There have been a few times in the past couple of years when I've tried to remember the last time I felt happy and couldn't do it. It makes me sad just to say that, to say that I had no memory of those moments when you stop and suddenly realize, "I am happy." I could say I was surviving, that I was getting by, that I was making it through the day, that I was productive, that I carried on, that I kept my chin up...but happy?
A few weeks ago I was talking to my BFF from back home and recalling going home for the holidays, how wonderful it felt to be with my family and friends, how great I slept in my mom's guest room, how loved I felt. And when I returned home, after a two-day drive, to my roommate packing up to stay the night at her daughter's house (it was New Year's Eve) and how I had to hold back shrieks of pure joy that I was going to have the house to myself and a quiet night and a shower and clean sheets and my cat and my dog curled up in my warm bed...and I realized it was JULY and the last time I could remember being happy was in fucking JANUARY (well, technically December 31). It made me sad, but before the pity could kick in, I took a giant step back and asked myself, "have you been looking?"
I hadn't. I'd been so consumed with surviving that I was failing to thrive. In pediatric medicine, this is something infants can die from: failure to thrive. It can also be applied to adults, mostly geriatric. I wondered when I became such a grown up that I forgot to look for the joy. One doesn't need freedom from worry to be happy - or money, or the perfect job, or any job, or confidence, or all of the other things on my crazy mental checklist that I waited for so I could finally thrive again.
Granted, in the past couple of months I have been able to cross a few things off that list. I have a roommate to take some of the pressure of the bills off and a new job that I really like, which means a regular paycheck every two weeks. But I was still holding back, still denying myself, still insisting on frugality, refusing to spend a penny on anything I deemed "unnecessary."
Last Saturday, I went to lunch with the roommate and a friend and we stopped at a big box store afterward so the roommate could return something. I found myself wandering the school supplies aisles with my friend, exclaiming over pencil cases and notebooks and gel pens. I had a wonderful sense memory smelling a box of crayons. I remembered that the best thing about the new school year when I was a kid was the new school supplies: a brand new notebook, pens, pencils, a binder (or if I was lucky, a Trapper Keeper, pink - and damn, do they make cooler ones now), paper and dividers and pencil cases. And the waxy smell of crayons.
Standing there, in the middle of rows and rows of Hello Kitty notebooks and pencil sharpeners and multi-packs of pens and wide-ruled filler paper, I realized this was me being happy. Feeling joy. Remembering the possibilities that came with a new school year. Thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead of me now. And I bought that box of crayons. Even if I never use them, I am going to keep them on my desk at home to remind me of what possibility really feels like. Possibility smells like a new box of crayons.