I’m in bed with a fever and quite close to delirium. I know this because my last coherent thought was, “No, my head is not an apple.”
Now that we’ve got that sorted out, don’t ask me about the incoherent thoughts.
I am having an unremarkably bad day. It is bad for obvious reasons and unremarkable because you have experienced this day before. My daughters have spent the entire month of January watching Sofia the First while we play Quick, Get Each Other Sick! like a rousing rendition of Hold Onto the Hot Potato Until Your Fingers Blister and Then Let Someone Else Have a Turn. I would not recommend either game.
The plus side of having attempted suicide is that every subsequent bad day holds all the sting of a paper cut.
I’m being slightly facetious because my idea of happiness no longer hinges on convincing myself that what I have today is better than or easier than what I had yesterday. In fact, I choose to make the physical circumstances of my life progressively more difficult in the same way I ratchet up the counterweight at the gym.
At a depressed sixteen, my life had apparent ease: little was expected of me and I excelled at all of it. No one depended on me to feed or clothe or nurture them. My biggest challenges were my 6AM alarm, the four weeks of waiting that seperated me from my long-distance boyfriend, and the occasional physics problem set. And yet breathing was harder. Brushing teeth and tying shoes were harder. I was treading water in the Atlantic and any slight breeze that I judged to be unfriendly could ruin my day. The mouthfuls of saltwater were just part of the deal.
I was stuck in the Altantic for another three years before my life raft arrived: someone finally told me that happiness is unrelated to physical circumstances.
Today I believe him.
I should have been happy then, worrying about what shoes to wear to prom or where to put the trophies that didn’t fit on my bookcase. I should be unhappy today, chasing my daughter’s trail of vomit around the house with a bottle of carpet cleaner, crawling on my hands and knees because I am too dehydrated to stand.
“Should” is a misleading word.
Today I have experienced difficult and happiness at the same time. No, I’m not referring to cheap rationalizations that a chill wind cuts right through. I am living in a state of latent, lukewarm gratitude that bubbles to the several times a day — even on the hard days. Zombie mom was reading my daughter bedtime stories, waiting for the day to be over and dreaming of three-course meals that stayed where they were supposed to and a good sweat at the gym. I was reading Strega Nona, a childhood favorite of mine, and I was reading it to this tiny human that I brought into the world, that I watched develop from crying to crude hand gestures to something that is almost English. Zoe scratched her hair into a rats nest and rubbed her velvet face into my shoulder. I slowed down and enjoyed enunciating and emoting each word. The baby started crying and I just thought a satisfied yes.
A hard day, but a great one. Ultimately they all are.
Now if sixteen-year-old Veena ever got a time machine and read this blog, she would shank me with something dull (probably her violin bow), use a lot of colorful expletives and burn this post with fire. So out of respect to her, I add this footnote: changes like this do not happen with time. Time is only makes people older. Our rationalizations grow more desperate. These changes also do not happen with “positive thinking” (a fancy way to describe lying to yourself). This kind of happiness requires unconditional love, which is not as readily found or as vacuous as it sounds. If you don’t know where to start, start here.
Sixteen-year-old Veena would start beating me over the head with the rest of her violin if she saw the stock photos on that website, but you’re smarter than her. Look past that.