“Just because I am smiling doesn’t mean I am happy. Because it takes just one smile to hide a million tears.” Unknown
I hate the car.
I always get so dizzy, and to top it all off, it’s freezing, but my little brother has insisted on opening the window. I’m sitting in the back, right behind him, so the cold air directly hits me as we ride along the freeway, at sixty-something miles per hour.
I should’ve bought gloves. Should’ve worn a jacket.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
It’s not like we were in a hurry or anything. My shoes were just all muddy and I was too lazy to untie them and run back inside to grab anything. I try to bury my hands further into my sweater, shivering.
Shops and trees pass by in a blur, and I stare at the window, trying to force my headache away. I shift my neck uncomfortably. The back of my ears are likely red by now, because of how tightly I’ve strung my mask.
The mask I’m wearing today says ‘I’m actually smiling’, but it’s double-sided and I have it turned to the patterned side.
Life is so boring these days. Same old, same old.
I want to blame it on covid, I really do. I want to say that in all due time, I’ll be laughing with my friends, hugging them, going to school normally...But even if that was true, which it’s not, it’s not even the quarantine blues that have me upset.
It’s just this purposeless life I’m just going on with, this homework, test, forget cycle. These pointless clubs and fake smiles and endless emails and the never-ending routine. All for what?
What does it lead to?
Right, I’m really looking forward to more school.
I don’t even know what I want to do after college. It’s like I’m being pulled in so many directions. Society wants me to be one thing, my family another, and I myself don’t know what to choose.
‘You’re still young.’
That’s what they always tell me. But year after year after year, it feels like I’m getting to be maybe not so young anymore.
I turn my phone on and off, checking the time.
I tap my fingers against my jeans to no beat at all. The car stops at a red light and I relish in the two seconds of no rushing wind until we’re off again.
Zooming through the streets.
I want to strangle the creator.
Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not zoom’s fault, and maybe, maybe, I am a little upset because of the pandemic. But who isn’t?
Did I ask for my teen years to be plagued- quite literally- by a virus? Did I ask to live my first high school year online? Did I ask for a president with a toupe and a Cheeto-colored face? Seriously, did I?!
At least the president one’s a little better now, but I really don’t remember asking to live through so much history.
Kids in 2070 are going to have to have a lot of patience to go through Corona Time, Impeachment, Australia fires, giant wasps, and, most recently, that January 6th thing. Probably going to have a whole separate lesson on that.
And then, for every negative feeling I get, I feel guilty immediately afterward. Because compared to some others, I’ve got the long end of the stick. I’ve still got my family, I’ve still got the internet, I’ve got a house, food, clothes on my back. I can’t complain about the small things when the big things are right there, can I? Can’t be upset about not having a birthday party when there are kids who have just seen their last. Can’t be upset about online meetings when there are people who’d give anything to go to school. To have access to computers.
But what if it’s in the little things that make me smile?
What if I just miss my friends?
It’s all online now, every little bit.
I’m a smart kid.
No no, allow me to rephrase.
I get good grades.
I like school.
Sorry, I used to like school. I enjoyed lessons and learning and teachers and high-fiving friends in the hall and winking when your crush passes by and terrible, awful cafeteria lunches, and walking up to the board to write something. Raising my actual physical hand and reading actual physical books. Riding on the school bus and rolling my eyes at the annoying kids in class. Playing my violin in class and staying for after-school clubs, and dressing up every dark morning and all my funny teacher’s jokes, and my strict teacher’s rules. Everything. All of it.
Cause school’s just a link now, and friends are just text messages. Crowded hallways are just bad internet and clubs are just a burden. Clothes are just pajamas and learning?
Learning’s a joke.
My brother finally closes the window, and I flex my frozen fingers. My phone dings and I resist the urge to throw it across the car. I settle for pushing it across the backseat. It rolls off and lands on the car floor.
Not like it’s that useful anyway.
Entertaining sure, but call me old-fashioned if I say it does more harm than good.
Checking for message after message cause maybe someone cares or something important is happening, when the only news is bad and the only notification is from that game I never deleted.
First, we hate normal, then we hate abnormal, then abnormal becomes the new normal, and the cycle restarts. We’re at abnormal being the new normal right now. At empty toilet paper aisles and mass murder on the news, policemen doing the opposite of their jobs, and doing school from home.
I wish I could just live in Harry Potter’s world instead. Wish I went to Hogwarts.
I’d rather deal with Voldemort than whatever you wanna call life’s problems now.
I try and look at the bright side. Because I’m the optimistic one. I’m the goody goody.
But trying to look at the bright side right now is like pressing your hands over your eyes in pitch-black night and squeezing your eyes shut to make up colors in your brain.
I just want to be happy. I just want to smile, to be able to ignore everything else, to be able to bear it.
But the tears still fall when I tell them to stop, and the stress keeps pushing when I try to stay calm, and the smile is still fake, no matter how hard I try.
The car stops, and I unbuckle my seatbelt, placing my mask over my nose.
The only good part about this is that no one can see my frown underneath.