There are smiles you should never forget. They’re the ones that make your teeth stick out and your blue eyes squint as you laugh out loud without restraint. They’re fleeting because you force them to be. It’s not okay to care, to be real. You fight them with all the muscles in your face, with all your will, telling them now is not the time. Be cool, you say as your hand shoots up to cover your obscene joy. Be in control.
These are the smiles you will inevitably forget when they’re replaced by tears and scorn, but I want you to try and remember them. Cambria finds company in isolation, and Times loves loneliness. You write when you’re sad, but you laugh when you’re happy, it’s true. Each chortle, snort, and giggle—each exclamation of joy leaves your lips and hangs in the air like a smoke ring to be admired, only to dissipate with the wind.
I just want to let you know that if you had but half the good opinion of yourself that I have of you, you certainly would not feel half the anxiety that you do now. In your whimsical gloom you lose sight of yourself and forget that you were ever happy. I am here to remind you that you were not always sad. I am here to tell you that there are smiles you should remember.
First of all, you should remember the rush of warm air against your face as you opened the door of a dance studio for the first time in four years. Remember the mirrors and the dust, the curtains and the random theater props stacked up against the far wall. Remember how your hair came out of its braid and tickled your back as you leapt through the air; remember the feeling of a wood floor pressing into the naked small of your back and the energy pulsing through every inch of that room.
You should also try to remember yesterday, when you went to a class for the first time in eight months, when your hand cramped from writing notes and your lips went dry from talking female empowerment. It took approximately 9 minutes to walk from your apartment to the classroom. You passed approximately 5 frowning students with their heads down, hands buried deep in their pockets, shoulders tensed. And you tried everything to look the same, didn’t you? You pursed your lips. You pulled your scarf up to your nose. You bit the inside of your cheek. You closed your eyes and took a deep breath. In the end you couldn’t stop it, could you? You were smiling and everyone could see it. There’s nothing like the Vindication of the Rights of Woman to make a girl uncontrollably giddy.
What I want you to remember is the first time someone kissed you and it took you by surprise. I want you to remember how full you felt, how long and luscious you laughed after that. What I want you to remember is your first bowling strike, how perfect the ball rolled off your fingers, how neatly it hooked into the pocket, how each high-five from your friends stung your palms…but, more importantly, I want you to remember that little leap you couldn’t hide, when the soles of your bowling shoes left the approach for a split, joyful second. I want you to remember how you smiled into a book for fifteen minutes when you found out you were going to be considered for an honors degree, the blush rising in your cheeks and the quick, excited cadence of your words when you talked the ears off your heroes. I want you to remember what it felt like to close your eyes in Ireland and let the music move your feet without thinking. I want you to remember these moments of messiness, of sloppiness, when your bangs escaped their bobby pin prison and there was paint on your face but you forgot that you were supposed to care…
I just wanted to remind you, because I know you sometimes lose sight of it when you’re overwhelmed by the happiness of others, that you have your own happiness inside you, and it’s like a tub full of craft glitter—beautiful potentiality just waiting to be spilled and stick to everything.
So, do not burn this letter. Keep it, reread it until the creases become scars on the paper, until the edges yellow and soften with age. And never, ever forget.