A sort of life

Happiness is such a fickle thing

RICHMOND, Va. — These days it’s hard not to find a great misery in the happiness of others. It’s a terrible thing to feel. It’s an easy thing to feel.

And though we’ve been here before, this time is not at all like before. This time is not depression. I am not depressed. I am not lost. I am not drowning in unrealized dreams, and hopes, and other things the twenty-something me seemed to relish swimming in. Swallowing. That’s not quite where I am anymore.

But I still feel that miserable thing tugging at my shirt.

I’m surrounded by good things. I have good friends. I’m dating again. I have a good job. I own a house. My family is solid, as always. I am not unhappy.

And yet, I still have that pull. That twinge that pops in my chest on a regular basis. The triggers are simple. Happy relationships. Children. The milestones of life.

I first noticed its resurgence when I was driving someplace for a long weekend. Passing cars on the left. Looking at all the people. Happy people. Married people. People living their lives, together, completely oblivious to all things outside their windows. I hated them so much.

Why I felt this way was simply explained. I separated from my wife just weeks before. I was not happy about that, obviously, and I was confronted with the unshakable reality that my time, oblivious to all other things, was over. It is easy to hate when you’re alone. Alone with thoughts. For hours. It’s too easy. But I’m a rational person. Not too selfish. Not really. And so the feelings subsided. This was my cross to bear. I shook my head. Physically shook my head as if to jerk free from the grip of feelings. I kept driving. And that was that.

That was eight months ago. And then yesterday I was having a cigarette on my patio with a friend. She rattled off the names of four or five coworkers that had recently announced, or were about to announce their pregnancies. This one, and that one. Oh, and this other one. As she talked I felt that familiar burn.

Why I felt this way was not so simply explained. Sure, shortly before my wife and I separated, we’d begun to talk seriously about having a kid. Made preparations. Doctors appointments. Literature read. And here I was confronted by something I almost had. I could not have. Their good fortune served, selfishly, to remind me of an absence in my life. That was the easy explanation. But that wasn’t it. I’ve made peace with my marital circumstance. That we did not have a kid was a good thing.

No, the heart of the matter was far less apparent. It was the who that mattered. In the time between my drive and now I found myself itching for a woman at work. She was the unobtainable type. Married. Happy? I didn’t know. I do not know her. Only passing in the corridors. Fleeting eye contact. Sometimes smiling. Most of the time not. Her mannerisms reminded me of happier times, and I let myself dream that, one day, I’d have a chance to break down the barrier that stood between us. This was a romance in my head. Not reality. Not at all. This was a game I played with myself. To keep myself sane. Occupied, as I reassembled the pieces of my life. One after another. She was an unwitting accomplice. And for that I will be forever grateful to her. And she will never know.

And then yesterday the reverie came crashing down. As my friend talked, this woman’s life, her circumstance–it became real. You can’t really get any more real than pregnant. And now? No longer could she live in my dream world. Our time was over. Finished.

And good for her. Good for her.

And now I sit alone on my patio. Smoking. Writing. Hating. These feelings will pass. All things are fleeting.

But right now: Hating.

“Happiness is such a fickle thing” is from Volume Three: Rock and Roll Part Three (2015–).

Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm

Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm

A woman rests during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC on April 2, 2007. The yearly festival celebrates spring in the Nation's Capital.

These days it's hard not to find a great misery in the happiness of others.