The Stages of a Smile

Dayne Hammond

© Copyright 2021 by Dayne Hammond

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
        Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A child was born into the arms of a tired, yet happy mother.

He was rosy, blonde, and a bit plain, but there was a toothless grin on his face.

When the child arrived home, family women gathered around him warmly and celebrated his arrival.

The father distantly approached the child.

The child smelled an odor on this man that was at odds with the scent of the women;

Perhaps it was how he would smell when he would come of age.

The baby slept soundly in his dreamy blue room, surrounded by comforts and constellations.

In the morning the baby was washed in the bubbly warm water of the sink by his caring grandmother.

Her aged hands were soft and beautiful and comforting.

As the child grew, the smile continued to brighten up his face, with his eyebrows elevated as if he were always interested.

Perhaps he was.

Not much is to be said about this child for a few years except he grew normally, cried sometimes, smiled often, and grew closer and closer to his mother.

His mother in the early years was also bright and smiling.

Her hair was a luscious brunette with bangs that rested atop her forehead and the rest would often be manually curled in loops around her pretty, emphatic face.

She was so skinny and she had a nervousness about her, as if she could never get everything done in one day, and smoked cigarettes constantly.

Her friends would come over and they would celebrate things that the child never understood and clink together glasses of fizzy yellow liquid and brown bottles.

These celebrations would often go on late into the night and the child would be put to bed while they went on celebrating.
The child started to feel as if he wasn’t getting enough attention from his mother, and his father, well the child never even noticed him.

I don’t think the father noticed the child either.

Although the mother would spent a lot of time moving to and fro, the child still loved her and felt delighted when his mother would show him that shining smile.

The child smiled back.

The child’s mother and grandmother would teach him lessons about how to behave, to always be polite, treat others kindly, let the ladies go first, and so on, but what he inadvertently learned was that he needed to appear a certain way to other people.

We will discuss that later.

There were countless nights when shouts would be heard from downstairs at night, and the child would creep out of his doorway into the darkness and see manic shadows cast in the light of the kitchen doorway.

He would rush downstairs crying and beg them to stop fighting, and he was always urged back to bed by his mother.

The child did not like violence.

Soon after a serious of arguments, the father left the house and moved to another house on the other side of the city.

This wasn’t too much to the child’s dismay for he now had his mother all to himself.

As the child entered school, he began to learn things about himself that made him unique;

He was a friend to all who appeared safe, would always stand up for the child who was bullied, and always wanted to be the best.

The child was also very creative; he would spend hours in his notepad drawing imaginary war scenes between opposing forces (always good versus evil) and would craft heroes and villains and the lands they came from.

There was a goodness surrounding the child’s life; it was a warm energy, that felt like the wind. It carried happiness and excitement and he could always find the source of it in his mother’s smile and laugh.

As long as he had her fighting his own real and imaginary battles along side him, nothing would go wrong.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened for many years until one of many darkness’ entered the no longer child’s life.

The now young man was skinny like his mother, fighting acne, and in serious conflict within himself and with his mother.

The young man discovered that he was attracted to men.

He was caught up in an intoxication of things that made men masculine, such as their broad jawline, their Adam’s apple, and their sinewy bodies.

But he never felt like a man himself; he was thin, awkward, and had a crackly voice.

His shame of homosexuality wrapped his mind in a dark cloud and seemed to reverberate throughout his body in bad posture and a usual downward gaze.

It wasn’t a secret that he was gay, because all of his friends were women, and he was unusually interested in fashion for a man.

His mother’s friend in high school had committed suicide because he too felt ashamed of his secret so she became afraid that her son would share the same fate.

They fought constantly of battles fueled by emotion and fear and strong love.

His mother was on fire.

Her son was slipping away.

The young man was lured down a dark alleyway one day by a certain green plant that had promises of better days if you only take it to a flame.

He took the pipe and placed it to his lips, gazed around for he didn’t know what to do, then a shadow reached its gray arm out from the darkness and ignited a flame.

Breathe.” it said in a grisly voice.

The plant crackled and popped as it caught fire and the young impressionable man inhaled.

Ku! Ku!” coughed the young man who bent in half and exhaled all of the smoke from his lungs.

When he arose, he looked to the night sky and saw the stars. They were twinkling ever so softly.

He looked to the moon and its large, white face smiled at him, and he smiled back. He was filled with a sigh of relief. He could relax. He could giggle. He wanted to cry for the fact that there was an answer to his pain, and it was in this little green plant. The shadowy figure faded away into the night and the young man danced under the street lamp’s glow and then too disappeared.

There was a fracture in the young man’s life when his mother announced that they would be moving 1200 miles away to another part of the country.

Although the young man put up a fight, it was to no avail as he was only 15 and he had nowhere else to go.

