Happiness Doesn’t Always Come As Rainbows and Unicorns

On Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” -Heraclitus

There’s a lemon tree in the corner of my yard. Came as a scraggly gift from a stranger who lived two blocks over from my old apartment four years ago. She’d stapled handwritten posters to telephone poles-adding to the assortment of announcements about underground punk shows and dog-sitters and yard sales. When she opened her door, a strong smell of cigarette smoke and baked beans greeted me. I gathered 5 dying plants from her in an attempt to nurse them back to life. Over the course of a year, one died and I gave three away, but I kept the lemon tree.

Most days, I think our hands weren’t made for texting. For hours of typing. For the internet. They were made for warm presses, tending fires, watering flowers, planting trees, cutting through brush, snapping twigs, sewing patches. I’ve switched out my midnight exisistential crises and 2:00 am conversations for 7pm dates and lipstick-messy blowjobs. Traded the bottle for the kettle. The wish for death has quieted, yet it still beats an almost imperceptible tune at the base of my skull. The restless dream of running away has turned into a hope for hardscrabble labor-to trade this laptop for a lighthouse. For digging into frozen soil and hauling buckets. The want to live without electricity and away from wifi-to work with my body versus solely my mind.

I don’t call the ghosts anymore, but when the sun leaves at 6:15pm, my fingers twitch to dial their name. What if? A question at once alive with possibility and heartbreak, love and resignation. Occasionally, my feet trip over the heartstrings that used to threaten to hang me, but I’ve gently placed them to the side like the coiled yarn at the feet of my rocking chair. I have not found a basket that could hold them nor can I seem to wind them into neat, little bundles.

We’re on opposite ends of the yard instead of snuggled together under blankets on the couch. We’re shouting across the way instead of giggle-whispering. There have been no skinny-nine-year-old arms wrapped around my waist, no 12-year-old invitations to check out the Lego set being built upstairs, and I have given no soft forehead kisses. Resurrecting old habits and hangouts feels……….odd. Yet.

The steam still whistles from the kettle on the stove as the kitten sniffs at my hand. The tea is still welcome, even more so in the chilly air. My home away from home has become a slightly frayed sweater with an easily hideable hole. We’re still sharing recipes and spring gardening tips. The children are still running wild. The dog is still begging for food. Our crocheting and knitting needles are still in our laps. The joy is still there.

Whenever joy comes to me, it comes swiftly and silently. Behind my shoulders and beneath my ribs, it tucks itself in and radiates warmth. Almost always anticipated, and yet, joy comes from the direction I least expect it. Two sweet potatoes baked in sugar and cinnamon, sweat on my neck, dirt on my fingers? I expect to find joy in these.

But hard conversations and tough confessions? Piled up laundry and dirty dishes strewn across the kitchen? This country that reeks of blood? The spectre of death settling into the air like the morning fog? I never expect to find joy here. Lessons, sure, but happiness? Joy? What pleasure can be found in the grit, in the messy bits that don’t easily swirl down the drain?

At the moment, there is a basket of yet-to-be-folded clothes in my living room and dishes in the kitchen sink/on the island. 90% of the time that signifies a depressive mood for me, and while I am heavily struggling, these days it’s tinged with joy instead of despair. Instead of reminding me that I’m not on top of things, those dishes make me think of the spicy ramen and dumplings we cooked together, laughing at our dogs begging for scraps. Instead of making me feel like I’m not doing well, I remember leaving the laundry behind to watch Lupin and joke whenever I butchered the French.

In those hard conversations and tough confessions is deeply necessary and overdue communication. In this country that reeks of blood is righteous anger and an upswell of ‘this has to change’. In the spectre of death is relationships reconciled at last breath and being gifted the courage to truly live. All of those lead to joy as sure as midnight shivers into dawn and snow melts into spring.

“How did you get all these plants?” I ask the woman as we lug them out of her house and set them on the sidewalk.

“It’s a long story.” she sighs out as she places her hands on her hips. Casting her eyes down, she scuffs her foot like she’s fourteen instead of seventy, and I can sense the tale on the tip of her tongue. Remembering the simple-four-word-response from a friend that rescued my mind during my first bout with depression, I meet her eyes and shrug.

“I like long stories.”

That lemon tree has about three to four more years before it produces any fruit, but the promise of sunshine is there, hidden in its core. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there.

Hipster. Hooligan. Writer. Wanderer. Sad AF, but you'll learn some things.

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