Hidden Behind a Smile

by Dan Beckmann

     New York. The city of new beginnings. At least, it will be so for me. I have never really been out of my little hometown of Twin Rock, Montana. This was the first time I had ever been on an airplane. My name is Jason Outwater. I am around 6'4 and 180 pounds. My eyes reflect emotion, my face doesn't. That's all that needs to be said. I pressed my forehead against the cool glass of the commercial jet that was carrying me and roughly fifty other people through the air. I looked outside and stared at the lights below in the city, of the cars and the buildings. I glanced up at the night sky, at the moon, hovering in the sky like a bright overlord, watching over all of humanity. And at the stars, dotting the blanket of night as far as one could see. I have always been in love with the stars and moon. I used to lay out in my lawn and stare into the dark night sky for hours at a time. I felt like all of life's unanswered questions layed in the heavens. I pulled my face back away from the window once again. I wanted to sleep. All the events of the day had my head feeling heavy and full.

     "Can I get you a drink, sir?" asked the flight attendant. I couldn't find my voice, so I just looked at her and shook my head. She pulled her big metal cart to the next row of passengers. Somewhere in the back of the plane, a mother tried to calm her baby, which was crying rather loudly. A younger girl next to me was singing along to her headphones. A nervous looking man in front of me was glancing skeptically back and forth from the window to the tipsy, red faced woman next to him, who was calling for the flight attendant to top off her wine. All these noises flooded in at once. I pulled my travel pillow out from beneath my seat and propped it up between my head and the top of the seat. My long, untamed dark blonde hair hung low over my brow. I brushed it aside, and turned over and closed my eyes. My mind began to flash back to how I, a 17 year old teenager halfway through my senior year of highschool, ended up alone on this plane to New York City with nothing but my family's emergency money and some of my belongings. To properly understand my situation, I must first explain some things about my past. I warn you though, it is a dark place with little good in it.

     I loved my father. All my best memories when I was little were with my dad. When I was hurt or sad, he had the unique talent to always make me laugh. This was back when my family would do things together, when I was about 6. I am an only child, but I wasn't supposed to be. I was supposed to have a sister, but one day my mom went to the hospital and came back with no baby, and she and dad spent the rest of the night crying. I found out many years later that my sister was miscarried. Then the doctor told my mom that she could never have children again. More crying. After this, my mom and dad didn't spend as much time together as they used to. I would find myself hanging out with one or the other; rarely both. Then came the fighting. My mom would come home in a bad mood, and my dad would ask what was wrong, and my mom would tell him, and before I knew it, they'd be yelling at each other about money, or me, or my sister, and then my dad would grab his coat and go for his walk, and my mom would open up the liquor cabinet and begin to drink. Then she'd go out after my father as well, leaving me at home, alone, to cry in my room.

     This continued for about a year. One night, my parents didn't come home. Then, around two in the morning, my mom came back alone. My mom immediately tore open the liquor cabinet and started guzzling a brand new bottle of vodka. She finished it off, and then collapsed on the floor crying. Two weeks later, we attended my father's funeral. Turns out he went out for his walk and he got hit by a semi. After that, my family was down to two, and my mother was drinking more heavily than ever. She would come home from work and yell at me and make me do house work, and then she'd drink until she passed out on the couch. Then she'd wake up with a hangover and yell at me even more. I learned early to leave the house before she got up in the morning. This became daily life for me all through elementary school and junior high. Once I entered tenth grade though, I learned to fight back. So from tenth grade on, we've been having vigorous verbal duels every single night, and usually she'd end up bringing a bottle of vodka outside on a walk with her, and not appear home again until the next afternoon.

     So that's how it went, up until the present day. The house became mine more than my mom's, because she was only there three or four hours a day. I liked school better than home though. At school, people accepted me. Unfortunately, I feared that if people gained knowledge about my dark past or skewed home life, I would be shunned aside like an outcast. So I put on a smile for all my friends. I use comedy as a defense mechanism, which is good enough to shield me from the outside world. Nobody can see the truth behind the mask. Well, anyway, it started out that way. I use comedy in everything. Now it's more than a mask, it's who I am. I began to flash back to the events that took place. So much happened in one day. It all started after school today.

