The smiling woman

“There were always in me, two women at least, one woman desperate and bewildered, who felt she was drowning and another who would leap into a scene, as upon a stage, conceal her true emotions because they were weaknesses, helplessness, despair, and present to the world only a smile, an eagerness, curiosity, enthusiasm, interest.” Anais Nin
I leapt upon this quote when I discovered it. Though when I read it again, I’m not sure that I manage to present quite the facade that Anais Nin is describing. My own face is too readable, my own moments of despair and bewilderment too obvious. I do know something about the smile though. Recently, at midnight of course, the unexpected overtook our family. My husband collapsed and my daughters and I spent twenty minutes in limbo waiting for an ambulance. I was about to write an anxious twenty minutes, but I wasn’t anxious. I was at several removes, unbelieving. And in this strange state, I kept reminding myself: When they come to the door, don’t smile. This is a serious situation. They won’t expect to be greeted. And, when they arrived, I succeeded. I didn’t smile. Though neither did they, and it felt entirely strange. My daughter laughs at me now because I was urging her, even while on the emergency call, to tidy up the room. So I cannot claim to have entirely lost my feminine obsessions. But I didn’t smile, though I was polite. And very, very calm.
The ambulance whisked him away. My daughters and I waited the required hour. And then the final test — I answered more or less correctly the many questions (health insurance number, medicare number, medical history) that let us through to the cold, fairy tale night of the hospital grounds. We were found and rescued by a French man wearing a reversed white gown and smelling of many cigarettes. He delivered us to a ward in which my husband was sound asleep. Safe, for now. At least as safe as any of us can claim to be. I smiled at the French man and said thank you. But, for him, it was right. By that point there were no facades, polite or otherwise. It would have been foolish not to have smiled, at 2 a.m.





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