Many years have passed since. Time has smudged the memory like ink on damp paper. Still, I managed to remember the important parts. Or at least I think so. How do we know what is important if all the other details are forgotten?
It was the middle of summer. A muggy day in a town I’d never been before. We stayed in a small house by a green lake. My father handed me my bag from the trunk of our Volvo. A screen door creaked shut behind me. It was not long before sand had seeped into every slit in the hardwood and every crack in the sofa. My mother never could seem to sweep it all up. I remember flip flops and sunburns and tangled hair. I remember the sound of my parents’ bickering turning into shouting.
Much of that day I spent underwater. I think I liked the way the silence was loud enough to block everything else out. Maybe that green lake was my friend in that way.
I don’t remember the reason why they fought or if it had truly been as bad as I thought. And yet the reasons seemed so important then. No matter how hard I tried to ignore their voices, I found myself replaying their words in my mind. Trying to figure out how to mend their wounds. I always thought there was something to be fixed and someone who needed to do the fixing. I thought I was that person. I know now that I never was.
My father took me outside. We sat side by side in plastic chairs. The sunlight had disappeared behind the trees. I could feel his eyes on me, mine stared ahead; too weak to look back without giving into the tears. He told me it wasn’t my fault. Then he told something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since that night.
“Ilee, how are you supposed to know when you’re truly happy if you don’t know what it feels like to be sad?”
I stayed quiet and the next night put my bags back in the trunk of our car. Sand had found its way into my socks, in the spaces between my toes. I guess that was a part of that place that I carried home with me.
No one said much on the car ride home. And when we finally got home, things went back to the way they were. I still thought about what my father had told me. I found myself thinking of my life in terms of opposites. Could I only know love if I first understood hate? Could I only really know wealth if I once knew misfortune? These are questions I still ask myself. But maybe it is not about knowing but appreciating. Perhaps you cannot truly appreciate happiness without first experiencing sadness.
For the rest of that summer, I appreciated every moment of happiness with more vibrancy. Or perhaps it just felt more vibrant in comparison to what I had felt that day by the lake. Or maybe there is no a difference.