Behind the smile
My hands linger on a 4×6 photo of a trim, blond-haired woman in khaki pants and black, v-neck sweater standing at the far end of my dining room. Behind her are hanging spiders and a witch in the corner, a black and purple cat purched in the windows, and cobwebs covering much of the walls. The table is full of food, and I can even make out the appetizers carefully laid out, pumping platters next to red casserole dishes.
Tears well in my eyes, the hurting in my chest nothing to do with me or my life, but hers. She is smiling, her head tilted slighty to the left, serenely allowing me to take her picture. The event was a holiday shower, the guest, a young woman who had desired the holiday theme. She wasn’t in the picture. Only this woman, who was putting on a front for the camera, for behind the smile, her husband of 22 years had announced he was leaving her and their four children.
At the time, I had no idea. The photo was taken a year ago October. My understanding didn’t occur until this past July, when a group of mom’s and daughters went for a hike. My daughter was overly young, but this woman had ok’d us coming. I had to leave early, and she did too, so we walked down the mountain together. As is the case with me, she opened up and learned the story. Now, a year later from the time of the photo, (nearly to the day), I look back with the grace, the fortitude, and the front this woman put up to the world. That was how long it took for the couple to work out the living arrangements, the money, sharing the kids. One thing that wasn’t worked out was their marriage.
It’s really not important to share the details. What struck me about the photo tonight is that a person (she) can look lovely and smile, creating an impression her world was perfect. Perhaps it was at one time. Even when it ended, she kept up the front, as she did at my home, surrounded by two dozen women. I’ll continue to look at photos of friends, neighbors, acquaintances. For most, I’ll never know what’s behind the smile.