16 (Happiness Is What You Can Live Without)

I hate August. Not only because I can’t stop the oppression no matter how loud the air conditioning runs, but because it smells like August. It smells like all of the birthdays my youngest child celebrated. Like carefully crafted fruit tarts with pink candles stuck in the center. Like all the dime store cinnamon lotions she demanded every year. Lily loved the smell of summer because she could always sense the future.

Every August, Sue calls. Emily doesn’t even bother. Every year she will say the same thing. “I called Emily, she says she’d love to come down, but she’s really busy with work.” I don’t even know what my daughters do. Not really. They give me built-up words like executive administration or marketing technician, but none of it means a thing.

“I’m coming over a little later,” Sue says this time. “I’m just dropping by the grocery store first.”

I don’t want her to come here. Not because one of the ‘residents’ is yelling about his care-giver stealing pills, but because ‘confused’ is a word that I never want to be associated with. I’m not confused about my daughter’s death. Yes, she was thin – like me, my sisters, and my mother. Yes, she enjoyed the idea of perfection in absence. Did I force her to live in such a lifestyle? Hardly. I encouraged her not to live in extremes. I just wanted her to know the pride found in self discipline. I never wanted her to be American.

It’s now, when I sit in my room with a slice of red velvet cake from the dining hall, that I wonder about the phrase I used to love with all my heart.

Happiness is what you can live without.

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