So he said his tear-filled goodbyes to his female cohorts and shrugged himself onto an airplane. The date of the flight was 6/6/06.

That was the hardest day of his life, up until this point.

Time passed, he went to school, started making friends, then one day, a neighbor invited him over for some beers.

He held the tall can in his hands and felt it’s cool dewy surface. He applied a little pressure to the lid and with a little effort it made a “CRACK” sound and opened.

He placed his nose to the top and took in its scent; kind of earthy, kind of bitter, kind of like trash. This was the smell he had noticed on his father so long ago.

After a few big gulps, he now knew what his parents were celebrating; Life!

The fact that the Earth is such a vast place that spins around endlessly in a universe mostly devoid of mass and we are these tiny little people who decided to come together and taste of the spirits to make it all seem like it is ok what is going on and that none of us know what we are doing.’

They celebrated life and appreciated one another for a night.

These would not be the only spirits he would come to know.

Much of the young man’s life became a spiral of these celebrations; of getting drunk, dancing, taking his clothes off, kissing girls, kissing boys, doing stupid things, and laughing, laughing at all of it.

But when he wasn’t drunk or stoned, he learned to put that smile back on.

I told you we’d talk about the other behaviors that he learned from his mother and grandmother.

He learned to act as if everything was ok.

He learned this through conflict with his mother.

See although the young man was a drug addicted mess, he still wanted more for himself, he still wanted better, and he never lost his heart for others.

His mother on the other hand, had declined. She had another baby, she was drinking more and more often, and hadn’t shown her son that comforting smile in so long.

He would often try to get her to think more logically and stop being so stubborn.

He would try to get her to change her habitual drinking and stop acting so messy, but she wouldn’t lose her footing.

She would talk on the phone with a fake ‘Hello!’ and tell everyone she was wonderful and thank grocers for their service and say “why yes we are Christians, God bless you!’

No matter how bad everything was, she would always seem so fake and her son yearned for her to dig deeper in her life and search for something meaningful.

The young man was searching for things that were true and unquenchable and he wished his mother would do the same.

But in reality, they were all a mess then. They were a mess family.

The young man spent a few years experimenting with a plethora of drugs filling his head with rainbows and cotton candy clouds and sending pleasurable sensations from his brain to his body, and had a few unsuccessful jobs and apartments outside of his mothers home.

Grandma stopped working and now plays Mah Jong.

Her hands are still soft and beautiful even though you can see her blue veins now, and two of her fingers are adorned by vintage green and gold rings.

Fast forward 4 years, the young man, now a 20 year old adult, still a raging drug addict, moved back with his family to their old city of beige houses and shopping centers and started creating a new ‘happy’ life.

His mother was again in relationship with on-again off-again boyfriend and father of her youngest child. His name was asshole Todd.

They all lived in a large house in suburban southern California which had the appearance of a cape cod home, resting on a hill next to other mansions.

The adult hated living there as he noticed this wasn’t a true family. Although he loved his younger sibling, there was no love between his mother and his ‘step’ father. It was purely business. Except he would request the occasional sex, his mother would tell him.

The now adult decided to get sober by urging of therapist and he plunged himself into the world of A.A.

They would sit around a square table set up and share how much they loved A.A.

A.A. gave me my life back!’ 

I get to go on vacation because of A.A.!’

Someone would cry, but when the timer went off, they couldn’t let out their feelings anymore.

Now many of these ex-alchies would get hopped up on caffeine and cake and share their yellow, crooked, toothy smiles with each other.

The adult noticed many of them were good people, but some of them worshipped a door-knob as a god.

He went head first into exercising and became no longer just a tall and skinny guy, but now a tall and skinny guy with muscles! He finally felt some approval.

And now he really put on the smile.

The adult seemed to be doing well for a while; holding down a steady job, exercising, and staying sober, but there was a longing for more in his life, something deeper and more mystical, so he started attending meditation meetings at a local spiritualist’s house.

There, they would chant and align their chakras, and envision light coming from parts of their bodies, meditate, then talk about their experiences over a nutritious meal.

One night when the adult was meditating, he begged the universe for the truth. He begged that he get some sign of what he needs to know to progress in life and find meaning in the monotonous routine he had been living.

And then, a sign.

With his eyes closed, in his mind’s eye, he saw a man in white robes walking toward him. The adult welcomed the image and the figure understood. The man in robes came closer and the adult noticed the man had long hair and a beard, and instantly in a flash of yellow and white light, a cross appeared behind the figure.

The adult flashed his eyes open and knew.

When trying to talk about his experience at the dinner table, where his experiences were usually welcomed and encouraged, he was shunned and hushed when he spoke of the man in robes and the cross.

But that didn’t matter, the adult knew what to do.

