Not All Smiles Are Real

By Rachel Page
Second Place Winner, Grades 7-9 Division, 2011
Alice Deal Middle School, 7th Grade
Mr. Hughes

Humans are one of the only animals capable of expressing their emotions. We smile when we are happy; we frown when we are sad. But sometimes, people don’t let their faces show what they’re feeling inside. This is the story of one of my closest friends, a friends who taught me to look beyond smiles.

Amanda wasn’t my friend at first, but my sister’s friend. It wasn’t until sixth grade that I really became close to her, and even then I felt as if she would always like my sister more. Amanda was always cheery, full of jokes and hugs, friendly in the truest meaning of the word. It was impossible not to like her.

But in sixth grade, two girls at my school began bullying Amanda. They would call her ugly and say rude things about her. In gym, they threw her clothes in the toilet. Amanda kept smiling, but the next summer she announced that she was going to go to a different school for seventh grade. My friends and I promised to see her often. To make sure that we would keep in touch, we all joined a writing class that met every week.

Amanda’s stories were always slightly dark, even disturbing. Her latest one was about a girl who cut herself because she was unhappy. She never managed to get past the first few paragraphs. One day after class, I began joking around with Amanda about her story. “Your story is so depressing. You’re not cutting yourself, are you?” I laughed, flipping over her wrists and checking them. Amanda smiled and pulled away.

A few weeks later, we got a call from a psychiatric hospital. It was Amanda. She had been hospitalized for depression and thoughts of cutting and had been there for days without us knowing.

She did not ask to speak to me.

When I asked my sister about it, she said that she had known for a long time that Amanda had taken pills for depression. I was stunned. How could such a cheerful girl be so sad? And even worse, how could I have teased her about it? I had always thought that Amanda had been okay with going to a different school, but it occurred to me that perhaps she missed being with her friends. Her happiness was a mask she put on to hide her real feelings, and foolishly I had thought that it was her true self.

Even today, I am still learning from my experience with Amanda. She taught me that what people say is not always what they mean, that even people who you are close to could be wearing masks of their own. I want to be the person who realizes that their friends are unhappy before they go too far, before they end up hurting themselves and others; the person who makes others smile for real.

Humans are special because they can share their emotions, but they also are unique because they can hide them. Amanda taught me the importance of smiles-and yet she also taught me the importance of tears, the importance of showing your true emotions. We all wear masks sometimes. We smile when we are sad, we frown even though we were happy. But a friend’s job is to look behind those masks and find what is real. My experience with Amanda has made me stronger. I don’t feel that I need support anymore. Rather, I want to support others – my friends, my family, my classmates.

I want to help take off their masks.