My friend sent me an email the other day. I read it in the morning, when I woke up. It was 7 in Edinburgh; 11 in Los Angeles. Yesterday. She was probably still awake, over there. I imagined what she might be doing. Was it a quiet night or was she out somewhere? I read her email on my phone, with the covers pulled up over my head to chase away the already persistent brightness of morning.
Here is something she wrote:
Happiness is not anything to count on or by any measure the emotion or quality to strive for in life, but it does still have its purpose. At the very least it’s a way of sensing that you’ve done something right. And you don’t need to be afraid of that.
She stuck it at the end of a paragraph and then moved on. Her words moved on, but I got stuck in what that meant. The idea of happiness as a goal. The idea of happiness as something to work at. Her acknowledgment of this difficulty, this struggle inside me to understand what that means. What does it mean to be happy? What does it mean?
At the very least it’s a way of sensing that you’ve done something right…
Another friend sends me photographs of the two of us. As 18 year olds in my backyard. As 20 year olds in Boston. As 27 year olds at her wedding just the other week. We haven’t lived in the same place since the summer I showed up crying at her work. She worked at a restaurant. She put me into a corner table and fed me a plate of squash ravioli. She brought me beer after beer. I don’t know how long I stayed there. I might have gone home with her. I certainly went home with her some nights and we sat on her bed or at her kitchen table and I remember her telling me that everything will get better. Things will get better. Things cannot get worse.
Things got worse. Things got better. Things floated somewhere in between. There was a perpetual struggle. Four years after that I sat down on my other friend’s bed—the one who wrote about happiness—and I cried. And her eyes widened, and her body tightened. I thought I had done something wrong. And then she said—I have never seen you cry. I thought you were never going to cry. I was literally waiting for you to cry.
This is just to say that there is incredible clarity that comes from distance. There is clarity in the air here. I wake up alone and look out my windows and there is clarity in the stones of the building across the street. There are people I miss, people I feel so completely separated from, but they are alive. They exist. I can video call them and spend long minutes just looking at their faces lit up by a sun that has already set over here. To be away is to be lonely, sure, but to be away is also to feel so incredibly excited for that day you return.
Oh and also, yes. I miss my cat.
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