I invite you to join me to a sweet, summer day circa 2008 in the mountains of North Carolina. I was in my early 20’s and was a walking, talking trainwreck. I should have come with a floating disclaimer above my head or maybe a warning label sewn into my clothing.
I was pretty much bad news and no matter where I moved or what job I had, there I was. I could not get away from myself. It was not all bad. I had open mic nights at Murphy’s and enough hometown friends who were also living in the area to make me feel comfortable.
The beautiful thing about the High Country is the constant breeze. I remember marveling at the idea that I didn’t need air conditioning in my apartment in West Jefferson. I only needed to open a window.
That apartment had brick walls and I couldn’t hang pictures easily. I would draw on the walls with sidewalk chalk and watch the same DVDs on repeat every evening. It was simple, but it made me happy.
In 2007, some epic heartbreak and pretty big disasters happened in my life and I stopped smiling. Seriously, I had award-winning RBF. We won’t venture back to those times, but I need you to understand the value of our 2008 destination. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life.
I felt lost and confused. I was hung somewhere between little-girl-kind-of-cute and grown up pretty and, therefore, I was absolutely neither. I couldn’t relate to people my age, but lacked the life experience to hold a real conversation with anyone older than me either. I just felt very alone and could not find a place that I belonged.
There was an outdoor market held that summer day in 2008. The sunshine was warm and intoxicating. It danced off my shoulders and cheeks. It felt like good fortune raining down on me. It was THAT good.
The breeze was soft and smelled like local jams and honey. With it came the sounds of friendly chatter and acoustic guitars. There were booths lining the lawn and a smorgasbord of local cuisine.
I stopped for a moment and admired the ridgeline kissing the bluest summer sky I had ever seen. The few clouds that were in the sky were white and in my version of that 2008 sky they were all shaped like cacti. I may have made that last part up, but just go with it.
I felt free. Like nothing-but-exhaling, no-place-to-be, kiss-who-I-want, show-up-if-I want-to free. That day was nothing short of magic. I walked barefoot from booth to booth when I felt a familiar twinge in the corner of my mouth.
Suddenly I felt my cheeks tighten and the inside of my dimple press against my right molars. It was official. I was smiling. I had to feel my face to be sure. Oh, yeah, I was full on grinning. This was real deal.
I was fighting happy tears when I approached the last booth in the row. The vendor, an old man, met my gaze and he smiled back at me. He may have been missing some teeth, but this fella had one of the best smiles I have ever seen in my entire smiling career.
Handcrafted sterling was spread across the table and he showed me a simple, heart-shaped locket. He placed the locket in my palm and closed my hand around it. His hand was warm and calloused from a lifetime of craftsmanship.
Before I knew it, I was fumbling for my wallet and offering to pay. I mean, the man reminded me of some Appalachian Ghandi. I was ready to give him the entire wallet for this good luck charm. He simply shook his head and kept smiling. I like to think he was an angel.
I have moved at least 10 times since 2008. I have lost things, gotten rid of things, and upgraded things. That locket is still in my jewelry box today. It reminds me of the day that my smile came back. I even had the locket tattooed on my wrist to remind me of one of the best days of my life. It is a way to keep that girl with me, folded up in my sleeve. I can travel in time to 2008.
I will never forget to smile.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.