunction of my father/son relationship.
Yeah, maybe I’m just like father…
Most of my life I always wanted to be better than my father, regardless of the situation, but here I was repeating some of his actions and compounding them with a set of issues exclusive to me. So I cried some more and looked deeper into my life to see where I went wrong, trying to peel through over 10,000 days to determine where it went sour. Wait, that’s the wrong approach. More tears and the hot water left long ago, but I couldn’t move. There was no one incident that led me to the bottom of that shower, so I couldn’t expect one answer to how I was going to stand up and walk out of that bathroom.
It was at that moment I did something that I had not done in a long time, I prayed. I prayed a prayer of forgiveness and redemption. I prayed for answers to questions I didn’t know, direction to a place I once knew existed, happiness. I prayed for peace in my heart, my mind and in my life. I didn’t ask for immediate help, I prayed that in time my wounds would heal, because in all of my mess I knew change didn’t come overnight. And for the first time in days, I smiled. I smiled like I just discovered I had teeth. I stood up and smiled as my tears shut off and the hot water returned.
Just as my life became a metaphor, it also became a challenge. My mom always says that change isn’t change until you change and for the next year or so I had to work at being a better me. I had that conversation with God, who I thought I left at my grandmother’s house, but didn’t follow through on my end of the bargain for quite some time. I made baby steps and smiled. I had setbacks and smiled. I made a giant leap and grinned like a Cheshire cat. I smiled through pain, I smiled through joy, I smiled when I was helpless and smiled when I had the strength to sustain ten men. It didn’t matter what I was up against, I learned to face it all and continue to smile, despite the circumstances. Yes, these days I’m smiling often, I’ve repaired my relationships with God, my mother and myself, I’m married to a beautiful woman and curbed that desire for vodka. My smile is love, it’s peace, it’s joy and I’ve learned it is also pain, emptiness and sorrow.
That was the time I almost lost my smile.
Al-Lateef: Between rhetoric and reality is where you’ll find The World According to Teef. Social commentary rooted in independent thought that’s unfiltered, uncensored, unforgiving, but never unreal!