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Watching

I think I may be the only person in the world with an ugly smile. Whenever I see a smile spread across someone else's face, it seems to make them whole, makes them look like that's how they are meant to. It looks natural, seems to bring them to life. On me, the smile looks out of place, too wide on my narrow face, too shiny in the scope of how very dull I am. Even when it is natural, it looks forced. It's like I'm not meant to look happy. My parents always ask me why I never smile in pictures, and I always tell them it's because of my braces. It'd feel too weird to tell them that I think I'm prettier when I'm emotionless. As this thought enters my mind, I sincerely hope I'm not that shallow. This is what I am thinking, the morning of my fifteenth birthday, as I test my smile out in the mirror while putting on my makeup, trying to escape the sense of dread that is filling me. I have always hated my birthdays, ever since I was a little kid. At the end of the day, I'm always disappointed, even if I get all the presents that I ask for. I'm always upset that I don't feel any different than I did the day earlier, I'm still the exact same person, only a year older on paper. I take a deep breath, push my huge backpack over my shoulder, and head off for school. I'm running late, so I leave the birthday breakfast my mom has made for me untouched, leave the little card with my name on it unopened.

As I walk to school, I can't help feeling as though I am watching myself walk there. I watch myself take each step, the judging mind that's outside of me is always hoping, fingers crossed, that I don't trip or embarrass myself. I worry that my footsteps are too loud, and for a moment I pause the music I'm listening to, just to make sure that they aren't. When my fears are assuaged, I turn it up again, full volume, to distract myself from whatever other worries might invade my mind and ruin my morning. I walk into my first period class, and sit down in the corner, next to the teacher's seat. When no one says "happy birthday" to me, I am secretly glad. I don't need any extra attention, nor do I want it. I never know what to say back, anyway. I have a few minutes until french class begins, so I go over, in my mind, all the things I need to improve on. The teacher wrote in my report that I need to speak up more. I vow to myself that I will speak at least four times this class. I scan over my homework another time for any mistakes I may have missed the night before, then sit quietly, looking at my nails.

The teacher walks into the classroom and I sit straighter up in my seat. I keep reminding myself to pay attention as she drones on in french. She keeps making eye contact with me, and after about two seconds of it, I make an excuse to look away, pretending to take down a note. Whenever she's around, I never seem to know what to do with my eyes, where to look. I remind myself that I need to speak up, so I raise my hand. I hear my voice say the words in French, wincing as they leave my throat. Speaking in class always makes me nervous, not because I don't think I have the correct answer, but because I was born with the most annoying voice I have ever heard. It's high pitched and whiny, and makes whatever I say sound a million times stupider than it would if it were written down, or spoken by someone else. There should be plastic surgery for voices, I think to myself as I speak. The teacher acknowledges my answer, says "very good", and I am relieved by the praise.

The rest of the morning generally goes on like this. I remind myself, countless times, to speak up in class, to pay attention, to sit up straight. Don't trip down the stairs, a part of me shrieks, you are wearing heels today. I fix my hair, debating as to whether I should put my bangs back in a bobby pin, for a good fifteen minutes. I work through lunch period, making sure I did my history homework correctly. I reread all the primary sources and make sure my annotations are thorough. No one wishes me happy birthday, and I praise myself for not listing it on my face book page. It was good planning. Every class goes smoothly, I've managed not to make a single mistake.

As I walk home, however, I make the mistake of taking the route through the park. I trip over a rock that puts itself in my path. I guess that I got so lost in the music I was listening to I forgot to look down at the path in front of me, make sure it was safe. I see myself go flying over it, skin my knee. Heat rises over my face as I realize that everyone is looking at me, saw me fall, is probably feeling bad for me. Everyone is pitying me, at the poor stupid clumsy girl who can't walk down the street without falling. I see myself through their eyes, and I'm appalled. I must have looked so ugly as I fell, so ugly now as my face turns a bright shade of red. I start running, unable to face any of the people who saw me fall again, unable to look them in the eye.

Everything begins flying up from within my mind, becoming disorganized. I try to turn up the sound on my ipod, but realize that it's already up all the way. Thoughts spring up from places I thought I had them safely stowed, in the back of my mind. How my days just seem to drift right by me, always the same, never ending, flowing into one another. When the funny kid makes a joke in class, I don't laugh, I use the few seconds of laughter to jot down another note from the board or to examine my nails, looking for chips in the polish. It's always the same, every day. I don't even know what the school cafeteria looks like because I'm always working during all of my free periods, like I'm supposed to. How I don't even know the names of all of the kids in my science class. How whenever my parents want to make real conversation with me, talking about my friends or my hobbies, I always make the conversation turn towards school, because really, there isn't anything else to talk about. They want me to have it all-a great group of friends, straight A's, talents, happiness-but somehow I just can't do it, as hard as I try. And then I remember how my Dad yelled at me the year I got a B+ in math. A permanent tarnish on my transcript, on me. I remember how disappointed he was, how red his face got, how loud his voice was. He was furious, all because of my failure. I start to cry as the thoughts fly past my mind, overwhelming it, strangling it. The list of the things I need to do tomorrow becomes obliterated by the tears. I watch myself cry and as I pity myself, I remember that the fact I'm so upset right now is because I fell on the sidewalk, and I realize that I probably haven't fallen in years, not since I started high school.

Across the street, I watch as a five year old falls from her bicycle onto the soft grass on the side of the road. Her mother is on the phone nearby so she didn't see the fall. I run across the street to help her stand up again.




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