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An Inch of Happiness

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I endowed the house – it was yellow, with white trim, hidden behind another, with a courtyard in between– with a certain amount of magic– that’s what made everything so hard to forget when it was all over. It was real magic – silvery fibrous strands that coursed through the rooms, connecting the willowy feeling of the bedroom with the soft wood downstairs. I thought that if I looked away enough, the wooden floor would burst out with some type of light – long hidden, and begin its magical ascent to the other realm – that of poetry and art – the one that lies within our brains when we sleep, and is chased away by the clearness of the sunshine in the morning. There is, perhaps, similar magic endowed upon teachers that are fancied, and brother’s friends, their position in life making them three times as interesting and unattainable as the same face seen on the street or in an Italian Ices Shop. This house, bursting with magic, called me to it again and again.



Then there was the band. The first time – after the play – our singing turned the moon even softer and darker than it had before, till the magic was simply pouring from the walls, bending the plastic shades into shapes. He was different then – a part of the magic – when I left he would fall back into the wall, become part of the house again. His eyes kept falling into mine, and I liked it, I liked it so much! I’d never had a boyfriend before. I went home and smiled before I opened the front door. I smiled inside my house; I smiled while walking up the stairs. It was a lot of smiling.

There was another time – a long time after. The day was extremely green – it was translucent – you could see through it and by the edge of the day – the afternoon – it began to cast long shadows. It was the art class that did it – it was the art class through and through. Sitting there at the pure white table –anyone could have seen through that table – and nerves – building and building – until he came, swinging his long dangly piece of hair onto my etching. And then there were the weekend plans – he sat there talking to them about them –the weekend stretched on like an unknowable kite – caught in the air, you could see the string, but you could not see where the kite had gone. Always looking at him, and then it would build and build inside of me, like a thick unknowable force, like cream frosting and sprinkles and the cakey meat: spongy and yellow. I stepped onto the pavement afterwards, and it was blue and cold, and so blue, and I wondered why no one else noticed that the day had a big – a huge – gaping hole in it. The sky that day just kept getting grayer and I wanted to see it – I wanted to see the gray – I didn’t notice that the gray was building up inside me – so thick and strong that it would still be there the next morning. I knew what I needed though – the whole day I thought I knew what I needed – for him to kiss me, for someone to kiss me.



And then we were sitting in the dark. I hadn’t even wanted to be with them – but I knew that I wanted this blue out of me and I didn’t know another way. We were sitting in the dark. Rebecca was against the bed and Joseph Heller lay on top of it. I needed – I needed for the night to get blacker – I needed so badly for the stiff sterile gray – it could push you and pull you – to turn into black – the dark black – so that you could escape and not see anymore. We were sitting in the dark. I tried to think of dark games – the kind that force you to turn yourself into only your secrets- pretend that you are only your secrets. I just didn’t want any of it anymore – of course it wasn’t that bad – I didn’t know what I had. It didn’t work. There were no secrets – nobody had any secrets. Everyone was talking at once – Joseph Heller kept talking about poop, and Rebecca thought she had secrets; she wanted us to see the dark side of her schoolwork. Somebody turned the light on. How desperately I didn’t want it to be over – to have to go back to my room and be in my clean crystal bed.

I think even at the time she knew – when I asked if they could sleep over. When I begged. Greg certainly knew. He was sitting waist deep in all the paint that makes you somebody’s friend’s brother. It made up his clothing, his hands, and his hair –a black fussy mop on the top of his head.

“Well…I like Russians a lot. I like Russian girl’s a lot”

“Do you only date Russians?” I’d never had a boyfriend.

“No! I date all Jewish girls!”

“Did you know that…that there was a study done where…people stared into each other’s eyes for an hour straight, and then they fell in love with each other?”

“Ok, let’s try.”



I’d never had a boyfriend.



Then it was the rain, on the car ride home. I was happy about the rain, I guess: it meant we got to drive them home. I stood there on the drenched pavement, staring as they all went into that house; the magical one. I can see why I thought it was magic.



And then: a car ride.



Greg: “Ok, what do you wanna talk about?”

Sage: “I don’t know, I just like…uch!”

Greg:“Oh, ok. Well sometimes I feel like ‘uch!’ and then I just don’t do anything for a week. It’s really damaging actually. I usually don’t do any homework and get behind in all my classes.”

Sage: “Oh, haha, I totally do that, and like you know that feeling like: when’s this just gonna end?” She added the bad words into it to make it seem more impressive. (I added the bad words in so it would be impressive).

Greg: “Is this when I turn for your street?”