But he had so many questions!

And was this really the answer? It was right in front of his face the whole time!

He dove into asking who he now called ‘God’ questions about everything. Constantly asking questions. This was the first time he prayed in years.

More puzzlement filled him as he wasn’t receiving answers. He pushed doors open into churches and questioned it’s members.

He called hotlines and spoke to pastor.

They often laughed in a confident yet peaceful laughter and told him that everything would be revealed in due time.

One night at the restaurant where the adult worked, another adult approached him with an angry look on their face.

Our adult wasn’t smiling.

Just as the other adult began to unload their anger on our adult, our adult met someone new.

This person was inside himself.

His name is Hi-Fi.

Hi-Fi was residing in our adult’s belly, and he grew and filled our Adult’s body until he was pushing up against the inner wall of his skin.

Our adult seems like a bit much to repeat, lets just call him OA.

OA could feel his eyeballs bulging.

Hi-Fi was now in control.

A grin broadened across OA’s face, and a joyous breadth of space and air filled his belly.

It felt as if clear smoke was pouring out of his ears and nostrils and whimsically falling to the floor.

The other adult looked at him, baffled. How could he not be reacting to his righteous anger?!

Thank you sir!’ said OA as he giggled and walked away.

Thank you Hi-Fi.’ said OA ‘Nice to meet you.’

Then Hi-Fi deflated and whizzed back into the belly.

Hi-Fi was a being of light. No one knows where he came from, and no one knows his true purpose, but he helped OA on this day.

Hi-Fi brought out the peace and enjoyment and laughter into OA’s life.

They would have long conversations about how nice it was to live this way and how OA wished he had found Hi-Fi sooner!

He dreamed that that is how it must feel to be in heaven, him now being a spiritual person and all.

Questions, questions, questions.

Was Hi-Fi the Holy Spirit that he had read about?

He was full of questions, but seemingly no answers. He remembered the comforting words of the hotline pastors, ‘in due time…’

Over the next few months, Hi-Fi would appear and bring ease, joy and whimsy into OA’s days.

But there became a problem: Hi-Fi being in control became more exciting and pleasurable than actual OA being in control. ‘Was he losing himself?’ he thought.

One day, while OA. was resting in what he thought was the garden of Eden of his mind with Hi-Fi, in front of several customers at the bar of the restaurant, he had a realization:

He sure does make me talk about, well, ME a lot.’

He then pushed out Hi-Fi, and huddled self-consciously in a corner near the patio door.

If this were the Holy Spirit, he wouldn’t be so self-centered.

OA met someone new on this day.

I’m Grand-Daddy.’

What do you want from me Mr. Daddy?’

I am here to bring discipline and structure into your life.’

Grand-Daddy filled OA’s body in a different way;

It pressed his stomach outward like he was something like the Buddha and gave him a feeling of power.

Grand-Daddy took the cigar out of his mouth and placed it in the ash tray.

Now see here boy, I am the one who’s gonna teach you how to be a real Christian.’

I am not the Holy Ghost, but I am a messenger of the Holy Ghost.’

Don’t you ever go back to that Hi-Fi again. You’ll just be waistin’ yer time.’

Ok sir.’ cowered OA.

The following weeks would be difficult, very difficult.

OA. really believed that Grand-Daddy was a messenger of God so he listened to the things he told him to do:

Wake up, pray extensive prayers, put on your running shorts, run around the park, take a cold shower, brush your teeth perfectly, go to work, do push-ups in between serving tables, go home, change, go to A.A. meeting, greet the newcomers, use precise language, take all the commitments offered to you, go home, discipline your younger sibling, eat, pray, sleep.



Grand-Daddy started to take control;

When he noticed OA. saying something or doing something imperfectly, he would crack the whip and remind Our Adult that he needed to be the ‘perfect’ Christian in order to be considered by God.

When OA grew weary, Grand-Daddy would sit back and laugh, his lips parted over his red-hot cigar, holding his glass of piss-colored scotch.

OA broke.

He was later seen wandering streets naked in confusion.

Grand-Daddy stripped him of everything humanly possible. He pushed him to the limit of insanity.

OA so believed Grand-Daddy that he was a messenger of God and he so wanted to please God that the pleas of his mother and friends and church members sounded like the constant buzz of an annoying distant bee.

Welcome to the Psych Ward.

Ghosts roam the halls of hospital psychiatric wards. Even when the bodies leave, some lives remain and never find their way out.

These ghosts inhabit every room, and pace down every hallway, and they whisper to the patients to try and make them crack.

The orderlies and nurses cackle amongst themselves over their issues about their boyfriends, jobs, clothes, and cars, and don’t even stop to make eye contact with the patient strapped down thirsty for water.

