By Stephanie He | Based on an interview conducted with Caroline Le

Stephanie He is a student at Impact Academy of Art and Technology in Hayward, CA. This story was written as part of a classroom project led by our Germanacos Fellow, Maria Bucon-Scales. After reading oral histories and The Things They Carried, Maria’s students interviewed a narrator about an artifact, something they carried, and turned those interviews into short nonfiction stories. Together with an image of the artifact, this collection of stories display the range of human emotions and experiences. Maria published their work into two volumes, so that students could see their writing in print.

HAPPINESS

Morning dew tiptoed into the infancy of the day as people rose from their haven and shuffled their feet to their jobs. On the roofs of several buildings, birds huddled together like peas in a pod. The sun would seldomly come out to greet the town and shower it with warmth and joy. In contrast, the people felt everything but that. It was solemn season all the time, and it never seemed to go away because everyone was jammed into the soul-sucking cycle of constant angst and tension from the unavoidable system. The entire country was an ant colony that worked toward the success of a queen ant that wasn’t even theirs. Dreary faces were everywhere: in colorful coffee shops that played bubbly music, in dimly lit diners where time was never-ending, in loud amusement parks where happiness was a forced facade and a fabrication of the reality, and so forth. No matter how hard they tried, it was impossible for them to muster a genuine smile. This wasn’t living. This was an imprisonment in pure melancholy and containment of joy. They knew that they were tainted with the predetermination of a terrible life, but did nothing, for they felt that striving to achieve something that was so out of reach wasn’t worth the struggle.

Happiness was a guarded display of the finest, the most rare, and the most delicate gold ring that was placed within the deepest and unknown area of the museum. The first to reach the hidden room was Sue, who met an old woman with the whitest hair that she’d ever seen. She showed Sue how to find and appreciate the glimmer of light in the vast darkness. Sue took the initiative to start appreciating the mailman that delivered her daily mail, and found pleasure in driving on the smooth road that she had never considered though she takes it everyday to work. The old woman taught her to always have unconditional love even for those that have temporarily lost their way, like the man that she met on High Street who would drink his problems away. No matter how many times he would make the same mistake, Sue would try her best to stay patient and fight the obstacle with him.

If Sue was a sunflower, the old woman was the sun that brought her to life and nourished her with growth. She was pure, organic happiness and an epitome of a warm spring day in life form. Whenever Sue saw her, she would start to feel warmth. Sue adored the way her curly, white hair flowed in the wind and reflected the vivid but soft golden tone of the morning sun in the midst of April, and how her jolly persona would make her feel less bereft of color. She’d cook the most delicious dishes that Sue had ever had, which were so good that for a moment she felt like she was dreaming. Sue wondered how a person could carry such an infinite amount of happiness, love, and optimism inside of them despite being exposed to so much gloom.

When Sue reverted back to her old self the old woman would remind her of the wonderful things in life, like how the multicolored flowers outside of her house thrived even though weeds surrounded them, thus pushing her back toward a positive outlook. And for the first time in what felt like a million years, Sue finally understood why the old woman squealed with delight and danced around her garden when her tomato plant finally produced a small, but sturdy tomato after two years. She felt like a baby chick that had just hatched out of its egg.

Happiness wasn’t the grand feeling of winning a million dollars, but the feeling of inner peace. Happiness was feeling content with the little pleasures in life and making the best out of the worst situations. The old woman showed her the way to the hidden display and taught her how to gain possession of the distinct ring. Whenever Sue looked at her heavy, gold ring, she thought about the old woman. She thought about sunshine and the refreshing winds of spring. But mostly she thought about unconditional love, appreciation, and being happy no matter what.