The Little Things
Author's note: Hi, I'm Erin, and I'm 14. I hope you guys enjoy "The Little Things," as I spent a lot of time on... Show full author's note »
Faking SmilesThe most annoying part about being a teenager is that everyone has such high expectations for you. Your relatives will come over for a holiday, or something, and they’ll stare at you for a really long time, a smile dancing on their faces. They will think of all the good times they had as a teenager. They’ll say, “Your teenage years are the best part of your life.” They’ll ask you how the parties are or which boy you were dating, as if there was a whole crowd of them waiting outside, and they couldn’t tell which one belonged to you. They will ask about your grades, and the college you planned on going to, like you needed some help sorting out your future. It frustrated me how teenagers were always stereotyped as these reckless people, flying down a hill with no idea where they were headed. If a mother tells one of her coworkers or friends that she has a teenager, they will automatically think of the star of one of those made-for-TV movies on ABC Family. The girls have perfect hair, and can get any boy they want. The guys are gorgeous, and spend their nights out finding trouble. It’s so ridiculous that, as a teenager, society creates you completely. We all have this image of a “perfect” teenage life set in our minds before we even reach the age of being one.
My wild nights consisted of my iPod blasting through my headphones and a good book cradled in my hands. I was satisfied with my social status. I was well-liked, but it didn’t mean a lot to me. I had a couple of acquaintances that I could partner up with for school projects, but nobody that I hung out with on weekends or could tell everything too. It wasn’t even like I was an outcast. I just kind of felt above most of the 11th graders at my school. I was decent looking; long dark locks, big green eyes, and a rather slim figure. I scrutinized my appearance, but more to make myself feel good, than to impress other people. I actually usually dressed up more than others would. I liked looking presentable and classy. It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t wearing the same clothes as all of the other girls. I wasn’t surrounded by a swarm of them, practically copy-cat versions of each other. I spent a lot of time alone, and that put me in better touch with myself. I didn’t have to like what the other girls liked, or go where the other girls go. I could sort out how I felt about things, and form my own opinions without them being tainted by the social norms we were expected to follow. It bothered me so much when people felt pity for me if they saw me sitting alone. It was a choice, and nothing more. It was redundant to fret about fitting in all of the time. Isolating myself only made me happier. I was part of a middle-class family. We always had enough money, but not a surplus of it. My house was nice looking, not that it mattered. I had absolutely no interest in having people over. I liked my house to be for myself only, and that was something I stood by. It meant so much to always have a place to go home to if the whole world turned their back on you. My house represented family, and family was one of the things I valued most, although mine had its flaws.
“Jade?” my Mom called to me, from downstairs. I finished slipping my feet into a pair of flats that went with the sundress I had already put on. The weather was still warm, which was good, for a day in late September. The weather felt light and free. It was one of those days where you just want to take a walk, and breath in all of the fresh air around you. I had felt the summertime weather slipping away, slowly, though, and I wanted to hold onto it while I could.
I did a quick mirror check, then yelled back a half-hearted, “Uh-huh?”
“The bus is here, you’re gonna be late!” a small voice chirped. I giggled. It was Maddie, my little sister, and also one of my favorite people. She was just 4 years old, but already a chatterbox. We’d go to the park and she would say hello to every single family that passed by the swing-set, our usual spot. Maddie loved the swings. Whenever I brought her to the park, she would sit on the red one and I would sit on the green one and we would swing for hours, just me and her. She would tilt her head back and let the breeze throw around her hair. Her tiny feet, hidden in prim pink shoes, would stick straight out, and then push back and forth, to keep her going. “Jadey! If you close your eyes, it feels like you’re flying!” she said to me one time. Then, she shut her eyes abruptly, and squealed. I just watched her for a minute or two. It was so adorable and precious how a simple thing such as a swing-set could make a child that happy. Well, kids were always happy. They didn’t learn about pain yet. They didn’t learn what sorrow was, or depression. They hadn’t experienced a heartbreak, or a loss. They weren’t stressed. A child’s happiness was the most pure thing. Maddie always made me smile.
“I’m coming, you guys!” I said, grabbing my school bag from my closet. I peered down the stairs at my Mom, who was busy making a bowl of cereal for Maddie, who was in the living room, sprawled out on the carpet with a bunch of markers and crayons, working on a picture in one of her many coloring books that filled our house. An episode of Blues Clues flickered on the screen of the TV before her, and her face lit up with delight, seeing her favorite characters. My Mom looked up, and smiled. Her blonde bangs fell in her face and she blew them away. I didn’t get my looks from her. Actually, I looked nothing like my Mom at all. Most people wouldn’t even guess that we were related. I’d get questions about it so much that I thought about just telling everyone I was adopted. It was a hard story to explain. My Dad looked exactly like me, same strong, pointy nose and full lips. We also had the same dark hair and olive colored skin. We were very similar in personality too. My Dad was a lawyer. He was brilliant. He was also creative and imaginative; a fantastic poet. He named me Jade because Jade was a rare stone to find, and he felt as if I was a rare baby. He thought I was different, something to watch out for. He wanted my name to let people know at first glance that I was someone who was going to change the world one day. I know what you’re thinking, it’s corny, but my Dad was that kind of person. He thought of life as one big poem. Everything should be a metaphor for something else. Life was more beautiful that way.
