I sit in the far back corner of the classroom on the third floor of this institution, situated right next to the floor-to-ceiling window which the old alder tree hovers over. Fall approaches ever so quietly, revealing bird nests and squirrel headquarters as the leaves unhinge themselves from the branches. The high pitch of Mrs. Bradford’s voice pulls me back to reality as she starts waving the chalk in front of the board, casting agonizing pain over us, that is, another assignment.
‘Happiness is a thing with feathers.’
I watch as the letters dance mockingly around in my mind while Mrs. Bradford proceeds to explain how she wants us to think about the assignment. Following her monotonous voice, my drowsy eyes struggle to stay open – they will snap toothpicks in half – as other students got to immediate work with their clicking pen and rustling papers. I wonder to myself: she did say think about the assignment, not write. Once again, I let my ‘smartness’ get the better of me and am whisked away by the rattling branches and the chirping birdlings. The word ‘feathers’ echo in the back of my mind as I watch the mother bird fly in from the edge of my vision to feed her starving young.
If happiness is indeed a thing with feathers, it most likely flies. Establishing that in my brain, my mind takes a flight down memory lane, morsels of images come flooding to me.
There’s always comfort and happiness in knowing my parents care for me unconditionally – like the way the mother bird takes care of her children. The touch of my two old life-givers as soft as a feather, yet holding a love more substantial than all mountains.
I turn to see Mrs. Bradford catching z’s in her armchair, slightly rocking with an unavoidable squeak, and my mind wanders off again. Happiness washes over me like a harbor wave when I see my friends in the back of my head; they’re always there at the hardest times, how we’ve been through thick and thin, rain and shine to come this far. I’m forever grateful to have known them, people who will one day leave their mark on this world and change it for the better. As they say, birds of a feather flock together.
Brushing the curtains, my head turns a ninety degree clockwise and I see him. My first crush. Once again, I am overwhelmed by the exact same feeling when I saw him for the first time in my entire life – happy. My heart races faster than the speed of a hummingbird and I seem to levitate from my seat. I still remember the adrenaline rushing through my veins when I finished my first poem about him (looking back at it, it was nothing but corny). I was on cloud nine – cloud ten even! – when I let the ink seep through the paper, telling the yellow scrap about how the flowers that he never gave me silently change colors when he talks, how the statistician can’t even deal with my heart rate when he smiles and how when he closes his eyes, the whole world stops to take in the view. As his eyes flutter open, the word abort flashed in my brain and now, I’m back to facing the window.
The nest is now empty. I suppose the birds had gone away for playdates. My mind morphs into a puzzle I cannot solve – if happiness had feathers and can potentially fly, why doesn’t it come fast enough in times of despair? Do the feathers turn grey and rot away as we grow older? Perhaps, they grow as we grow? Maybe sometimes, too big of a rainstorm might prohibit them from knocking on our front door?
Recalling the better half of my life, which was filled with happiness, I decided the statement Mrs. Bradford had written was undeniably true. Happiness might not come in an Amelie-inspired tin box. It might not come in the ability to travel through time or revive the dead. But it certainly does not require as to travel to another world, another dimension or another galaxy to locate – for it is just a prisoner locked in our own minds, waiting for the key. The moment you find peace with all is the moment the key appears. Happiness will burst out of its cage, sing a little song, dance a little number, and shoot up into the sky – flying, flying, soaring, soaring, falling upwards.
Emily Dickinson said “forever is composed of now’s” and Jane Kenyon spoke of happiness, but I think that forever is composed of happiness, and happiness starts now.
A week or two later, I walk to Mrs. Bradford’s house, assignment in hand (which I’m obviously late for). She’s been absent for a week or so and the substitute only knows how to spoon-feed us knowledge. Honestly, I’m starting to miss the brain-twisting assignments.
I knock on the door once,
When no one answered, I let myself in.
Only to see Mrs. Bradford collapsed on her antique work desk, dead of a brain tumor.