Sage: “Oh yeah. No, next one. Hehe”

Greg: “Yeah, I always forget where to turn and then…”

Sage: “haha, yeah, totally”



I went home and the insides had been sucked out of my body. I was all skin, no bones, no heart, no liver. It was disgusting in my bed, I wanted to be in someone else’s body. I still don’t like my skin a lot. It stayed with me the next day, in my SAT class – that disgusted feeling. I didn’t know where it came from. I wrote down the conversation, then drew over it with angry black lines. I formed shapes. I turned it in for my art class. My art teacher hung it up on the wall. Then the feeling was gone – it was just the black lines on the lined paper. How had it managed to upset me so much? My art teacher didn’t know why I took it down after class, why I crumpled it up into a narrow ball and threw it out after I left the classroom. I don’t know why either. It was just a conversation.

He wrote poetry. It was all dark and harmless: words that he thought sounded good together. “Black bagged on the broken abbots back from 10,000 years of severed skin grafts and solid sedentary pancake stacks” I didn’t like it very much, but I told him it was good. I asked him about his poetry class. I wanted to know about this life, the one that a friend’s brother leads. He went to community college on the weekdays. He rode his bike there, cause he didn’t have a car. They lived at home with their mother: Russian immigrants in a yellow house: the upstairs had only three rooms.



The day that I got my first boyfriend was the same day my dad informed me I was taking the SAT in three weeks. It wasn’t the same day really, I just never went to sleep. It was also Greg’s birthday. In the morning Vita and I went to Second Spin to get him a birthday present. I walked barefoot. I was so lucky to be involved in the things that happened at the magic house. Those days I would spend the entire day at their house a lot.

After the birthday lunch, which I came to, we went home. She gave him his present. He wanted something else. Both of his friends called and said they couldn’t go to the concert with him. They felt bad. He felt worse. We went upstairs to his mom’s room because the day was languorous and hot. Sun beat in through the parallel slats. The floor was gray and kind of dirty, so we lay down on it. He lay against the bed, and Vita and I lay against each other, with our legs overlapping.



“Am I arrogant?” he asked. He did this a lot, asked about negative character traits. I didn’t think he was arrogant. The room was very sunny.



“No, you’re not arrogant” I said.



“But what if I am!” he moaned.



“Saying your arrogant is like…Vita, do you think I’m too much like a gorilla?”



“No”



“See?”



“I think I’m arrogant”



“I think Sage was saying that you saying you’re arrogant is like Sage saying she’s a gorilla”



“I don’t have anyone to go to the concert with.”



After the concert, Vita was really tired and went to sleep early. He asked me if I wanted to go on a walk. We’d never gone on a walk just us before, but I didn’t think much of it, because I was sure that he thought of me as his sister’s friend. We walked to Douglas Park, and he sat down cross-legged on a big rock, and stared out into the distance, seeming to ponder something. Then he looked down at me.



“Do you ever feel like…” he began. There was a street light above his head, which cast his face in an orange light. “Do you ever feel like…everything you say is a script?”



“Umm...what do you mean?

“Well, just…Ok, well, I remember in seventh grade – my teacher told me…that everything anyone says is just part of a script. No one ever says anything new.”

“Like, what kinds of things”

“Well,” he leaned forward on his rock so that he could teach his lesson. “it’s like this. When you meet someone, you say ‘hello’ and then you say ‘how are you’ and the whole conversation is planned out before it’s begun” My hair felt stringy under the drug hat. I had to go to the bathroom.

“yeah, but…I think that’s just politeness”

“Ok, I’ll just get to the point” he said, and then he came down off the rock to sit across from me on the cool ground. He looked off across the pond, as if thinking hard, again. Then he looked me straight in the eyes and smiled.

“Have we been flirting?” he asked.



* * *



He twisted the cotton covers around me, tucking me in to bed, but I didn’t need them, because it was warm outside. I was not myself in this night time. Under the covers, I was not myself – I did not harden – I remained soft. In the morning I would walk into the same bathroom – the one that looks out over the alleyway and into the neighbor’s windows, but the light would glow softer and sweeter. It would be my bathroom too, even more; I would inhabit the magic house.
I couldn’t think of all the things that would be different now.

A light switched on in the hallway. The crack under the door swelled up with light. I pulled my happy body up and untangled myself from the covers, then walked lithely to the door, pressing my whole hand against the knob to open it. I seemed, to myself, so much older than the small figure that was sitting, very much by herself, on the carpeted landing of the stairs, tucked in between the wall. I sat down next to her, with a kind of understanding grace.



“Hey Vita,” I said, an inch of happiness brushing into my voice. I wondered if he could hear us talking quietly on the stairs.



“Hi,” she whispered back, her voice quavering. The girl had been crying.

