Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Companions We Keep

Grandma Suzanne always said, “I take my happy with me wherever I go.”

I always thought happy was grandpa’s name.

When grandpa retired, I was just learning to read. The banner said Congratulations Mark! Best Wishes.

“Who is Mark?” I asked my mom.

“That’s Grandpa,” she said.

“I thought his name was Happy, because grandma always says she is taking her happy with her.”

My mom’s sister overheard this and she laughed as my mom did the best she could to keep her face straight.

“Oh, Elliot, honey. That’s just an old saying Grandma likes,” she said.

“That’s right,” know-it-all Aunt Bee said. “The entire saying is ‘happiness is not a destination. It is a companion we can choose to accompany us on our journey.’”

I exhaled through a clenched jaw. My welling, deep black eyes squinted to slits. I turned and stomped away. I heard oh my and snickers following me. I hid beneath a row of coats in the hallway leading to the restrooms. I situated myself in the corner, well concealed among the bunched coats.

That is what I took with me — memories of teasing, laughter, and gut-twisting embarrassment. I carried my thoughts of my own stupidity.

I watched ankles and legs. From my vantage point I could only make out cropped people as they walked in the hallway.  
Mom came out and called a hushed, “Elliot.” A half-heartedly attempt to reach me, I thought. Dad stepped behind her and convinced her that the concern she held was unfounded.

“He will be fine. He’s just a little embarrassed,” I overheard Dad say. “He’s just a boy who needs time alone to get himself together.”

I should muscle through and be a tough guy like my father, I thought. My dad never did anything embarrassing. He played hockey with the guys from the health network where he practiced orthopedic medicine.  

“Are you sure he’s okay?” mom asked.

“I’m sure,” Dad said.

“You are probably right,” she conceded.

I watched ankles, shins and shoes parade back and forth. I’m not sure how long I sat there. As time passed, voices got louder, steps got quicker. The party was building momentum. Laughter was populating. Inhibitions were vanishing. Happy was a promiscuous companion of all the party guests.

Well nearly all. I only had shame to carry with me. Grandma Suzanne came to me then. At an age when her peers walked with orthopedic shoes, she wore a beige, wedge sandal. Her slender legs hadn’t lost their tone, thanks to her regular practice of yoga and Zumba.

She often said, “inactivity was akin to playing dead, and she had far too much living yet to do.”

Grandma Suzanne described herself as young, which she justified because she could still sit on the floor.

“Children sit on the floor,” she always said.

It was unsaid that old people sit in Barcalounger or arm chairs with ottomans to put their heavy feet up. She gave her chair up at gatherings to people half her age.  

Grandma knew where to find me, and magically she knew just the right time to seek me out. She crawled right under those coats across from me. She didn’t say anything. She just sat there in her pantsuit and waited for me to acknowledge her. I couldn’t wait long. I looked up at Grandma and didn’t feel a need to explain what I was doing or why I was sitting there. She didn’t need me to express how angry I felt when Aunt Bee laughed or how lonely I felt after leaving the party.

I sensed her calm. I felt peace just being near here.

She stretched her arms and said, “Won’t you please join me? Happy is inside watching the band. She’s waiting for you.”

I returned her smile. I nodded. I placed my hands in hers with age spots that wouldn’t lie. I loved that woman.

We danced and laughed. I noticed Mom, well into her swaying stupor, color her face with relief when she saw me with Grandma.   

I was with Happy then. Grouchy was too heavy a companion, I decided.