There are a few compassionate souls who shine bright but must also remain somewhat unseen so that they can do their good work in secret amongst the dark forces that lie in places such as that.

OA was stripped of everything he ever had and Grand-Daddy seemed to have taken a permanent residence in his body, telling him to chase nurses, to swallow pens, to hit himself.

OA sat by and watched the whole show helplessly while Grand-Daddy delighted in taking the reigns.

Maybe if I do just this one task, God will accept me. Maybe the next time...’ uttered Our Adult as he floated down the hallway brushing shoulders with the ghosts of mothers who will never see their children again.

The doctors barked orders at OA, telling him to stop doing what he was doing, but of course they did, he was insane.

The doctors pumped OA full of meds and they slowed down his movement, and made it harder for Grand-Daddy to communicate with him, but OA ever felt the presence of Grand-Daddy residing inside of him, always waiting.

Eventually, OA was taken to a place of lower care because he hadn’t ‘acted out’ in a while and things seemed better for a little while.

This was a big adjustment for OA; he had been in that hospital for a year and became familiar with the faces. Now he had to adjust to a large community of people he had never met, and was afraid of how Grand-Daddy might humiliate him even more in front of them.

Never before had it been so hard for OA to force a smile.

He hadn’t seen his mother in so long, and when he did see her, she was fearful and her smile didn’t round up in the corners anymore. It didn’t comfort him like it did as a child.

Am I a monster?’

But if this is God’s will..?’

At the new facility, OA met the other residents on the unit; they were mostly friendly. For the first time in a while, he wasn’t the one making a scene;

people were fighting, knocking over drink carts, peeing on the floor…

Still it was refreshing to meet a few stable people.

But that was quickly taken away from OA

Grand-Daddy came back.

But now, he was different. He was ANGRY.

He had been pushed down for too long.

Whenever something good would happen, something that OA would usually enjoy, whenever he started to feel like a normal human again, Grand-Daddy would attack;

Everything would grow silent. OA could feel his pulse in his eyeballs. Then the panic.

If you don’t take off your clothes right now and walk out of your room and pee on the couch, you are going to die and go to hell right now!’

OA was scared, but something was different about him too this time.

Learning to want to look like he had it all together from his family kept him from humiliating himself again.

He fought it.

He was given an intuition to take a cocktail of sedating medication to calm him down, and Grand-Daddy fought and fought and fought.

OA saw faces of monsters in the marbling of the floor, and felt the hounds of hell chasing after him.

But a miracle happened!

The medication worked!

He would eventually feel Grand-Daddy give up and a feeling of ecstasy would come over his body.

Thank God.’

He did this routine nearly every day for three months.

His grandmother with her beautiful hands and her sweet face had grown sick, and one day a mystical woman from Africa came to the house to take care of her.

She looked at a table of pictures, gazed past photos of family, and stopped at a picture of OA.

Who is this man?’ she asked.

Thats my son’ said his mother.

He is not sick, he needs my help.’ the mystical woman said.

A few phone calls and a few weeks later, the mystical woman, Afi, her friend from the church, Daniel, and OA’s mother arrived at the facility where OA resided.

Are you prepared to face this force inside of you?’ Afi asked.

More than anything.’ replied the faithful OA.

The man with Afi, Daniel, was a man from the church, also from Africa, and well-known to expel spirits attached to people’s souls.

Daniel was a quiet and cheerful man. He was very pleasant for all to be around.

I’m going to place my hands on your head, and I am going to speak a few words. Is this ok with you?’

OA nodded, yes.

Afi and Daniel began speaking in a language that OA had never heard. They were very emotional and seemed to be trying to gain control of what they were speaking to. They began shouting. 

OA’s mother began crying. 

OA began crying.

OA let it all go. 

He gave everything away to God. 

He let go of all the years of torture and torment and thinking he had to Sacrifice himself to please God. 

He let it all go.

They asked OA if he was willing to believe in Jesus.
he said yes.

It was finished.

Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen right away, but after a few days, he noticed that Grand-Daddy hadn’t commanded him to do anything lately.

He felt an ease within himself.

He was more confident.

Slowly, medication was being removed from his cocktail.

Eventually the diagnosis of ‘schizophrenic’ was removed from his file.
It was changed to ‘episode of psychosis’.

He soon left residential living and moved to lower care housing.

He made friends, relationships, painted, wrote poetry, sang, danced.

He thanked God for everything he’s been through because he is where he is now.

I am OA.

I was born in Northridge, California. I have been interested in painting and writing since about nine years old. My Grandmother gave me a Bob Ross tape and painting kit and I was off and running after that. I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels and have enjoyed writing poetry and short stories for a long time now. After I recovered from the contents of the story that you have read, I left Los Angeles and moved to Savannah, GA to gain serenity and inspiration for writing. 

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