     I burst through the front door of my house and dropped my backpack onto the doorway. I dashed down the stairs and tumbled into the family room. I threw all the mail down on the ground and let out a holler. Not a holler of pain, just a random holler. The kind of holler you let out as a young child when everyone is up on Christmas morning and you can finally open presents. The reason for my outburst was because tonight was the night I was to perform a stand up comedy routine for the entire school body at the all-night lock in. I had everything prepared, the jokes were arranged, I was ready to go out and split some sides! I glanced at the clock.

     "2:47," I muttered. This meant I had quite a while to wait. The event didn't start until 10 o'clock tonight. That gave me plenty of time to... Vedge. I leapt onto the couch and retrieved the remote off of the coffee table with my feet. I flipped to Comedy Central, the only channel I really ever watch. Comedy Central Presents was on, with Dane Cook, one of my favorite comedians. I watched that for a while, and then got up to grab some food in the kitchen, accidentally knocking the remote onto the floor and changing the channel to some news station or something; I wasn't really paying attention. I went into the kitchen, dug in the fridge and came out with a slab of ham and a jar of pickles, and shut the fridge door behind me. I looked up, and caught site of how green it was outside. Everything outside was a sickly green color.

     "A storm's coming," I thought. I spun back around to head back into the family room, and stopped walking. The TV was showing a terrible looking car crash. The news reporters were voicing over as the helicopter circled around the accident scene.

     "... happened earlier today on Interstate 65, as a drunk driver sped down the road at a dangerous speed, driving very recklessly. The crash involved three cars and four passengers. One passenger was injured and is currently in the hospital in critical condition, one was killed almost immediately after impact. The driver under the influence of alcohol was unharmed. She is currently in jail awaiting trial. The wreck has closed off the roads for today, seriously inconveniencing the drivers trying to get cross-state..."

     I stared open mouthed at the terrible cataclysm flashing on the screen. Well, not so much the entire accident, as one part... My mother's car.     

     I was dashing down the street to the county police station. The sun was just beginning to set. The clouds were thick in the sky now, and the sickly green aura was choking all the life out of the environment around me. I continued running until I reached the my destination. I burst through the doors of the station and ran up to the front desk to ask if my mother was here, but I didn't need to ask after all. There she sat, slumped over and passed out, handcuffed to the metal bench in the corner. I stared at her, trying to channel the disgust I felt right now. I kicked her in the side.

     "Ow! What the What the hell are you doing here?" She gurgled at me. I could barely believe she had the nerve to ask me such a thing while she was being secured in a police station.

     "What am I doing here? You... God, look at you," I spat.

     "Donchou talk t-to me like that, you waste of space," She slurred, "I oughta beat you down right now! Putchou backken your place! Your father wouldn't stand for that!"

     I snapped.

     "Don't even THINK about talking about dad! You don't deserve to speak his damn name!" Her eyebrows shot up.

     "Why you little punk," She started, but I interrupted her.

     "You shut the hell up and listen to what I have to say for once." By this time I was shaking with rage. "I've taken your crap ever since you started drinking. Ever since dad died, you have been using me as your own little stress ball. Whenever you get pissed by my sister's death or dad's death, you take it out on me! Well it's YOUR fault that dad died, both of yours! If you weren't so busy fighting and actually tried to figure out why you were fighting, this never would have happened, and I'd still have a father! But no! You were too busy with your alcohol and your own selfish little problems too care about me or him! What the hell is wrong with you? I never came out and said this before, but I absolutely hate you! I HATE you! I wish I'd never been born to this family!"

     She was enraged now, and we were both screaming at the top of our lungs. I was up in her face, and by this time, two cops had come out of the back to try and separate us.

     "You've always been a waste of space! I never ever loved you to begin with! The only reason I had you was because your father wanted a son! He's the only one who will ever find any good in you and you know it," She yelled. The cops both took one of my arms and began to drag me out of the station.

     "I don't care about you or anyone else! See how you feel when you're all alone for the rest of your life!" This was the last thing I was able to say as the front door shut behind me. The cops had me outside now, and they let me go.

