Melancholy Is Secondhand Happiness

I was standing in a rubble pile. Bricks lying about. Turned up earth. The machinery responsible for the mess was still in place but the vandals gone. The vandals; the demolition team.

The place was my elementary school. The source of so many memories. Mostly bad, but some good mixed in to create a warm feeling for the place anyway. And now it was gone. Demolished. Turned into a rubble pile. No more pupils would go through those two gates I’d gone through. No more pupils would walk up the wide stairs of the old building as children, and progress to walk up the two flights of stairs in the new building as teens. No more classes, no more breaks. No more plays and no more games. No more sitting in detention on the red chairs outside the principal’s office – on display for the whole school. No more intimate film-watching in the darkness of one of the classrooms. No more spiders falling on our heads from the open windows. No more bullying. No more laughter. No more fun. All good and bad stuff mixed up and smushed together – that’s my school memories. Good teachers who took their jobs seriously and really tried to work with that most difficult of materials; children’s minds. And bad teachers who bullied someone, or who didn’t even bother showing up for classes. Good classmates whom I had fun with during and between classes, and a selected few I might even meet with outside of school – and bad classmates I’d only be content never to see again in my life. And now all gone.

I never expected that they would tear down an otherwise perfectly fine building just to save the money of maintenance. But then again; you never expect to get run over by a car either, and that happens to someone every day nonetheless. I guess it’s the same feeling too. Seeing the bricks flung about over the place where I used to play our “four square tag” (local game we at least like to think we created) certainly made me feel like I’d been hit by something. Really hard.

But the hardest blow of all were yet to come. As an artist, I’ve always told myself that perhaps one day I’d achieve recognition. That perhaps one day some meaning or another would manifest itself, and I’d understand why I’d been doing what I’d been doing all this time. Why I’d been writing, why I’d been drawing, why I’d been painting, why I’d been photographing. And perhaps someone would come across some of my work and be moved and it would mean something to them and encourage them to change something due to it. All that idealistic bullshit.

I found my earliest painting broken to pieces under the rubble. It was a mural of an aquarium that we’d made in fourth grade as a present to our new principal. We’d painted the background in unison, and then chosen one fish each to focus on. I’d painted a perch. A beautiful freshwater perch like the ones we could catch in the inner fjord. With the glistening triangular green pattern on the back, the white stomach and the red fins. To date, the most beautiful fish I know of. All the more because it’s found in homely waters of course. I’d been so proud of that painting, and so proud to know that it would be put on display for the whole world in our schoolyard. And I received a lot of praise for it too – even from a teacher who normally hated me. In short; I had only good memories about partaking in the making of that painting, and I’d been really proud of my work. And as for the “changing something” part? Well, I guess that belongs in the past, before I saw it smashed on the ground.

And then I’m naturally forced to ask myself: Why? Why do I keep on doing what I’m doing without seeing any meaning in it? And I honestly can’t answer that question I guess. Just habit. Just repetition. And perhaps that one day I’ll see something that’ll rekindle some hope for me.

In the immediate aftermath, people called me depressed. People called me apathetic. People called me burnt out. I was not. I’d just caught a snapshot of how little my life actually meant and seen my artistic ambitions shattered to pieces. Just who thinks they have any right to blame me for feeling the way I felt? It would have been a greater cause for worry if I had reacted with happiness upon discovering that nothing I do really matters in the long run. Just who likes being told that? Do you?

Nah. That’s just how life is. I learned to write in elementary school. I learned English in elementary school. I painted my first painting in elementary school. Now the school is gone but the skills I learned there remain. Perhaps someone will remember the painting after it’s gone – someone other than me. Perhaps there is some meaning that I really can’t see at the moment. And perhaps I can hope that it will be revealed to me one day. But it’s a far-fetched hope, and I’m afraid of hope. Hope is stagnation. Hope is to postpone ones’ real opportunities in favour of some imaginary goal far off in the future. I prefer not hoping. The feeling of hope really isn’t worth the price you’ll end up paying for it. The ultimate price is to stop living.

Call me depressed if you want. Call me apathetic. I don’t mind. I call myself happy, albeit in an unusual way for the people who live in this world. I suffer from that strange kind of second-hand happiness that is melancholy. To know what was and what’s been lost. To recognize it for what it was and to move on but still remembering it. To recognize ones limitations and nonetheless try to live a constructive life against all odds. To take one day at a time.

I will not banish nostalgia from my life. The best things in my life are in the past. The most important things I’ve had I’ve lost. My hometown. My school. Every belief system I’ve ever tried to adhere to. Every dream I’ve ever dreamt. Every plan I’ve ever made. Every hope I’ve ever hoped. And yet I’m still here, and yet I keep living in the same way, basing my existence on the same values and working with the same things. Obstacles may come and disappear. That’s part of life. As long as you’re centered you’ll remain unchanged no matter how marred by loss.

But if you expect me to live it up and start believing in high flying ideals again you’ll be sorely disappointed. I believe that I’ll lose everything that means something to me, because that’s what life’s taught me. I believe that nothing lasts. I believe that there is very little meaning, if any, in anything. And I wish I didn’t believe any of these things.

But at least there’s still perch swimming in the fjord. There’s still pupils in schools all over Denmark. They’re still taught writing, they’re still taught English, and sometimes they may find time to paint as well. And the sun still shines though we can’t see it so often in this country. And the rain still falls, as frequently as always. And the beech trees still bud in the early Spring. The biggest change has happened within myself. Once I was happy. Once I was sad. Now I get my emotions second-hand and the most they amount to is melancholy.

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