Sourpuss, A Life of Hard Etched in Your Skin

There’s a woman on my bus in the mornings who I’ve been calling “Sourpuss” for about a year now. She’s an older woman — if I had to guess, I’d guess about 70, but don’t make me guess. And she’s still working, at least part-time. You can tell by the things she has with her. A lunch, for example. Packed in a mesh bag I can see her shuffle around in her purse at times, each item wrapped neatly in squares of wax paper. Even the round fruit — an apple? — somehow wrapped perfectly in a square, something I would consider a sign both of good raising (that’s something you’d learn from a mother) and excellent geometric skills.

I started calling her Sourpuss for reasons that would become clear the moment you saw her face. It is frozen in perpetual frown. Mouth turned down, eyes squinted with permanent disapproval, cheeks and brow heavy with disappointment. And for a whole year, I’ve sort of avoided her. The energy that comes from her face makes me uncomfortable. Everything so impossibly scowled. Like nothing you could say would ever break through it. Like she’s all wrapped up in a Snuggie of hard-fisted anger. Her armor seems impenetrable. Her mood unshakable. Her face, her face, her face.

But then this morning something strange happened. I saw her laugh. She laughed! It was Russian Guns who did it to her (more on him in a later post). And since it happened, I have been absolutely dying to know what it was he said. What did you say, Russian Guns? (Because I bet you all the money in the world that whatever it was had nothing to do with Russian weaponry, and that is, I’m sorry, ALL you ever talk about.) But he did it somehow. He leaned toward her, not bothering to make eye contact, and an utterance fell out of the corner of his mouth into her lap — it was an aside, really. Then he paused before sitting back up, waiting for her response.

And that’s when it happened. All of a sudden, her mouth changed: her lips twisted up into a difficult but 100% intentional smile and her chest pumped quickly with a hearty chuckle. The rest of her face stayed completely frozen, but you could see her mouth and her eyes were laughing. Russian Guns could see it too. He sat back up with a tiny wisp of a grin, no doubt considering his work for the day all but accomplished.

And so this got me thinking. You know what, Metro commuters? I’m thinking Sourpuss’s face is not a face of unhappiness in the present. At least, not necessarily. This is a face that has endured something. There was something in Sourpuss’s life that made that crease between her brow so deep. That made it into a veritable Grand Canyon of hardship and strain. Whatever it was, it lasted a long, long time, long enough to etch permanent struggle into every edge of her features. What was it, my sweet, sweet Sourpuss? Did you lose someone who meant the world to you? Did you have a child who was disabled, who you had to watch fight so hard every day? Did you give up a dream? Did you stay in a job you hated because you thought someone needed you to? Did you resent that someone by the end? Did you resent yourself for resenting them? Did you realize something too late? Did you leave someone and regret it later and find it was unfixable? Or, god, Sourpuss. Tell me. Tell me, did somebody hurt you? Did somebody hurt you? Was that it? Was it a lifetime of struggling with the concept of “victim” that carved your face so deep?

Tell me what it was, tell me. Tell me. Tell me so that I can listen and respond by brushing your cheek gently with the backs of my index and middle fingers, cupped slightly into a curve, and tell you you are loved no matter what. Tell me so I can put my hand on top of your hand and squeeze it gently while I say to you, “But that’s past now. That’s all past. We can move forward now, there is still a way forward. We’ll go together. Let’s go right now.”

And tell me for one other reason too, please. Tell me so I can know what makes a face so permanently crumpled. Tell me so I can try to avoid it, whatever it is. So I can fix it before it’s too late. Because though you are beautiful, Sourpuss — and you are, you are so beautiful — the way you broadcast your life of hard every time you turn your face in my direction pains me immeasurably. Sourpuss, I love you, I love you, but I don’t want your creases. I couldn’t bear them. Not them too.

So tell me what it is. I’m the girl across the aisle in the black coat. Lean forward and whisper. Whatever it is. I can stand it, I will stand it, it will be withstood. I’m listening. My ear is tipped and I am waiting for your signal.

The crow flies at midnight. Say it, say it.