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LAce Posted Monday, December 15th, 2008
Happiness
Shane Ryan Bailey

Things are better now, aren’t they? After all, it is Christmas Day, and she is not alone like so many other women out there, abandoned by loved ones, engulfed in a cloud of confusion, bitterness, and self-pity, their minds eddying around their pain, the memories of former injustices. This could’ve been her fate. (How she knows!) This could become her fate. (How she knows!) But for now, the vicissitudes of life have hurled her onto a different course. She may be living alone (except for one cat named Rumples) in a small apartment, but she does have friends (coworkers from her telemarketing job) whom she will occasionally eat lunch and gossip with, and she is a frequent guest in the apartment of her son (she is, in fact, there now, sitting in the living room, a warm mug of cider between her palms) which he shares with his steady boyfriend. “My two boys,” she calls them. How blessed she is! What two wonderful boys! How thoughtful of them to invite her over so often for meals, movie nights, game nights with their friends, and even shopping excursions, or a trip to the museum. How they love her! (Or have they, all this time, simply pitied her? She does wonder.) From her position upon the sofa, she surveys the room, taking in the Christmas décor her son and his lover have carefully put on display: the Christmas tree with its gold ornaments and sparkling white lights; bayberry-scented candles; pomander balls and cinnamon sticks within a bowl upon the coffee table; wreaths centered within each window. This is Christmas, she thinks. . She is referring, of course, to the past, those turbulent years when her son was quite young and her husband was alcoholic, abusive. Those were the years she learned to conceal her black eyes and bruised cheeks by allowing her bangs to droop down over her face. Luckily, she was a stay-at-home mother, but even so, a woman must leave the house now and then to go to the grocery store or run some other small errand. On such days, she hid behind a pair of sunglasses. If one couldn’t see the bruise—the damage—was it even there? Did anything actually happen? And even if something bad had happened to her, was it anyone’s business? Back then, she had nowhere to run. What, scoop up her son and flee to her parents? They would’ve scoffed, blaming her in their usual accusatory way. As a teenager, she had been a rebellious, petulant girl, challenging her teachers’ authority, getting into verbal spats with other girls, landing herself in detention—events her parents never allowed her to forget. In fact, just before her wedding, her mother clasped her hand and said, “He’s too good for you, you know? He’s kind. Pure. I’m sure he’s a virgin. His family is so-o-o religious. What he sees in you, your father and I do not know. Just don’t blow it, sweetie. Don’t screw this up.” Her husband was pure and gentle, the product of a religious upbringing. Later, he allowed the circumstances of life to alter him. When the baby arrived, they soon became poor (not that they were rich to begin with). Unable to find affordable daycare, she quit her job at the fabric store to stay home and care for the boy. Her husband worked at a meat processing plant, coming home in the evening with the scent of blood and ground chuck upon him. After cleaning up and changing into a new set of clothes, he ate a quick dinner before heading off to his part-time evening job behind the counter of a gas station. Despite the extra paycheck, they were always behind in their payments. He worried about the money, turning to hard alcohol in an attempt to mollify his anxieties, only to return home very late at night, swaggering and cursing and knocking over furniture. She became the target of his fury. (What had she done?) If she was lucky, she would only receive a slap across the face from her husband—but how often does a man slap? Their son, awakened from sleep by the sound of their quarrels, would appear in his bedroom doorway, rubbing his eyes, crying. Like a good mother, she would hurry to him, ushering him back to bed, and assuaging his fear by explaining that what he heard was only part of a nightmare. (That was the truth, wasn’t it? A nightmare?) Now her son is grown and does not bring up the past. Perhaps he discusses it with his boyfriend but never in her presence. They are a good match, her son and this other young man. Seeing them now causes a pang of envy within her, but she quickly ignores it, brushing it away as one shoos a fly. She looks up at the Christmas tree and is reminded of how it was on New Year’s Day that she left her husband. He came home in the early hours of the morning, inebriated and violently angry, knocking over a lamp and then breaking down and weeping. (New Year’s can do that a person—the sudden realization that the past year did not bring about any change in one’s circumstances.) She tried to console her husband, encourage him, but he threw her off, leaving the room and then returning with a roll of duct tape in his hand. He pinned her to the floor. She kicked, struggling to free herself, hot tears pouring down her cheeks, as he placed duct tape over her mouth and shouted, “Bitch! I don’t want to hear from you anymore! You hold me back! You and that kid have held me back!” After beating her, he retired to the bedroom where he passed out, snoring loudly. It was then that she made her move, grabbing clothing, toiletries, her son, and heading out to her car. Just before shutting the front door, she looked at the scruffy little Christmas tree—the one purchased from Goodwill—standing in the living room, and she thought how sad it appeared. She wept. Later, her parents took her and the boy in, and as predicted, they blamed her for her marital failure. Amazingly, her husband never came after her and signed the divorce papers. For years afterward, she still had to deal with the man, dropping the boy off at his home on weekends and holidays. Just before her ex-husband died, he blamed her for their son’s lifestyle, “his condition,” as he called it. Now the Christmas tree becomes blurred before her. Tears pour from her eyes. She spills a few drops of cider into her lap. The boys have ceased talking. They are, in fact, staring at her. “Mom, what is it? What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” she says. “Mom, is it something we said?” “No, no.” Her son leans forward and places his hand upon her arm. “I’m just so happy, that’s all,” she says. “You two boys. The three of us. My little family. Just so happy.”

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