Doing something for someone else just might help you feel better


Sam Mitten

Sam Mitten holds a sign to passing cars when he is in a bad mood. Photo by Daphne Yu
Sam Mitten holds a sign to passing cars when he is in a bad mood. Photo by Daphne Yu

[dropcap style=”1″ size=”3″]I[/dropcap]It’s been a rough day. I don’t particularly feel well, not to mention that I forgot to take my daily 20 mg dose of Prozac this morning and I’ve been a little bit down all day. As I step off of the bus I feel the heavy weight of my 49.2 lb. backpack sagging, it contains a Toshiba laptop, and its charger, both of which are responsible for a subsequent amount of weight. I specifically feel the jabbing of the corner of my AP World binder into the small of my back, which, on its own, holds an easy 5 lbs.

Each step is a burden, not only to carry my 6’2”, 140 lb. frame, not to mention my backpack, but I have a foot injury. I think I hurt it running this morning, after the bus I missed. I woke up late, that’s why I had to run. That’s also the reason that I missed my Prozac dose, tedious as it seemed at the time, it realistically would have only taken a few seconds and I know that the bus driver would have waited for an injured child running after the bus. The past is the past though, right?
I have just one thing on my mind right now, my sign. My beautiful sign, it has worn corners from the multiple times that is has been used, it had stains on it from age, the white foam board has slowly yellowed over the years and I have come to know it as a close friend. It had at one time stood on an easel in the corner of my room, beckoning me to wake in the morning, telling me every morning to, “HAVE A GOOD DAY”.  I now expose it to the sunlight every now and again, showing it to all of the passing drivers along Route K when I am having a bad day. It sounds cliché, and sickening, and cheesy, and stomach churning sappy, but it brings me happiness to make people smile.
Grabbing my sign off of the corner of my room’s floor, where it had been carelessly tossed I walk out of my bedroom. I suppose that it was tossed there when my mother cleaned my room. I do not understand why the state of my room’s cleanliness possibly affects anyone else in my house…  Though, with an OCD mother, slightly OCD brother, and supremely OCD father, I suppose I understand. It’s a wonder that I, myself, am not as much of a “neat-freak” as they are. Nevertheless, I snatched the sign and my coat and I began toward the door.

After hitting the button, my garage door opened revealing my “vintage” Peugeot bicycle that has 16 patches in the front tube and 4 in the back; it’s seen better days by many standards. It’s got rust all along the steel frame, but if I had steel wool and some Rustoleum it would be off in a heartbeat. I own the Rustoleum, but I don’t own any steel wool, so that project shall remain for another day. Its bolts need more WD-40, and the handles need new grips, the foam ones that are on it right now are holey, torn, and dry-rotted. It’s outfitted with new street tread tires though, the only new thing about it.

I ride down my street, listening to “Nobody Home”, by Pink Floyd. The words echo in my head. Perhaps such a somber song was not the best song to listen to with such sadness in my heart. The gravel of a newly laid road crunches under my wheels, my front tire has a new hole in its tube, I can feel it as I ride down the hill, there is not one specific sign, I can just tell. I hold my sign in both hands, call me special, but I do know how to ride my bicycle with no handlebars.
I take a left out of my driveway, riding past my old house to the end of the street. It caught fire this summer and hasn’t quite been rebuilt. I hang a right at the stop sign and begin down “dead man’s hill” as we called it as kids. I ride all the way down, catching strange glances from my neighbors but I don’t pay attention to them. I don’t do this for people who have no interest in allowing themselves to be happy by receiving a compliment. I do it to make people happy, that’s all that matters to me.
I get to the bottom of my hill and I look left and right down the street to make sure that there are not cars coming that I must flash the sign at, I see none. I take off my bike chain, which is nothing more than a dogs choke chain and a Master Lock brand padlock and I chain my bike to the stop sign. I then proceed to grab my Green Canteen. That’s my stainless steel water bottle which, as many times as it is dropped on the ground, and dented, refuses to break. I take a sip and hurriedly close the cap because I see the glare of a car driving down the road. I pick up my sign; the side that I flash them says “YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL!” They slow down, honk, and right as I see the “Rock Bridge High School” tag hanging off of their rearview mirror, the teenage boy sitting in the passenger seat rolls down his window, puts up his middle finger, and yells at me with a grotesque look on his face “F*GGOT! Hahahahaha!” Well… he’s only one person; there’s got to be a million more cars that will drive by who are much more positive than him.
[divider top=”0″] [dropcap style=”1″ size=”3″]I[/dropcap]It’s been about half an hour out here on this corner and the 35 degree weather has not been kind to my thin, now frail looking, fingers. My feet feel numb, but I don’t mind. Every other passing car garners a smile or a wave and it makes me feel good inside to know that I have genuinely made someone happy. One car that stands out amongst the rest is a black Mercedes-Benz. It has to be going 80 mph and I can’t imagine that they have the ability to read my sign.
I can hear it before I see it and the roar of the engine complimented by the trail of smoke that follows out of its muffler does not make the car any more attractive. It looks like it’s from maybe 2009 and the plates read “SMOKE”, ironic right? I think to myself, “Why on earth would you put that on your license plate? What a waste of money.” The brake lights come on, and they make an illegal U-turn in the middle of Route K, and the only thing I can think of is that “ohhhhhh sh*t.. Can they read minds?”
The car pulls up right next to the island on my left, and rolls down its nearly non-opaque window, revealing the face of an elderly woman, who looks to be in her mid-80s. She has wrinkles so deep that you would think she was born with them. She has a scar over her left eye, and now that I begin to look at her, I can see that there is a teenage girl in the passenger seat, possibly 15 years old. She seems thoroughly enjoying the situation that her, what I assume to be, grandma has created. That’s more than I can say for myself; honestly I’m almost afraid of what she has to say.
“What’s that on your sign?” she asks. What do you mean, ‘what’s on my sign?’? Can you not read? Its right in front of you, and you could read it when you sped past me doing 80 on a 55mph speed zone. I think you know what my sign says.
“Well, this side here says ‘YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL’ and the other side says ‘HAVE A NICE DAY’” is what I respond with instead of one of my many rude thoughts. I see tears forming in her eyes as hears this and she chokes out an, “Is that so?”

