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The Happy Place
When I was seven, I had a bad day at school. It was your regular kindergartner's problem: somebody had taken my graham crackers at snack time and didn’t want to give them back. But that wasn’t the only reason behind my crying.
Things were pretty bad at home. My mom and dad were fighting a lot, my sister’s grades were dropping immensely, and she and my brother would go on “day trips” to get away from all the madness. I always saw the pile of bills on the kitchen counter when I entered the house. I didn’t even know what bills were, but Stella once told me that you have to pay money to charge my video games, use the stove, turn the light on, and basically everything else. I was old enough to put two and two together, and not paying those meant no water, no heat, no electricity.....And that worried me.
So, on that day, I completely broke down.
I locked myself in my bedroom that I shared with my older sister and started to cry. And those tears became sobs, and those sobs turned into full-on bawling. Even though the whole neighborhood could probably hear it, the only person who came to my aid was my grandma.
She knocked on the door and as I let her in, she tried to balance a tray of food in one hand while holding a cane in her other. She made it to my bed before almost falling over.
“Whoa,” I said, trying to steady her. “Are you okay, Gramma?”
“I’m fine, dearie,” she answered. “The real question is, are you okay?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, sighing. She didn’t press further. Instead, Gramma patted the place beside her on the bad. I jumped up next to her and she started smoothing my unruly brown hair back with her wrinkled hands as more tears began to fall. “You know, Zoe, life gets tough sometimes. But I devised a method to get through it all.” When the water supply in my eyes was finally cut off, she asked, ”Want to know what?”
“What?” I sniffled. Gramma smiled.
“I think of my happy place,” she replied. When I looked confused, Gramma continued. “It’s the place you most want to be right now. The place the fulfills your wildest imagination.” I reflected on this for a moment. “Try it,” she urged. “Just close your eyes and think of your happy place.”
And so, the seven year old me did. I shut my eyes and tried to block out the world for a moment. The screaming from the living room, the rap music blasting from across the hall, the sound of the phone ringing downstairs. Gone. It was just me. Me and only me.
I dreamed of candy, obviously. A wondrous candy world with trees as lollipops and cinnamon candies as butterflies. Small gingerbread houses were all the buildings in my candy world, and I lived like all the other little gingerbread girls.
When I opened my eyes again, Gramma's smiling face stared back at me. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“Good,” I responded. “Better.” She nodded.
“I usually do that and then I’m able to face all my problems again. I first figured that out when your grandpa died.” Gramma was quiet as she stared out the window, probably remembering the memories. When she snapped back to reality, I could still see tears brimming in her eyes. “Well, I better leave. More chores to do around here, you know?” So she patted my knee, left the room, and that was it. We never spoke of it again.
Kindergarten went on and as the seasons passed, Gramma’s words of wisdom echoed throughout my head once in awhile. We moved around a lot, since Mom and Dad couldn’t afford when the rent went up in one place. They figured the only solution was to move to another. My life was a constant pattern of packing and unpacking, and sometimes starting over in a new school.
The week before I started second grade, some bad news arrived. Gramma had passed away.
Before our first move, Gramma had decided it would be better for her to relocate to a retirement home so she would be in better hands. We visited her sometimes, and occasionally I would even call her so I would have someone to talk to. But it was never the same. I didn’t feel as close to Gramma as I did before.
We had a small funeral for her in the coming days and then buried her next to Grandpa. Things were different without Gramma around, since she was usually the one to lift my spirits when I was down. Her words rang through my head more often than not.
“Think of your happy place,” her words whispered. And so I did.
When Mommy yelled at me the day I got a C on my report card in sixth grade, I closed my eyes and thought of my happy place. When high school got hard and peer pressure was building on me, to the happy place I went. When college exams were coming up and I studied every waking moment of my day, the happy place was my relaxation time. When work was too much and my boss was constantly pounding on my door, the happy place was the one thing that got me to focus. When I retired and was sent to a old folks’ home by my children, I went everyday to my happy place.
My happy place changed over the years. It was hardly the same every time. As I got older, it went from my little candy kingdom to my tenth birthday, a beach in Hawaii, my wedding, a cabin in the Alps, when I first held my children in my arms, or any place I could think of that would make me smile. But every once in a blue moon, my mind would retreat ten, fifteen, twenty years, to that place in my room with Gramma. That moment became one of my favorite happy places.
But the last happy place I ever thought of was one of the most memorable. It happened on my hospital bed with the lightweight white sheets, IVs stuck into my arms, and my family milling around, saying their goodbyes. It was time for the final person, my only grandchild, to say her farewell. She clasped her little hand in mine and looked me straight in the eyes.
“Don’t go,” she pleaded with me. “Stay, please.” I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. A happy place immediately came to mind. A beautiful place above the clouds with everything you could ever imagine. The angels were singing, a bright light was shining down, and a big hand was stretched out to me. I opened my eyes.
“It’s time, Carly,” I told her. Her big brown eyes filled with tears. “Don’t cry.” I thought for a moment before passing on the one thing I had learned in life. “Listen to me now, okay? When things get hard, this is what I want you to do. Think of your happy place,” I whispered to her hoarsely.
“What are you talking about?” she asked quickly, knowing I didn't have much time left. “What do you mean?”
“Do it now,” I suggested. “Close your eyes and think of the place you most want to be right now,” I said, repeating the words Gramma had once told me. She obeyed.
“I’m dreaming of ice cream,” she giggled. “A place where there’s nothing but ice cream and I can eat it all day.” She opened her eyes.
“Good.” I smiled shakily. “ Now, remember that, alright?” She nodded.
“Goodbye, Grandma,” she said softly.
“Goodbye, Carly,” I told her, folding my hands over my stomach and allowing myself one last look around the room.
“Goodbye,” I whispered.
And this time, when I closed my eyes, there was darkness.