A Smile Can Save a Life

Mar 12, 2009

Hannah Alzugaray - Lanphier High School
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

I was in the seventh grade the first time I contemplated suicide.

From the outside, and by all superficial accounts, really I’ve lead a pretty easy life. I have two caring parents and two caring step-parents, a nice roof over my head, food on the table each night, and a good group of friends. I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm, and even in elementary school, I was considered “the smart kid” by my peers. None of that changed the fact that I wanted to kill myself.

It wasn’t one event that set off the thoughts, really. If you looked deeper into my life, you’d still probably miss all the bad stuff. Most people thought I was a pretty happy kid, which I guess I was on the outside. But inside, it was a different story altogether. Away from people, I was quiet, reserved, and depressed. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, but because of the smile I fronted, no one noticed, so I had no one to help pull me out of this mental hole I was drowning in.

I never got to tell Ed how thankful I am that he could see through my guarded eyes. I dedicate this essay to him, and it's because of him that this I do believe: A smile can save a life.

I remember the day I decided I wanted it all to stop. I wanted to stop crying, stop having to wake up in morning and hate my life, stop thinking so hard. I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it before. The moment the thought hit me that I could end it all, I felt … freed. That night, I wrote an early suicide note, saying goodbye, writing down my deepest thoughts, explaining why I was doing this, why it was the only option.

But I didn’t do it. I coped. I found a way to muddle through life. I channeled my emotions into practicing my false smile. Still, when I was alone, I considered ways to end my life.

It all ended abruptly one day in my junior year of high school. I was in a dark place, at the point where I didn’t even want to consider future plans because I was so sure I wouldn’t have a future. I’d written a new suicide note. Every day I saw my friends, I felt like I was saying my final goodbyes. I don’t think they so much as noticed from the other side of my smile. I was on my way to class when I passed a boy named Ed Robinson. Ed’s life was harder then mine. He had more troubles then I did, yet we shared a common bond through the fake smiles we gave the world around us. As I passed him on the stairs, I was frowning. He stopped me and said, “Hey, Smile.” So I did. It was a practiced thing that he and I both knew how to do. We could fool anyone into thinking it was genuine. “Not like that,” Ed told me. “Smile for real.”

It was the first time in my life that anyone had called me out, had noticed that maybe everything wasn’t all hunky dory in my life. I was too shocked to produce any expression, but as I walked to class, I felt something strange happening – a real smile was forming on my face. It felt freeing, even more so then the first time I thought about suicide.

It was one of the best feelings in the world. That night, I decommissioned my recently updated suicide note. I actually got a good night’s sleep. And in the morning, I woke up feeling truly happy for the first time in years.

Ed’s single comment was the turning point of my life. In the year since it happened, I’ve had my ups and downs, and I believe I always will, but I’ve haven’t sunk so low as to consider suicide. Nowadays, when I smile, it’s real. I have my future meticulously planned out, because I know I’ll be there to live it. I never got to tell Ed how thankful I am that he could see through my guarded eyes. I dedicate this essay to him, and it’s because of him that this I do believe: A smile can save a life.