Muscle Memory

This morning I looked in the mirror as I always do before morning bath. (If you’re not from a place where baths are often, the Philippines is a place where most people take a bath at least twice a day). I mourned about the pimples on my forehead and cheeks – after missing the dreaded pimple-slash of high school and early college years, I was getting paid in full by my last months of grad thesis.

After that, I looked at my mouth.

I am one of those people who strives for “unity of life” as an active principle. If I have eye-bags, I choose to sleep them off rather than dab concealer on (as if I had any). If I choose to stand under the sun, I will not bewail my tan. All those warnings about early wrinkles and aging skin don’t quite bother me. The face I end up with on my deathbed will be the story of my life: whether I laughed much or scowled much or cried much, whether I chose to live a life of love and friendship rather than one of pride and bitterness. Or vice versa.

I suppose at this point that I must mention that whatever anyone does with themselves – face-lift, nose-job, gender change – that’s their business. I, like many another girl, enjoy putting on make-up, and fully enjoy the attention that dressing well brings.

But to myself, and with myself, I will not lie.

So I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, and I looked at my mouth, and disliked what I saw.

My lips were cocked at a cynical angle to the left, mainly because in recent months I had a dreadful, can-barely-eat mouth-sore on the right side. Naturally, my left mouth muscles would get much more of a workout.

But I truly hated the other development that I saw. The tips of my lips slanted downward for the first time that I’d seen them, even in repose. Normally, they were straight, stern, neither laughing nor down-turned. But these lips, these were only one twist away from that mouth of tolerant amusement bordering on mocking disbelief that infuriates almost anyone who knows of it. It is a mouth that shuts people up, makes them refuse to speak because they’d rather not be laughed at.

I developed the close-mouthed smile because I was attempting to bring my face under greater control during Aikido. Doesn’t always work with an empathetic sensei, but the control was important. I wanted to be able to communicate my emotions anyway, so I developed that odd smile instead of trying to speak with my eyes. Later on, I used it when I didn’t want to laugh at someone or something that I considered stupid or immature or childish. Hear my ego speak? So, that closed-mouth smile developed a mean, hateful streak, and I fully rebelled against it.

So today, all day, I reminded myself unceasingly to smile. If not the open-mouthed smile that is almost a laugh, then at least that cheek-bone lifting smile that warms my eyes. I refuse to have a mean, hateful smile. Every time I feel that look creeping up on me I force myself into one of those two ‘approved’ smiles. I will probably freak quite a few people out by all my random smiling, but I hope they will forgive me as I teach my smile muscles another memory.


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