I cannot define happiness without simply referencing a myriad of other yellow-sounding adjectives: joyous, pleasant, euphoric, loving, warm, merry, blissful, festive, idyllic, overjoyed, elated, pleased things that don't even really mean happiness, just equate it in my head.
And that makes me nervous.
How do you define happiness? Real, emotive, unguarded and unbridled happiness? How do you describe the dizziness in your toes, the warmth at the top of your head, the numbness on the front of your teeth? The woodlike quality that comes with it, the sort of anesthetized, delirious, passionate happiness?
Without the clichés, maybe?
My logic was flawed. I thought that maybe, if I say, if I ruled out all the hair colors that someone wasn't, like red and blond and black, and their hair wasn't dyed then I would figure that they were a brunette, since that was all that was left.
A litote: I will describe happiness but what it isn't.
So what was unhappiness, then?
Unhappiness was nursing an imaginary tail between my legs. Unhappiness was my cheeks turning pink, scarlet and a rather painful puce in shame, on a square blue couch that held square blue tears. Unhappiness was fumbling with a bathroom stall's squalid lock, shaking from the brushing of shoulders with dark-eyelined girls. Unhappiness was being told I was too young to participate. Unhappiness was walking around a dank Sears at two o'clock in the afternoon, terrified I'd see someone who recognized me. Unhappiness was that doctor and her big silver teeth leaning over me, showering me with ice-water words. Unhappiness was rocking back and forth on my mother's sprawly blankets, crying my eyes out and nursing a stitched baseball of an ankle. Unhappiness was dragging the soles of muddied and weary feet up to the white line and waiting for the whistle. Unhappiness was strands of black and blond hair mixing in my face, telling me to write it. Unhappiness was a dark car on a dark street with shadows everywhere but my mother's face, asking me if that was my reality.
Unhappiness was my dead cat with her dark-day-in-California fur, sprayed out like a thin veneer in the corner of the kitchen, breathing no longer, and unhappiness was the small orange tabby with a ripped-off tail. Unhappiness was staring at the dimple on my geography teacher's chin as his bruised face told me I was never going anywhere. Unhappiness was the eclipse of my mother's face from behind a shadow of brown hair, telling me these weren't good enough. Unhappiness is the tone my father takes when he's angry and taking it out on me. Unhappiness is the welling in my gut when it's a sunny morning. Unhappiness was taking the disc out of the drive and closing my eyes. Unhappiness was poking at yellow-and-blue bruises around the knobs of my arm. Unhappiness was stealing drinks and cookies at four a.m. Unhappiness was dreaming of a drowning building, running up and down stairwells and running into people's curved bodies, with the fervor of a eager shotgun, begging God not to let the water touch me.
Unhappiness was watching my cousin throw his head back in a flurry of tears. Unhappiness was watching Graci swivel, drunk, and repeat the same story into my ear, something tragic on the heels of her voice. Unhappiness was turning off the TV every time a Victoria's Secret commercial rolled around, with all of the feathers and bright lights on pallid skin. Unhappiness was staring at the same page until my contacts dried, willing myself to understand what I was reading. Unhappiness was raising my hand halfway, just enough for my desperate, aching mind to be satisfied, but not enough to be called on. Unhappiness is waking up in the morning and not being able to feel past the anxiety. Unhappiness was watching a stoic, sarcastic boy make racist jokes until I could've tore his eyes open, and only laughing guiltily instead. Unhappiness was watching a beautiful, blond-fisted girl walk onto the dots with a heart engraved on her shoulder, and unhappiness was wishing I could pray for her.
Unhappiness was standing, awkwardly, at the back of my father's favorite restaurant, watching the needle lay peacefully in the grass. Unhappiness was taking my first shaky steps after three stony months. Unhappiness was standing up for a gay family member and watching someone's hand come into rough contact with my shoulder. Unhappiness was the serpentine, sinuous silence that followed my plea, at a table that was one part oak, four parts abyss. Unhappiness was a stocky green car drifting away from my life for several years, carrying within it a black-eyed and -haired Asian girl, with torn lips and crackly eyes; and unhappiness was gaping at her four years later, a short-chinned new girl at her side. Unhappiness was a prying text message, an desperate phone call and an angry conversation, with three girls I will never understand. Unhappiness was apologizing for being alive to a group of brown-eared boys I'd always admired. Unhappiness was a silent, irritable girl with porcelain features, who beat me at everything, and unhappiness was saying goodbye to her without the use of my mouth.
Unhappiness was a girl who couldn't remember my eye color but knew every hair on my face. Unhappiness was a root beer sloshed full of tears. Unhappiness was a friendly waiter with unfortunate hair taking our picture on his camera phone. Unhappiness was opening my mouth and no words tumbling out, reaching for something that might convey this - this frantic, hungry hatred. Unhappiness was waking up at five a.m. and forgetting where I was, where the walls were supposed to be, what my name was. Unhappiness was the thirteenth I-can't-make-it-to-your-birthday call from a sun-eyed girl who hadn't spoken to me properly since kindergarten. Unhappiness was leaving my dignity on a cackling bed, and sleeping with it for two hours, awake into the small hours of the night. Unhappiness was being intimidated by inanimate objects, unhappiness was being afraid of things that don't exist, unhappiness was missing people I've never known, unhappiness was choosing my words softly and carefully, unhappiness was the cigarettes woven in my parents' hands, unhappiness was being too shivery to close the door properly, unhappiness was melting through walls and falling onto the floor and crying like I had seen Jesus, unhappiness was four IVs hooked up onto flabby and sore arms as I went into a tube, unhappiness was throwing myself out of that room and tripping down the stairs, unhappiness was my dad's hand goading my back, unhappiness was being told to down two tall and fat cups of a shredded-paste-tasting liquid, unhappiness was staying quiet that first night when I was nine, unhappiness was coated in chocolate and prejudice and a bad stomach cramp, unhappiness was a tired and upset group of children with hands tied behind their backs and a big scowl aimed at me.