     "You gonna be ok, son?" one of them asked. I was too strung out to answer at this point, so I just turned and ran. I expected them to come after me, but I didn't hear anyone. A giant clap of thunder sounded above my head as I felt the first drop of rain splash onto my nose. I kept running, it didn't matter where. I ran and ran and ran, fueled on pure rage and hatred for everything in the world. Hatred at my dad for leaving me, hatred at my mom for hurting me, hatred at everyone else for not helping me. I ran with a feeling of hatred I had never felt before in my life, ever. The wind was blowing hard now, but I barely noticed. I felt suddenly disconnected from the world; everything around me blended together in a surreal swirl of color. I ran all the way to the town limits, then stopped. I reached my hand into the inner pocket of my jacket and pulled out the semi-automatic handgun I had brought with me. The clip was full and I was irrational. I fell to my knees, splashing into a puddle of mud, and put the barrel of     the gun to my head. Another enormous blast of thunder rolled directly above me and a bolt of lightning lit up the sky, casting dark shadows over the features of the earth. The rain was coming down in heavy sheets now, running into my eyes, running down my cheeks and mixing with the tears that came. The wind carried the rain drops into my body like tiny razor blades that tore at my flesh. The metal surface of the gun's snout was cold against my temple. I peered at the sky, one last time, my last time. My finger tightened on the trigger of the pistol. Just then, a girl appeared from out of nowhere. A beautiful girl, with flowing blonde hair. She approached me. I didn't say anything, and neither did she. Silence. Finally she said:

     "Jason. What are you doing?"

     "Who..." I started. She came closer to me. I noticed she had beautiful blue eyes; eyes that glimmered with the same suspenseful light I see when I gaze at the moon. "How do you know my name?"

     "Jason. Answer my question. What are you doing?"

     "I... I have nothing left to live for," I whispered. "I have nobody left. Even my friends. They don't know anything about my problems." She continued to stare at me with those mystifying eyes.

     "Do you really think you're the only one carrying your burdens?" She asked. "Do you really think that no one else has caught on about your dark life?"

     "No. I pretend everything is fine at school. I just make jokes to cover up for everything." She shook her head, waving that magnificent blonde hair.

     "Jason. You're not the only one who hides behind a smile. It's a common defense. Sure, your problems are challenging, but it's all the same. All your friends know that something is wrong. They pretend everything is great when you're around. When they are away from you though, they all wonder if the comedy is covering up for something much more serious. They know, Jason." She said. "What you need to do is use your defense to better the lives of others. When people are having a rough time, they hear your jokes and laugh some of their pain away. You help other people without trying. If you didn't use this talent for the better of mankind, you would be a fool. Look at the gun in your hand. Do you really think that this is the answer? Make the right decision Jason. Use your talents." With this, she turned and walked off and disappeared into the dying storm. I slowly lowered my arm. I stared off into the distance where the girl had gone. I stayed like this for a long time, while the storm in my body died down along with the storm around me.

     "There are angels among us," I whispered, as the last raindrop hit the earth.

     I trod down the wet streets with my soaked jacket and backpack. I had stopped home to grab our emergency money from the house, along with some clothes from my room.

     "... $17,814," I said to myself, as I finished fingering through the stack of bills. I sloshed through a large puddle up to the airport gates. I walked through the airport, shoes squeaking on the floor, all the way up to the customer service desk. A lady in a blue vest behind the counter smiled brightly at me.

     "Can I help you sir?" she said.

     "Yeah. Get me on the next available flight to New York."

     So there you have it. That is why I am alone on a plane to the Big Apple. I'm hoping to find a new life there, to do what the Angel told me to do, to use my talents to make people's lives more bright, as well as mine. I plan to start by hitting every comedy club I can, until I get noticed. I'm taking a chance, sure, but anything's better than being back where I was. I won't say that someday perhaps I'll return home again, because I never will. Twin Rock Montana will always be a dark place for me. A place I'd much rather leave behind. I know I'll never forget about it, not really. But one must learn not to dwell in the past. All I can really hope for is a happier life than I've already lived. Somehow things will work out for me. I also know that there must be people out there who have suffered the same or similar curse as I have. To these people I'd just like to say something. Whenever you feel down, like you can't go on any farther, like everything in life is pointless...

           Watch for your Angel.

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