My parents are divorced. They bickered a lot when I was an elementary schooler. I thought nothing of it. One day, though, when I was about 10, I was sitting in my bed, ready to fall asleep, when I heard the front door fly open. I heard wobbly footsteps slapping the ground. It was my Dad’s work shoes. I could tell because I loved the way they squeaked when he walked in them. I jumped out of my bed and opened the door quietly, so my Mom wouldn’t hear me getting up to give him a hug goodnight. When I opened the door, I didn’t see what I was expecting. He still had his suit on, but his tie was undone and his jacket was off. His undershirt was untucked and altogether he just looked disheveled. His hair was sticking up, and his eyes were blood-shot and beat red. He stumbled right passed my door, not seeing me. He tripped and fell a little bit more down the hallway. I immediately went to go see what was wrong. I bent over him, and rubbed his back. “Daddy? Are you okay? What’s wrong, Daddy?” I said, my voice frantic and jittery.
He pressed his palms on the floor, and lifted himself up again. He stumbled around for a moment, then planted his feet firmly on the floor and threaded his thick eyebrows. “Why do you always need to get into my business?” He yelled, before his speech trailed off and he fell to the floor again. Several tears jerked from my eyes, but I wiped them away. I knew he was drunk. I had seen guys in movies get like this, all aggressive and weird, when they drank to much. I tried to lift him up again, but he pushed me off of him and against the wall all in one quick motion. “What the hell is wrong with you?” his voice boomed. My head banged hard against the wall and I blacked out for a second. When I could see again, he was still there, breathing heavily. I couldn’t move. I was frozen. My jaw was locked in place and I couldn’t say a word. I was stunned. He stood up and stumbled a few more steps before he stopped and threw up all over the ground. That was when my Mom finally came out of her room. Her tiny blue eyes grew bigger and the wrinkles on her forehead popped out, drastically. She slid past my Dad, grabbed me by the hand, pulled me out of the house and into our car. I was traumatized. Nothing I could say could explain how I felt.
She drove to my Grandma’s house, and we huddled inside. My Grandma tucked me into her bed, and kissed me on the cheek, like it was any other night. She rushed out of the room and shut the door tight behind her. I got up from the bed and pushed my ear up against the door, where I was able to hear my Grandma and my Mom cry. That was all they did; just cry. They cried all night long, and so did I. When morning arrived, and I heard my Grandma coming to the room I was sleeping in to wake me, I ran back to the bed and pretended I had been sleeping all night. She did the same thing, although we both knew that nobody could sleep that night. I came out of the room and my Mom gave me a big hug, as if to tell me that everything was going to be fine.
We stayed at my Grandma’s for a week or two more. It was summer, so I didn’t have to miss school or anything. The strange part was that we all pretended it never happened. My Mom and my Grandma would fake smiles every day, I could tell. They were forced and awkward, like when someone gives you a really bad Christmas present and you have to thank them to be polite. My Mom developed a terrible case of insomnia. She cried every single night, mostly right beside my Grandma. One night, however, she crept into my room and curled up on the bed next to me. She put her hands around me and squeezed me. I felt the tears run off of her face and onto my shoulder. A dark cave of unspoken feelings closed in on us. The mood was heavy and tense. “I’m sorry for this; for what you went through that night.” she said, finally.
I nodded, still not able to speak.
“Your Dad was stressed from work. He would drink. You know, to get his mind off the problems? It would shake him up a little, but he never got too bad. When I saw him like that, though, I knew that I couldn’t handle him any more.” she said, like she was placing down each word as gently as she possibly could.
I nodded, again.
“He hit me a few times before. I thought I could put up with it, because I loved him. I couldn’t stand to see him put a hand on you,” she admitted. It freaked me out to know that she had been vulnerable enough to let him hit her and not say anything about it. It made me petrified, actually.
I nodded a third time, with disdain for my father. I had never thought of him as such a bad person. “He really scared me. I’ve never seen him like that before,” I managed to get out. My body shivered.
“Honey, you’re gonna be okay. You’re safe with me,” she said, and then drifted off to sleep. I tried to sleep as well, but whoever was in my dreams kept throwing around words like ‘divorce’ and ‘drunk.’ Words like these would forever haunt me.
I was only 10, so I wasn’t really told too many of the details of what happened after that. They got divorced eventually, though. We got a new house, and my Dad stayed in the old one. My Mom got full custody of me. I had mixed feelings about it. I was so happy to be with her, in a way. I didn’t have to deal with my father at all if I didn’t want to. I couldn’t live like that though. He was such a big part in my life. He taught me how to ride my bike, helped me learn how to do multiplication, and drove me into my first day at high school. He had been there for everything. He was exactly like me, in so many ways. We both valued the beauty of life. We both believed words were the loveliest thing. We both enjoyed reading and creating things. We were so similar, yet at that moment, we felt so distant. I couldn’t remember the good times I shared with him, like when we used to sit in our den and read poetry books every friday night. I could only remember the last time I shared with him. It was all so confusing. I was so torn.
Plus, Mom remarried fast. Paul was my stepdad and he wasn’t anyone I could really connect with at all. I can sum up our relationship by saying that Paul was the one who named Maddie. There was no metaphor behind her name. There was no incredible story that went with it. He simply just wanted to name her Madison because he ‘liked it.’ From that time on, he didn’t even compare to my Dad, whom I never spoke to again, only really lived in the past with. Maybe it was better that way; to hold onto all the good memories instead of establishing new, bad ones.
Something drained from my life, though. The things I shared with my father became part of my past. I still enjoyed reading poetry from time to time, but I wasn’t able to find the connection with it that I had before. It didn’t enlighten me like it used to. It was just writing, not a way to live. I kept searching for something massive to take over everything and fix it. I wasn’t really ever truly happy, and I was getting sick of walking around without anything exciting me.
Anyway, I smiled back at my Mom and gave Maddie a hug. “Have fun in school!” she cheered, running around in circles, letting her blonde hair flutter in the air. I grabbed her hand and twirled her around. She came really close to me and hugged me again. “I love you so much, Jadey!” she said, softly.
“I love you, too,” I replied, and waved to my Mom, then marched out to the bus.