Read an Excerpt
Behind the Smile
From this angle, you can see right up my skirt.
I learned at an early age how a young woman protects her image. If she's "sitting like a lady," no one can see up her skirt.
I'm not "sitting like a lady" now. I'm collapsed in a pile of shoes on my closet floor. Around and above me hangs my clothing, which is all I can see as I lean against the back wall of the closet. I can see straight up one of my skirts on a hanger right over my head. It looks like a long, dark tunnel with the exit sealed off. It looks like my life right now.
The skirt goes with one of my favorite suits. I've worn it to several happy occasions. I can recall the events, but I have no memory of what it feels like to be happy.
I sit with my knees pulled up to my chest. I barely move. It's not that I want to be still. I am numb. I can tell I'm crying, but it's not like tears I've shed before. My eyes feel as though they have moved deep into the back of my head. There is only hollow space in front of them. Dark, hollow space. I am as empty as the clothing hanging above me. Despite my outward appearance, I feel like a lifeless form.
I can hear the breathing of my sleeping newborn son in his bassinet next to the bed. My ten-year-old daughter, Rachael, opens the bedroom door and whispers, "Mom?" into the room, trying not to wake the baby. Not seeing me, she leaves. She doesn't even consider looking in the closet on the floor. Her mother would never be there.
She's right. This person sitting on the closet floor is nothing like her mother. I can't believe I'm here myself. I'm convinced that I'm losing my mind. This is not me.
I feel like I'm playing hide-and-seek from my own life, except that I just want to hide and never be found. I want to escape my body. I don't recognize it anymore. I have lost any resemblance to my former self. I can't laugh, enjoy food, sleep, concentrate on work, or even carry on a conversation. I don't know how to go on feeling like this: the emptiness, the endless loneliness. Who am I? I can't go on.
But I do. I have a house full of people who depend on me. I have a baby to take care of, children who need me, a husband, friends, and family who all expect me to get back to my regular life and obligations.
Somehow, I find myself standing up again. I pull something out of the closet to wear. I run a washcloth under the cold-water faucet and press it to my face. I manage mascara and some lipstick. My mother always said, "No matter what, always put on lipstick." I do. I change the baby and wrap him in a blanket. I feel exhausted just doing these simple things.
I go downstairs to my world, which feels like a prison. My oldest son, Stephen, is shooting baskets in the driveway with his cousin. My eight-year-old, Michael, has a new piece of artwork he wants me to tape on my bedroom door, next to the fourteen other drawings. My one-year-old daughter, Brianna, grabs me enthusiastically around the knees. There is a woman standing in the living room. Rachael introduces her as our new next-door neighbor who has stopped over with a plate of goodies as a welcome gift. I have fifteen messages on the answering machine saying, "Congratulations on the new baby," "When can you come to the office?" "Can we set up a photo shoot?" There is a pile of bills, business mail, and FedEx packages waiting for my attention on the dining room table. My two-year-old knocks over a basket of laundry, and it rolls down the stairs. The baby cries. He wants to be fed.
That's when the "Marie Osmond" persona kicks in. I smile. I was trained in my entertainment upbringing to smile constantly when I'm around other people, and now it's as natural to me as breathing. Rule number one: I am here to make sure that everyone else is happy. It's my job.
I smile at my little artist. I smile at my new neighbor and my daughter. I smile at my toddler. I smile about the phone calls, the overflowing mail, and the laundry scattered on the steps. I lift the baby over my shoulder, pat his back, and I smile.
My smile stays on my face even though my eyes feel like they sink farther back in my head. My body aches from my forehead to my feet. It is sabotaged with fatigue. My throat tightens to choke off unwanted emotions. I have no idea what to do next. I am a stranger in my own life. But I'm still smiling, which lets everyone know that I'm fine. "Marie Osmond" is always "fine."
No one guesses the truth. They can't see that I'm in a constant spiral, spinning into gloom. I feel it's inevitable that I will hit bottom. I thought I had been there before, but this feels so much lower. Right now, all my thoughts and feelings are locked away. I wish I could toss away the key and it would all be over. But it's not so easy. My smile is like a two-way mirror. I can see out, but no one can see in. No one sees what is going on behind the smile.
