*** The following piece was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Skirt! magazine under the title ‘Giving Sadness the Ax.’ The copyright was returned to Lacey Johnson upon completion of syndication.
Sadness and I had become as thick as thieves over the years. He was like the old friend who makes an appearance whenever the mood strikes him; leaning coolly against the door with the expectation of being ushered inside. I’d often cultivate a comfortable distance between us, but he’d eventually make an entrance through the ever-growing vines.
He knew my darkest secrets, my most tormenting disappointments and my most vulnerable triggers. He knew me so well, he could find me in any corner of the world; a hotel room in Hong Kong, a boardwalk in San Francisco, a New Year’s Eve party in between champagne sips, and the all-too-familiar late night in my bed staring at the ceiling.
Through every break-up, Sadness would sneak up behind me, whispering, “As soon as he closes the door, we’re going to go cry in a corner together.”
He was occasionally there for the joyous times, too – refusing to completely silence his voice among the cheering. I’d bargain with him, saying, “Okay, look. I won’t kick you out in the cold, but you aren’t allowed to raise your voice above a reasonable volume, alright? Dial it down to a whisper. I’m going to enjoy myself tonight.”
He was present every time I shared my writing with someone who didn’t respond according to my expectations, graciously reminding me of my every artistic and linguistic shortcoming. He even loomed over the table at my college graduation dinner, reminding me of how painstakingly misunderstood I was doomed to forever be. Yet, he was brilliant at convincing me that he was only present for my protection; only there because he alone understood.
Indeed, he was like the old friend we know all too well; the one whose presence is a token of that which is most familiar, yet at the end of the day, he has never done you any actual favors.
Not a solitary one.
“Sadness was like the old friend you know all too well…”
I’m not sure when we first made acquaintance, but I know this relationship has deep roots in my childhood. I was born into a close-knit, loving family, but when tragedy struck, there was no easy way to convince an imaginative six year-old that she had not been abandoned on purpose.
Sadness stood by my side when they lowered my mother into the ground. Sadness was like a devil on my shoulder when all of the children in my first-grade class stared at me as the teacher silenced their curious whispers.
Sadness even insisted upon playing small roles in celebrations: The step-mother whose beauty and grace I idolized, the lead role in the third-grade play as the Queen of Hearts, the new baby brother cooing and blowing bubbles delicately, and even the milestone when puberty had, alas, granted me a period.
He was always lurking around the corner and whistling at a safe distance, assuring me that I would never be abandoned again. He once lifted me onto his shoulders and carried me through the dark valley of my first heartbreak at the age of 19, making his presence known by the lump in my throat and crushing weight upon my chest.
Sadness was always in competition with my dear friend Happiness. He was occasionally willing to rest quietly in the back seat during the majority of our ventures, but would eventually grow restless. Without warning, he’d emerge; demanding to put his two cents into the conversation again. Sometimes he dared to steamroll his way into every breathable space until Happiness grew too claustrophobic for comfort and announced, with hands in the air and total surrender, “I’ll see ya later, Lacey. Maybe we can try again for tomorrow night…”
Time marched on and, soon enough, I was grown-up and swallowing the unpleasant reality that I’d permitted Sadness to navigate for so long, I wasn’t confident in my ability to drive on my own. He’d been given reign over the keys, the playlists and the climate control. He had even wormed his way into being in charge of the snacks.
He was a lousy chauffeur, too. He’d never protected me from any bumps in the road and rarely allowed me to roll the windows down in order to breathe in fresh air. I had missed a myriad of heart-stopping sunsets because of his insistence that we keep the shades drawn, and he had always chosen the dark tunnels over the open roads.
He was also sort of like the “old faithful” employee, long on the payroll, who was an absolute moron yet had convinced the majority of the staff that he was CEO. Observers had long scratched their heads in bewilderment as to why such an idiot was permitted to run the show.
On one particularly disheartening day, I awoke with the realization that I was on the verge of declaring emotional and spiritual bankruptcy. No one worthwhile wanted to conduct business with someone who could not see the value in their own product.
So, I fired his ass.
I opened the shades and scrubbed the gunk from the windows. I took inventory and reexamined my stock. I counted my money and reestablished the payroll. I created new terms and rewrote the manual. I interviewed new prospects and invited new customers in.
I could finally see all of the things there were to delight in—fields of wildflowers, the feel of fresh blades of grass against your skin, the smell of the ocean, the whites of a puppy’s eyes when it peers at you from the side, a spring drive through the country, the sunlight peaking through the lush summer trees, a slushy on a steamy August afternoon, the first pumpkin sighting in the early fall and watching “Home Alone” on repeat every Christmas season, only to laugh harder than you did the previous time.
I wonder: With so much in life to love, how come Sadness has so many jobs?
It is true that life presents us with wonderful things if only we will draw back the shades, yet I suppose there is no more authentic way to appreciate each of them fully without having first experienced some level of their shadowed opposite.
So, if you have a friend named Sadness, thank him. Thank him for every dark tunnel he has driven you through.
And, then… fire his ass.
© Lacey Johnson / TheDailyDoll.com 2016