Fluorescent bulbs served two purposes in my high school cafeteria. One such purpose was to reflect off of every visible surface until the room radiated with equal lighting of an average western Washingtonian Spring day. The other reason for existing was entirely exorbitant, and frankly, it was crude. Walking into the cafeteria meant wondering when the five layers of foundation and concealer had melted off my face. Whenever I’d check a mirror, my facial flaws were more discernible tenfold times one-thousand. Each angry Mount Saint Helens looked ready to erupt in a red fit while under-eye circles appeared almost black.
But on this one day, I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I was close to failing Algebra II, that my (moderately heavy) friend had blatantly insulted me minutes prior (“I just don’t think that your size four looks good in skinny jeans,” she advised), or that my lunch table was sending me a set of three stink eyes. I had just swiped the last slices of deli turkey for my sub sandwich—woes for the five people who were behind me—and in mere seconds that felt like time had sipped on the fountain of youth, my hands were about to come into contact with embarrassingly drool-worthy sugar cookies. My day, to say the least, was set.
“If you keep staring like that, plastic surgery won’t be able to fix those gargoyle expressions,” I informed my friends, sitting down and jamming a cookie into my mouth. How sweet the taste.
“What?” asked my friend, her eyes and mouth morphed into wide “O”s. She looked equal to a stunned Pola Debevoise.
“No, we were just saying you looked pissed off over there,” my other friend explained.
“What do you mean I ‘looked pissed’? I just bought THREE sugar cookies. How can I be pissed off about that?”
“Well, your face,” my other other friend explained.
“What about my face?”
“You kind of look like a bitch,” she finished.
Great. Not only did my face resemble an inflated planet with more volcanoes than I have fingers, but it also possessed a cross between The Terminator and Sam Winchester. Does plastic surgery fix this?
I had forgotten proper etiquette and took to aimlessly feeding myself cookie remains with my attention located elsewhere. Memory teleported me back to the beginning of the school year when my friends and I had shown each other our new school IDs. My best friend was holding mine, looking down at it with no sign of like or distaste. I, on the other hand, fought ruthlessly against my muscles to stop from forming a smirk, because hell—I was pretty proud of my picture and it showed my fresh, obviously-a-tourist Californian tan. “Wow,” she said. Here is where I thought, just for a moment, she was going to supply me with some of that sought-after special approval only found in Girl World, which was nearly out of stock in my adolescent years. “You look like a bitch,” she sighed.
Me? Look like a bitch? No way! Obviously, I had been wrong about the girl-world approval. It was completely used up by nicer people who weren’t my friends, but hopefully it was on its way in the delivery truck. I prayed, and until that day arrived, I had my mother. “Mother, mother, whom I love, who’s the fairest one of all?” “Famed is thy beauty, daughter!” My mom clearly had no option in the matter. She could either be responsible for truth colliding with my struggling self-perception—which would have been a train wreck for my sensitive esteem—or she could sit on the sidelines with all other bystanders and live unscathed.
Eventually, though, as I have learned, you can ride the waves all you like, but they disperse at some point. And I’ll be honest: the waves I ride are more unstable than inebriated college students trying to pass sobriety tests at four in the morning. In other words, my opinion on my own self-image has never been high enough to reach a narcissistic level. Taped, tacked, and even stapled for extra precaution, is a giant-sized poster at the back of my head stating, “RAYA, YOUR FACE IS NO MOOD CHART.” Kirsten Stewart has a higher chance at cracking her blank exterior than I do. I could experience an orgasm in the middle of the produce section—I could even holler like Sally Albright—and people would still think I’m pissed off about something.
I have always known my face doesn’t mobilize to form the happy expressions I picture in my head. However, keeping distance from that knowledge and admitting it requires a giant leap. I’m uncoordinated and awkward, so asking me to take that jump is telling me to cross the Atlantic without a boat. This is something an individual must prepare for and slowly, when ready, accept it as fate.
Over the years, I have (more or less) accepted that my mother passed on her family’s Bitchface Syndrome gene to the unsuspecting child growing inside her, consequently sealing my fate. But here lies a separate problem that supplements the main issue: my voice is more blunted than a pocket knife circa 9,000 B.C. It’s adding ten sugar lumps in place of caffeine into decaf coffee: it does not solve the problem; it makes it worse.
About two years ago, when my blunted affect was noted by numerous people—mom, the grandma, physician, therapist, friends, strangers—I made a personal vow, a silent oath, to tackle Mission Cover-Up. Okay, I have a blunted affect. So what if I vocalize and express the emotional range of a dead cat? There is always improv and practice. I was confident I could mask it by forcing out some ooh’s and ahh’s for surprise and glee, and trying out an aww wouldn’t hurt every once in a while. And remember to smile, I tell myself.
The problem? This creates a heightened sense of awkward worse than Steve Urkel. Remember how humiliation rumbled beneath your skin when your mother insisted on scrawling “I love [insert your name here]!! ♥ ! ♥~” at the art table during “school fun night”? No? Maybe that was just me. In any case, I know I am far from alone when it comes to dignity degeneration induced by well-intentioned parents. It is this very feeling of embarrassment, in fact, that will have you begging for an amnesia endemic. It also happens to be the same flood of uneasiness that others experience around me, and in return, I suffer from stinging failure. I have no choice but to let my words return to their previous state of monotony. Having decked my tone in pseudo-sounding emotions—even straining a smile to the point where I thought I’d permanently disfigured myself—I’m left feeling exhausted of options. What else is there to do?
For best (or possibly worst) interest, I have decided to wear my phlegmatic nature in full force, and dammit, I will shine. If people can love the shimmer of Edward Cullen—a complete Bram Stoker disgrace—they can love someone with an obsolete ability to outwardly articulate emotion. Three week ago I made my way into Cost Cutter and bought one of those ridiculously priced, glass-encased Starbucks cappuccinos. The clock read mid-noon, and I still had another ten hours of my day left that required an alert condition.
“Great, sunny day, i’n it?!” squealed the cashier man. He was middle-aged with half of Santa’s belly, who I am sure stole more than half of the cashier’s whitened head hair.
My voice was slathered in rich, creamy emotional flatline frosting when I agreed. “…Yeah,” I said, which was a lie. I loathe sunny days. If the sun had a body that wouldn’t render me scorched in unimaginable pain, I would punch it. I would punch until it bled a black hole and sucked itself into oblivion. I would punch it so hard that it would never show face in my presence again. It would stay behind the clouds where it bloody well belongs.
“Well, you certainly sound like a cheerful one!” the cashier chirped.
If I had to choose one thing I hate about purchasing items in stores, I would pick chatty cashiers. Sure, any personable individual wouldn’t mind babbling for a few minutes—I even bet some of the most socially deprived but socially capable would not only enjoy this, but they would come back for more. But this is me I’m talking about. Your inclination to play twenty questions is more likely to make me never return. I enter stores for the sole purpose of purchasing items and then bolting through the exit, back to my life and away from you. What about my appearance is telling these cashiers, “Please, let’s indulge in a discussion about my non-existent weekend plans! And while we’re at it, would you like to hear my life’s story condensed into a two-minute time period?” It can’t be the expression on my face, can it?
Tactful to avoid eye-contact, I glanced at the cashier and back to my wallet before yanking out a five dollar bill. The ends of my mouth shaped into an imagined smirk, Indiana Jones style. “Yeah,” I blurted, handing him the cash.