I was born with half a smile and it’s been that way ever since.
It’s anybody’s guess why it happened, but somehow I ended up with a seventh cranial nerve on the right side of my face that didn’t work. Well, the sensory part works — you could smack me over there and it’d sting just fine. But the muscles won’t budge, so there’s a permanent frown on that side, and eyelids that don’t close all the way.
How swell it would’ve been to have one butt cheek that didn’t move right, or one toe too many. Something you could put clothes over. But no, I couldn’t have such a low-intensity deformity: It had to be just bad enough that everybody could see it, but just minor enough that I’d have no damn business complaining about it. I mean, I didn’t come out with flippers for arms, I just look a little freaky and people mistakenly think I’m winking at them. See, the other eye closes too tight to compensate for the one that doesn’t finish its job. I can’t think of any time in my life when I purposefully winked at anybody. But by accident, probably billions.
Next week I turn 42, which means I’ve been this way since the Kennedy Administration. Everybody else has gotten over it, or at least gotten used to it. Except me.
It wasn’t exactly vacation at Disney World growing up with this face, but kids were not as cruel as they could’ve been. I never felt the urge to shoot up the seventh grade. But I always identified with Charlie Brown, who craved popularity and purpose yet seemed denied for reasons beyond his comprehension. My Little League team lost all its games, too. Lately it occurred to me that Charlie had it far worse than me … at least I had an excuse for kids not liking me, being a freak and all; he was perfectly normal and they hated him anyway. Now that is injustice.
One thing that amazes me to this day is how people control their curiosity. I can think of two people in my adult life (other than doctors thinking I had Bell’s palsy) who have come right out and said, “Tom, what happened to your face?” “Just a congenital birth defect,” I’d say, “one nerve didn’t form correctly.”
I try to be nonchalant about it, but it’s a lie. Every morning I have to stick a toothbrush in this face and every time it pisses me off a little. But I wonder why nobody asks; I’d be dying to know. But I probably wouldn’t ask either. People are nicer than we give them credit for being.
Of course there’s no problem as long as I go though life straight-faced or sour-faced. It only really shows when I laugh. I try not to, but I fail. Existence is just too absurd not to laugh at it.
So, the half-smile will be with me always. I’m really writing this just to help me get used to the idea. It’s high time after four decades of denial.