The items on my to-do list have been languishing there for so long because I can’t bear to spend Saturday, my one potentially free and utterly unscheduled day, on chores, but if I spend about three Saturdays that way, the whole list should be done, so besides having Ray over to deal with turntables last weekend, I did some mending that had been waiting for a while, and vacuumed, and started my Christmas cards. I hadn’t cried over Carlos in several weeks, but recounting his death in my holiday letter brought a flood of tears: it must really have happened if it’s in the holiday letter.
By the way, when Ray returned my initial phone call to him, he said, “This is, like, Ray?” From that, I knew I would like him, which I did.
I’m continuing to pick up some good tidbits from Rubin’s The Happiness Project, including one man’s advice that the best way to have a happy marriage is to leave at least three things unsaid each day. I tried it with Tom after dinner at Santaneca Saturday evening. I very often treat him when we go out to eat, which lately is almost every week, because it seems wrong to demand ten or fifteen dollars from someone who is a special ed teacher. I can afford to pay for both of us, and consider it my way of supporting special ed and thanking Tom. However, if he fails to verbally express gratitude, I tease, “Aren’t you going to thank me for that lovely dinner?”
This is the downside of being utterly correct. I will cheerfully wait for ten minutes while a pedestrian crosses the street in a crosswalk, but if the same pedestrian jaywalks in front of me, I’ll try to run him down.
But on Saturday, thinking of that sage advice, and remembering that the point of doing a good deed shouldn’t be to receive a thank-you (though Rubin mentions several times her motivating desire for “gold stars,” which I, like probably most of us, share), I decided not to say it. And then right before we parted in the hallway back in our apartment building, Tom thanked me for the lovely dinner. But that was a bonus; I already felt good about exercising some self-control.
For a while there, it seemed that I was feeling happy again, that I had survived the loss of Carlos, but over the weekend, it was as hard again as it had ever been. I found myself wishing that hopeless wish, “Please live again, please live again,” and thinking that nothing will ever really be fun henceforth. It’s lonely not to be able to say, “I miss you so much,” to the person I most want to say it to. He’s not here, including not being here to discuss the fact that he’s not here. If I could tell him, “I miss you so much,” what would he say? I can’t quite imagine what his exact words would be, but they would be placid and comforting.
After brooding for a while, some hours or days or weeks, I might remember that it wasn’t always fun with him. We triggered each other quite frequently, and along with all the pleasure and joy, there were a number of very difficult times. It is simply false to say, “If only Carlos were here, I'd always be happy.”
Once I get to that point, and I’ve been around this loop any number of times in the past nine months, then I decide that maybe I actually am never going to recover from this and maybe I am going to be sad forever. Maybe I’m finished in some fundamental way. Maybe this is some sort of punishment for past misdeeds which I can expiate by gracious acceptance.
Finally, I arrive at: all right! All right! I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my life. So be it. I accept it.
And since I’m going to be miserable forever and I have graciously accepted it, expecting nothing more, I may as well turn my attention to discovering exactly what the experience of misery is. What is it? How does it behave? Is it always the same? Does it shift? What, precisely, does it feel like?
And that is the turning point, always. I arrived at that point Sunday night and lay in bed investigating my misery, and by Tuesday, I felt absolutely, perfectly happy again, and all the more so because I was dazzled by the sheer stunning fact of not feeling miserable. It did not in fact last forever! It passed—and so will this happiness, but right now there is utter well-being, and it is remarkable.