I believe it was during or near the age of five when my mother took me to get diagnosed. After noticing I carried a more serious countenance than my peers, she feared her son had some sort of underlying neurological condition. With a long history of strokes and transient ischemic attacks on my father’s side, my mother figured professional help was needed to identify any issues before they reached the point of no return. We were escorted into a small, well-furnished room where the doctor sat squinting at a paper filled manila folder. He thumbed through the documents then shifted his gaze onto my mother.
“Ma’am, after running several tests, I regret to inform you that this child here has something called RBF.”
Struck by the weight of this unfamiliar acronym, my mother slouched several inches in her seat.
“Are-bee-what?” she asked. “Could you please elaborate?”
“Most certainly. RBF, it’s short for what we in the healthcare industry refer to as ‘resting bitch face.’”
While a considerable chunk of time has passed since the diagnosis, I cannot deny the effects of my stern demeanor on everyday life. I was at a local Publix testing the firmness of some guavas when a fellow shopper approached me. This gentleman was in his mid-fifties, graying, and had what appeared to be a pretzel stick jutting from his breast pocket. With one hand atop my shoulder, he removed the brown something or other and began waving it around, saying, “It’ll get better with time, you just wait.” He surely meant the guavas, I thought, knowing deep down he was referring to my face, which resembled that of someone who had just been mugged in broad daylight.
A similar incident occurred several weeks later at a Bloomingdale’s while I was hunting down a particular pair of pleated slacks I’d seen on television. Finding clothes to accommodate my 2:1 torso to leg ratio has proved difficult, thus I was ecstatic to not only find the aforementioned bottoms, but a button-up to accompany it. With both garments draped across my forearm, I exited the dressing room. After swiveling around from her podium, the assistant apologized for the clothes' ill fitment.
“I’m sorry you didn’t find what you were looking for,” she said. “Here, let me grab those.”
As this woman reached for the trousers, I pulled back, smiling to show I was pleased with my shopping experience. Having spotted my bitch face long before I asked to try anything on, she registered my smile as being fake. A sort of impromptu gimmick used to shield the great dissatisfaction I was feeling at the time. We spent at least ten minutes wrestling for the clothes, nearly undoing the pleats with all our tugging. I gave up after the commotion began attracting onlookers and left empty handed, disappointed with yet another interaction foiled by misunderstanding.
The word “resting” implies an individual appears agitated when in a relaxed state. Being a low-energy person, I am relaxed approximately ninety percent of the time. Meaning I go about my days looking like I’m ready to stab somebody in the face at any given moment. Of course, such a thing would never happen, however, there isn’t much I can do when my cheek muscles refuse to cooperate. Feelings of anger are never innate, arising only after someone wrongly assumes they are present. At which point they are perceived as having been there all along. A catch-22 I struggled with for the better part of my adolescence.
In order to feel better about myself, I started seeking out other bitch faced individuals. Currently at eight members, together we’ve formed a sort of RBF Avengers. All of us sit in circle formation at a local park seven-thirty p.m. each Saturday and discuss our run ins with confused folk during the week. After discourse, thirty minutes is spent on a group activity referred to as “peer admiration.” A bonding exercise where we sit in complete silence and appreciate one another’s irritated faces. Although the overall aesthetic of our meeting is rather tense, I’ll admit it is therapeutic to surround oneself with like-minded people. Granted that to a bystander, we probably resembled a group of assassins plotting global annihilation. Or worse, a bunch of silly kids angry at the world for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
Now twenty-four with the disorder showing zero signs of slowing down, I’ve accepted the dice life has rolled on my behalf. Truth be told, it has always felt as though RBF chose me, not vice versa. And in a convoluted sort of way, being worthy of selection has been a source of immense flattery. No longer phased by strangers confirming my well-being, I am content with my stagnant, Easter Island head appearance. Happy, even, as some might say. Though you probably couldn't tell one bit from my face.
Nam Hoang Tran is a writer living in Orlando, FL. His work appears in various places and collectively at www.namhtran.com. He enjoys scones.