The Last Time I Said I Was Happy

It was about twenty years ago. I’d recently been married, and I was home alone in our apartment. I don’t think I was happy about anything in particular, it was just one of those moods that come along through no act of our own or anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s just a gift. I think the gift of that mood is a little more rare for me than for many people.

“I’m happy!”

I said it aloud to myself. It felt strange. Maybe it was even the first time I’d done that. I don’t remember if I was cleaning or puttering around, if I’d just come home or if I’d been lounging.

At any rate, as soon as I’d said it, the phone rang. My grandpa had passed away.

This is where my ridiculous human brain works its magic. It’s crazy, but it’s not uncommon. I never said those words out loud again—not to myself, not to anyone else. I may have said “I’m so happy for you,” or “I’m so happy about [whatever]” but never a general statement about my whole self just feeling happy.

Year after year I told myself that the timing was, of course, mere coincidence. Grandpa was old and in poor health, and even if he hadn’t been, his death would have only been coincidence. Fate, God, Satan, Whoever, wasn’t waiting for me to say those words in order to smash my spirit.

I don’t think I’m a superstitious person. I have a black cat. My birthday is on a 13th, and it’s never been unlucky, even when it falls on a Friday. I sometimes open my umbrella in the house. I believe God is all powerful.* So what is this? What is this lingering suspicion?

Once, in the car, my teenage daughter was in a random good mood and said to me, “I’m happy.” It wasn’t very long ago—years after Grandpa’s death—but I thought of Grandpa nonetheless. “Me too,” I said. Even that felt a little dangerous. But I didn’t want my kid to have a parent who couldn’t say they were happy. I am used to pretending I’m happy when I’m not. In general, I don’t believe in having to hide your feelings, but I don’t want my kid to have to be around someone who seems unhappy all the time, so sometimes I fake it. But I never say those two particular words. With her proclamation of “I’m happy,” and my “Me too,” we continued on and had a perfectly fine day. Why was I half wondering if we wouldn’t?

The other day, I had a thought that I can’t believe I’d never had before. Maybe that phone call wasn’t mere coincidence but also wasn’t a purposeful crushing of my spirit. I don’t know what Grandpa’s religious beliefs were, but maybe my happiness was a reaction to his release from pain. Maybe my spirit knew something before I got that phone call.

Or maybe I just think too much. Wishing YOU the gift of happiness today.

*Some people consider belief in God a superstition. I looked up the etymology of the word superstition while I was writing this paragraph and was quite surprised.