Quietly, now: Happiness, then?
Happiness was walking up the steps to that small, tidy building, and leaving my soul in the hands of a man with a plaid shirt on, yelling pleased compliments into his brown stubble. Happiness was looking up over a bland piece of tissue-white paper and getting that ovation. Happiness was looking around a small group of skinny, pajama-clad girls and realizing that it was very possible I was among friends. Happiness was closing the frustrated white door and opening the adjoining room's. Happiness was falling back into my bed and closing my eyes to airport clamor. Happiness was turning curvature patterns on the blacktop in my wheel-chair, the first piece of joy I'd had in months. Happiness was my first blue-day in faded blue jeans, and even the small, disgusting hugs I'd gotten for it. Happiness was my name being announced over a flowered, trembling voice. Happiness was my 106% on the test he said I would fail, with that glinting stark-raving-mad look in his eye, and watching it fade.
Happiness was the first hug to and from my mother that I'd had in five years. Happiness was standing silently at the bottom of the stairs, tumbling down and letting the warmth of the fire embrace me. Happiness was making cookies and cake with a grandmother that still smiles like she's twenty-five, the age she was cheated of. Happiness was finally tucking my crutches away in the back of the closet. Happiness was hanging up from the phone call that would change my life. Happiness was waking up to a coated gray sky in the pleasant hours of the morning. Happiness was the approving look thrown over by two gentle-handed great-grandparents. Happiness was his shy voice telling me I looked okay. Happiness was walking into the room without a migraine. Happiness was finding that the words came easily, like they never had verbally before. Happiness was being told by a lady in black and tightened yellow that I need only take it one year.
Happiness was identifying silently with a mercilessly-teased boy, quietly guilty that he took fault and I didn't. Happiness was mastering the feel of a French phrase on my tongue. Happiness was a short, beautiful friend with her arms reaching out to me, with her pointy knowing eyes and her piercing fingers. Happiness was a small dream that waned and loved the back of my eyelids with subtle lavenders. Happiness was a smoothly run conversation laced around the tips of my fingers. Happiness was the first good-hair-day in years. Happiness was walking by the mirror and stopping for an unaccidental, purposeful and unclenching view. Happiness was walking around with wet and slouching toes, on a landscape made of purples and crystal blues. Happiness was the cold and unyielding wind during a cold and unyielding winter with a warm and surrendering sweater draped around my arms and torso. Happiness was the focus on the camera turned way up.
Happiness was our tennis shoes reflected on pearly escalators, our fingernails painted lacquer and dreamy red. Happiness was waking up on an old gray floor, with blue sparkles all around my hair and a game controller lurking near my face, discarded stuffed animals and a Fergie poster on her wall. Happiness was holding my breath as we took up hands and paraded around the blacktop. Happiness was shaking the green-for-official man's hand and walking down those steps in my black flats, plain Bible-belt skirt, holding onto an edge of that wreath. Happiness was watching my dad down a bowl of ice cream for the first time in ages, dripping down his beard and all. Happiness was kneeling over his small downy face and feeling the very rims of my shaking, quivering hands. Happiness was a greenish-gray couch on a Paris street, a warm and sweaty Mexico siesta, and a rainy California dream. Happiness was the silver dripping down my fingers.
Happiness was marching around the mall linked arm-in-arm, forgetting the anxiety of human contact. Happiness was my adopted aunt and uncle reluctantly carrying out my favorite board game. Happiness was a silent afternoon with a girl in red and blue, without all the black and brown and white and unlit summertime hair. Happiness was his precious little face climbing towards me, hopping off of couches, climbing down the stairs, falling asleep in my lap to Dr. Seuss and my croaky voice. Happiness was turning those newborn steps into a full-out jog, sweat pouring down onto my knuckles, drowning in my pores. Happiness was a hoarse summertime and a cloudy winter. Happiness was a lilting December where I found my unlaced shoes. Happiness was seeing his gray-and-blue face after months of worry. Happiness was the moment when the phone call came through and we realized our family was perfect, cracked and skulled and perfect. Happiness was laying on the floor with the smell of a worn-out, deranged house, happiness was singing our lungs out to songs we've never quite understood, happiness was forming and lolling on my tongue after a weepy Thanksgiving, happiness was tending to the fire during my first Christmas with snow and family, happiness was sitting comfortably in the corner of a cafeteria full of kids who will never know my face, happiness was my dad's casual conversation on a bountiful future, happiness was holding up my stack of dead and unmourned fish next to the boy that I had been trying to impress, happiness was the first sprint in a year, happiness was my growling stomach dulled by the sound of pencils being sharpened, happiness was a scalding and warm shower after the scariest day of my life, happiness was the amazing way a three-year-old's toes curl. Happiness was, was, was,