The Osmonds began performing as a family in the early 1960s, years before my brother Donny and I were even school age. My father managed my four older brothers, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, and Jay, who toured as a singing quartet. This often left my mother home alone with Virl and Tom, my two oldest brothers, who are hearing impaired, Donny and me, who were preschoolers, and baby Jimmy.
At that time there were advertisements for a product called Compoz. Appropriately named, it was a pill marketed to frazzled homemakers and mothers. I don't know what the main ingredient was, but the commercials were catchy enough to make any woman looking for a little peace of mind want to rush off to the drugstore and stockpile it.
Donny and I were rambunctious playmates who never gave our mother a moment of rest. We couldn't possibly sit quietly with a book or a board game. We never spent an hour together without devising a major plan of action. It wasn't fun or worth our time unless there was physical activity involving digging, stringing something up, flooding, capsizing, leaping, leveling, or capturing. If we were awake, then something was always shaking and moving. My poor mother had to deal with our energy and imaginations. She'd find her shoes full of peanut butter, her best blankets being used as pirate ships in the mud, and her necklaces and bracelets buried in the yard as the pirate "loot." Unfortunately, we once lost the loot when our marker blew away, and the family spent the entire day digging up a freshly tilled half acre of land looking for Mother's jewelry box. Captain Marie and First Mate Donny didn't have imaginary parrots sitting on our shoulders anymore. We had our very real father breathing down our necks.
You've heard the expression "What goes around, comes around," and it sure came back around for me with my own two toddlers, Brandon and Brianna, who are only a year apart in age. I call them Pete and RePete. They are pressed from the exact same mold Donny and I were. Brandon is full of energy and daring feats, and Brianna is outspoken and can slyly maneuver her brother to do anything she wants. Hmm... I wonder where she learned that technique? My mother offers no suggestions. She just smiles. I'm pretty sure she's enjoying the payback. (By the way, Mother, remember the fire that started in the field next to our house that hot summer day? It wasn't the heat.)
One afternoon, when I was three and Donny was five, my mother left us unattended, for what I'm sure was only a total of three minutes, to step outside to the clothesline and take down the six dozen pairs of socks and three loads of T-shirts we went through every week. I don't remember the crime Donny and I committed that particular day; I just remember her being very angry when she came to check on us, so it must have been a household felony. We probably did some type of structural damage to the house. Believe me, the two of us could compete with any natural disaster.
Donny and I knew we would be in trouble, so we hid by crawling up on the stools under the kitchen table. We lay silently across two or three stools, holding our breath, hoping not to be found. I remember watching my mother's legs walk into the kitchen and hearing her raised voice: "Donny! Marie! Where are you?" My mother tells me all she heard was my tiny three-year-old voice coming from under the kitchen table as I whispered to Donny, "She needs some Compoz."
She laughs about it now, but I wonder how often she felt overwhelmed by all of her responsibilities. Did she ever take time for herself, or did her role as "Mother" absorb every minute of her life? It was a badge of honor then for a woman to remain composed, like the name of the product, in any situation. Few women would actually speak of the difficulties of being a female or a mother. Perfection for women in the sixties was a wrinkle-free skirt and blouse, a string of June Cleaver pearls, hair styled and sprayed not to move, high heels, a spotless home, clean-cut kids with good manners, and a happy, well-fed husband.
My mother was surrounded by men and boys. She never talked about what she went through as a woman, either physically or emotionally. I'm sure no one ever asked. She always appeared to be "fine." Hmm... I wonder where I learned that technique?
I'm in awe when I think about her life -- giving birth to and raising nine children. (My mother washed cloth diapers for over twenty years!) I always saw my parents as two pillars holding up the family as well as the business. My mother was a complete partner with my father in holding the reins on their team of children. They helped to teach us to have a belief in God and encouraged us to seek out answers to our questions about religion. As a young girl, I had read the fundamentals of many religions and chose my belief, not because it was my parents' religion, but because it answered my questions. It has always been a source of strength and comfort for me. My parents guided each of us with intelligence, discipline, and devoted love safely into our adult years. My mother has always been my role model, and I believe my survival in the entertainment business is in large part due to my desire to be a strong woman like my mother. She is my hero.
I can vividly recall what it felt like to be alone and in a crumpled heap on the closet floor. I remember thinking that my mother would never have fallen apart like that. I was sure no one would understand what I was going through. I could have managed the pain. It was the shame that was destroying me.
Copyright ©(2001) by Marie Osmond.