“Well yes, of course, everyone deserves a compliment, right? Because regardless of how you feel there is always a reason to have a good day, and there is always something about every single one of us that makes us beautiful.” I reply with a stupid, adolescent grin on my face that embodies the ‘innocent’ and kind nature that my actions were meant to be taken in.

She then goes on to say something so profound that I couldn’t create it in even the most fictitious section of my mind. Something that made me question ever worrying about anything again, because my life itself and my problems seem so minute that they just don’t compare, and just don’t stack up.

I haven’t ever felt more prideful and I haven’t felt like I was happier my entire life.”

“I’m taking my granddaughter here to the doctor. She has leukemia, and she developed a malignant tumor in her brain last summer. She wears a wig because she lost her hair due to the chemotherapy, and she needs a bone marrow transplant.”
Tears are streaming down the woman’s face as she struggles to formulate the words that she wants to say, “she… she didn’t want to go without her wig this morning, because she lost it and made me go back and try to get it.” I look over at the teenage girl, whose face is in her palms, she’s sobbing uncontrollably and I notice for the first time that she is bald. “She couldn’t find it and the last thing she said to me when we left was that nobody would find her attractive and nobody would find her beautiful if she didn’t have the thing. I told her someone will always find her beautiful and right as I said that I glanced over and noticed your sign, and I just want to say that may god bless you over all of your travels, and may he deliver you from all of your demons and may you never encounter trouble for you, sir, are a saint.”
At that moment her daughter opens up her car door and races towards me, grasping onto me so hard that I almost fell over. So hard it felt like I couldn’t breathe, and with tears streaming down her face said, “Thank you…” in a weak voice that squeaked in between heaves of breath that sound like a child with asthma after running a mile in a P.E. class. I hugged her back and told her she was welcome. I told her that no matter what, hair or not, rain or shine, sleet or snow there would always be someone who thought she was beautiful. And if nobody told her, she should come see me and my sign and I would tell her. It was the least she deserved.
And right then, I felt something special. I haven’t ever felt more prideful and I haven’t felt like I was happier my entire life. I felt as though I had saved someone’s life, and my chest swelled and a tear fell down my face as I looked her in her eye and told her “I would tell you good luck, but that would imply there’s a chance you’ll be okay. And that’s not true, you will be, I know.” And she got back in her car mouthing the words “bless you” as she got back into her car and drove away.
I haven’t seen nor heard from her since. She didn’t send me a friend request on Facebook, nor did she follow me on Twitter. She didn’t send me letters and she hasn’t visited me, leaving me to believe that she made it and is okay and has no need to speak to me anymore. I do not know her name, nor do I know her grandmothers name. Though she will be forever in my mind when I have a bad day, I do not know her other than the one encounter on that one day that I saw as myself being so bad off. I didn’t even take into consideration how others are worse off than I am not, nor did I realize the severe impact that my humanistic, and kind actions can have on others, and that’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.