by Angela Hamilton
She discovered the secret to happiness, but it wasn’t what she expected.
I remember it now. I was standing at the kitchen counter on the phone with my friend David, an art critic for the newspaper.
“You know what, Angelina? Wait, how old are you?”
“Thirty,” I said as I poured water into my glass, balancing the phone between my ear and my shoulder.
“Oh, thirty. You will never be better than you are now. Trust me. You will never be more fit; you will never be more healthy.”
David didn’t buy those promotions: “Better at fifty,” or “Forty is the new thirty.” But I always thought those ads (especially the Oil of Olay ones) held promise; they kept me feeling like there was something to look forward to: peace, confidence, a sexiness that is not possible in a younger decade of your life. So what was I supposed to do with this information? I hung up the phone and looked out the window. I was certain that I was supposed to put on some running shoes and plow right through that park across the street.
What is living life really?
I thought of those fields of endless sunflowers in Tuscany. The kind that make you want to jump out of the car and run through, pleased with the flowers, which were the size of large children. We had almost stopped, Steve and I, right by the edge of a field outside of Trevi. He asked me to strip down, naked, and go in. All the while he would snap pictures. I would enter carefully, then take off running. The sunflowers would bend back then rise again, emitting an explosion of bees. The idea of bug bites and angry farmers kept me from doing it. He didn’t push me, either.
I finished my glass of water and checked my email instead of running through the park. When was I going to do it? This “start living” thing.
On the radio, a psychologist talked to an interviewer about happiness, the state of happiness, finding it, becoming it. Letting it take over your life. Making it a priority. I turned up the volume.
I often felt that if I could just turn this one last corner, I would be settled; I would be happy. That corner became a multitude of things: finishing grad school, getting a good job, buying a house, fixing up the house, getting engaged. These corners have all been turned. I do not feel settled. Happiness, for me, is odd moments when I least expect it. But never as often or as sharply experienced as I would like.
“So, can we expect to find happiness?” asked the interviewer, with a slightly anxious tone.
A sigh came across the radio and filled the kitchen as the psychologist laid it out for us: the best litmus test for how happy you will be is how happy you are now.
That summer, the one with the sunflowers and the cheap rental car that could barely make it up the hill with the air conditioning on, I wore that flowered dress with the red straps, had my hair cut short, away from my shoulders. That was the last summer I loved my body, wavering in the Roman heat. I was twenty-eight.
Angela Hamilton teaches creative writing for St. Louis Community College at Meramec. She received her MFA from the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Her work has appeared in Natural Bridge, Passionfruit, and Opium Magazine. Her short story, “Rusted Nails,” is forthcoming in the anthology Peculiar Pilgrims: Stories from the Left Hand of God (Hourglass Books). She swears she didn’t hit that security guard with an umbrella in Prague’s subway.
About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.