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Color Me Happy
I was six years old when my parents divorced. They sat me, a cheerful, bubbly blonde, and my brother, a slightly older, wiser blonde, in front of them in our family room. Resting primly at opposite ends of the couch, they had clearly given up any pretenses of hope for their marriage.
“Jill and Ryan,” they began, their faces showing a range of emotions. My mother continued, “For a little while now your father and I have not been seeing, well, eye-to-eye.” She paused, looking pointedly at my dad to continue. After a second or so, he received the message. “Oh, yes, well, as your mother was saying, we haven’t been getting along. So we will be . . .” My mother suddenly began coughing. It was obvious even to me that she wanted to explain the situation more before reaching the point. “Dave,” she hissed angrily. My father, oblivious to her efforts, continued, speaking over her coughs. “Well, we will be getting divorced.”
Color me surprised. Sure, there had been signs. Angry yelling, hushed-up fights, separate rooms. But I was only six, too young to put two and two together and realize that these incidents meant divorce. It was too much to handle, and silent tears flowed down my cheeks. I watched as my brother nodded and left the room. I cried more while my mom patted my back awkwardly and simultaneously glared at my father. For me, this news was too much to handle.
Much happened in the months that followed the announcement. “Dave,” as he was now called, moved out and bought an apartment across town. He also found a new girlfriend, who had two of her own perfect daughters. My mom acted similarly, introducing her new boyfriend “Brad” to the family and shuffling us to the other house whenever she needed to go out.
Color me sad. It was painful enough to realize that everybody was moving on, even worse to know that I could be replaced. Was it my fault? I wondered. I couldn’t help but think so. It was over me, after all, that they had gotten into that fight about my dad not helping out with the family enough. And it was me that had said “Daddy let’s me watch this show” when my mom had restricted me from watching TV. Many times I had been the cause of these fights, the epicenter of the earthquake. And try as I might to push these fears out of my mind, they always crept back.
Since I was only in first grade, I could still struggle through academically. However, I began to drift away from my friends. Their childish problems no longer appealed to me, their games weren’t ones I found fun to participate in. While all the other kids ran around the playground, I sulked in the corner. How could, I wondered, somebody even bear to cry about their broken sandcastle when others were dealing with real problems?
There was only one way to describe it: Color me depressed. Looking back, I realize that some of the issues I faced were my parent’s fault too. We never talked about anything that had happened; nobody every brought up “the announcement.” I suppose my parents thought I was too young to understand or care, or wasn’t mature enough to talk about these things. But for me, this created a lurking cloud of sadness. I was never able to quite rid the haunting fear that additional unknown trouble might be lurking in the future. Whenever something seemed to take a turn for the better, my mind would remind me that this was just the calm before the storm and the high before the terrible crash.
I began to fall into sickness. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did, I normally woke with a cold sweat and a quick-beating heart. I didn’t tell my parents, as they were too busy with their own problems. My brother was dealing with issues of his own too. Not for the first time, I felt alone.
Everything came to a crash a couple weeks later.
While sitting in class, my teacher’s face suddenly seemed to sway back and forth. My stomach felt terrible, and I developed a cold sweat. At the same time, the world seemed to turn back, and my limbs became weak as I lost control. Just for a moment, I imagined that the world was returning to the happy place it had once been. Just for a moment, I imagined a happy, whole family, one without all the problems present now. But just as this image came to mind, a thousand little black dots seemed to march in and cloud my vision, blocking out these joyful thoughts. I tried to cry out and tell these angry soldiers to stop, to let me enjoy this moment of peace, but I didn’t have the strength. Once again, my happiness was stolen by an unforseen trouble. I spun out of control and lost consciousness.
I woke up staring into bright fluorescent lighting. To the right, I could see the dark shadows of what appeared to be a doctor. Then came the familiar “beep-beep” of the heart monitor chugging along at my side. What was I doing here? The last moment I could remember was watching my teacher read her storybook. Startled, I rose. The doctor and the blurry figures watched my progress. As my vision cleared, I realized that I was staring at my family, both old and new. They were standing together, united at this moment with their worry for me. It was the first time I had sent them together, and for some reason I felt satisfied. I suppose this was the first time I really accepted the truth. For months I had toiled onward, no really attempting to move on. Slowly, this downward wander had come to take a toll on my body, resulting in a frantic dash to the emergency room. But now I understood that my actions were helping nobody. There would always be problems, I realized. My life before the divorce hadn’t been perfect either, and just because it wouldn’t revert to the past did not mean I couldn’t be happy. This group was my family. My father, his arm around his girlfriend and her two daughters holding her hand, my mom and her boyfriend, standing with his son, and my brother. It wasn’t perfect, but they were what they were and I couldn’t keep hoping they would change. Color me happy, I thought, color me happy.
The months that followed were an uphill battle towards healing and recovery, but the lesson from that fateful day stayed with me. Change isn’t always bad, and everybody has memories from the past that they’d like to forget. It isn’t about those problems but the way one handles them that is a true judge of character, and it is this that will truly dictate whether or not you will be happy. After all, in the words of Rafiki from The Lion King, “The past can hurt . . .You can either run from it or learn from it.”