I was tired, very tired. I closed my eyes and did not think about anything, and then, compassionately, took hold of the girl's hand, whose fingers were soft and cold.



“Let's go to bed,” I said, and we both went to sleep in the large bed of the girl's mother, which had maroon velvet covers. I took a long time falling asleep, even with the girl beside me.



In the morning, I looked out the window at a sky of very deep grey with a lovely new openness. Everything clothed with something fresh and new and gold.



The mirror said that I was a very different person, a very completely different person. I was wearing the same white shirt from last night, and my dirty brown hair ran in curls down through to my chest. I was looking at myself as though I, myself knew something that I myself didn’t know.

I crept down the beige stairs, my heart somehow bursting, then looked at the sleeping figure on the couch He seemed distant, far away. Not like I had anything to do with him. I sat quietly at the small wooden table and watched until his breathing became shallower, and he sat up and joined me at the table.

It would take too much to explain what I didn’t like about him – the way he didn’t listen to me. The way he always said too much about himself, as if he had to get everything out now, in the first week, like a garage sale item that had flaws that you would have to learn to live with. He didn’t like his butt. He often felt uncomfortable in social situations. He’d once flunked biology, and had to take it over the summer.

The final straw happened on a Thursday. To make the situation more awkward, I was staying at their house because my parents had accidentally planned business trips on the same day. I asked him to drive me to my house to water the plants. I wasn’t sure what to do about him, but I wanted to try kissing him before I made any decisions. In the dark, we let the water spray over my mom’s entire crop of lettuce. Then we went to my room. We could’ve left, but we lingered. I wanted him to see the clothes hanging in my closet, the picture tacked up on my bulletin board. Then maybe we’d know if the spark might kindle for the first time since we’d started dating, or, like a baby deer that doesn’t stand up in the half hour after it’s born, die out as soon as it began.



Somehow we ended up sitting on the floor, leaning against my queen size bed. I scooted in closer next to him, and he put his arm around my shoulders. Suddenly I knew what he meant about feeling like you’re in a script. Nevertheless, I felt a warmth creeping into my body. It wasn’t very strong – just a tingle. I chased that feeling to no end. I looked into his eyes. I read aloud intimate parts of my diary. I giggled. The room suddenly seemed to me strange – it had gotten five times bigger in the time we’d been sitting there. I slipped out from under his arm, and dimmed the light switch.

I didn’t think – no, I knew this was not how it was supposed to happen. He was supposed to sweep me away, know exactly what to do, lead me effortlessly on the road to passion and romance. Instead we were too very awkward teenagers, sitting in a stuffy room, and kneeling to make our lips meet for one grimy second – not a kiss – more like how you would touch someone with an extremely contagious disease. I pulled away immediately. His lips were narrow and wet. It was very unpleasant. I got up and turned the light all the way on. Vita had already called me twice. I told him that we had to go – that she would wonder where we were. Then I told him that this wasn’t really working – that maybe we should just be friends. He said I was probably just confused because I was so tired, and that we would talk about it in the morning.



In the morning, the sunlight crept in just as it had less than a week ago. I was sleeping in the same bed, in the girl’s room. But the sunlight was strange and rude this time. It burned me. I could tell he was trying to recapture the spark. He lay down on the floor next to the bed, where the girl had slept. He looked tiny in the daylight, the sunlight robbing from him even the mystery of darkness.



When we went downstairs, he offered to make eggs. He cracked four yolks into the pan, and put the glass cover on. We watched the glass turn foggy from inside the pan. Then I broke up with him. I was surprisingly good at it, considering I’d never even thought of this necessity before. I said “It’s not you, it’s me.” I told him I was stressed out, I wasn’t ready for a relationship. Somehow he looked like someone had kicked him in the stomach. He made me sit on the couch and tell him again. I didn’t know why he wanted me to make him feel bad. I didn’t say it. I didn’t say that the worst possible thing I could think of in the world was spending more time with him, ever, much less being his girlfriend.

The eggs started burning. “I…think the eggs are burning”. He took a last look at me, then walked slowly back into the kitchen. He was good at using the spatula to unstick the slightly burnt eggs from the pan. I went into the kitchen and stood next to him as he salvaged our breakfast. The shock of breaking up evaporated, and we were just two people standing in a kitchen making eggs. We took them outside, and sat on the low brick wall in front of their house. The eggs weren’t very good – it was hard to cut them with my fork, and they tasted like rubber. The finality of what had just happened sank in. I was no longer a girl with a boyfriend, I was just plain old Sage. I didn’t really mind. I wasn’t plain old Sage, anyway. I could write about what had happened. And I had learned something. Sometimes the things that seem the best turn out to be the exact opposite.





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