By Amber Sparks
Should I smile?
I should smile. That was a compliment – it’s polite to smile. It doesn’t take any effort.
God, I hate that other people are looking at me now. I feel like I have to respond. Are they trying to figure out what looks good? Are they judging me? 5 out of 10 stars? Nice ass, softish stomach, teeth need work?
Maybe just a little smile. A no-teeth smile. A thanks but stay away smile.
I smile too much. That’s what the women in my life tell me. Stop smiling so much. You don’t owe that smile to anybody. Stop giving it away.
I can say I have a husband (true) and a baby (true). I can say I’m taken.
But that’s bullshit. I don’t belong to any man, including my husband. I’m not “taken.” If you respect me because I’m wearing a ring then you’re just respecting another man’s property. You’re not respecting me. I should say this. I should make this shit known.
But I don’t want them to think I’m a bitch. What if they were just being nice? I was raised to be a nice person. Polite. It doesn’t hurt to smile.
I do look good today. I like this dress. I’ve lost some weight and my hair looks good. I did my makeup today. They’re just seeing that, you know? Seeing the effort I put in. I should be validated, right?
But this effort is for me, not for other people. This is just for me.
Am I a bitch?
I don’t owe this person anything. I don’t owe them a smile or a response. I know they just want to make me feel uncomfortable. Why am I giving them the benefit of the doubt? I know exactly what the intention is here. The intention is to rob me of my fucking agency, is it not? To reduce me to an object? I’m not stupid. I know this. Why am I pretending not to know it?
Because I’m scared. Because the blue terror has frozen me to the spot. If I ignore this person, will they follow me? Will they shout nasty things after me? Will it escalate?
Was I walking a certain way? Is this dress too tight? Maybe red lipstick draws too much attention. I have blonde hair – too blonde, I suppose. I am showy, a show off. I earned this attention. I deserve it.
Am I the straw? Is this the next school shooter? The next movie theater shooter? The next army base shooter? Will he shoot me? Stab me? My work is right there. Will he wait for me? Will he hang out here until I leave? Will he follow me home? Will he hear my name and look me up online? Am I a target if I say what I really think of this asshole? Or am I making someone else a target? His mother, his sister, his girlfriend, his ex, all women? Am I the straw? Am I a bitch? Why can’t I just smile and say thank you? Why can’t I placate? Like some wild animal. Back away, smile, don’t look it in the eye. Don’t get it angry, ruffle feather and fur. Save a life. Maybe yours. Maybe someone else’s.
Don’t be the straw.
It’s just a smile, after all. What does it cost? So it makes you feel gritty, gross, coated in shame. You’re alive. You’re alive. You’re alive and whole.
Pay for your life. Smile. Bigger. Wider. Smile smile smile. Say thank you. Laugh a little. Thank you for not hurting me. Thank you for not stalking/humiliating/shouting at/cursing at/attacking/assaulting/killing me. Thank you for my life.
I look good. I feel dead. I’m smiling.
Amber Sparks is the author of the short story collection May We Shed These Human Bodies, and a forthcoming collection entitled The Unfinished World and Other Stories. She lives in Washington. DC with her husband, cats, and baby daughter, who is already learning to be an awesome feminist. She Tweets at @ambernoelle. Visit her blog here.