The Happy Light by Cari Scribner

As soon as I told my mother I wanted to leave my husband, she said I need to bump up my meds and get more sun. Seriously, the conversation went like this:

“I’m not happy, Mom.”
“No one’s happy these days.”
“It’s me and Randy, Mom, we’re not good.”
“You both work too much, you get stressed out and don’t eat right. You need more Vitamin D.”
“Things can’t stay the way they are, Mom. I’m thinking of leaving.”
“Have you had your medications checked recently? That new doctor of yours could help, I’m sure.”
“Mom, it’s not that, it’s something else. I don’t think I love Randy anymore.”
“You need one of those wintertime white lights, you know, that give you UV rays or whatever. Winter has always been a bad time for you, ever since you were little, Cassie.”
“It’s not just winter. It’s all the time.”
“I’m going to give you a gift certificate to that spa in Saratoga, the one with the Swedish massage?
Deep tissue. You know the one.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t see why I need to change my anti-depressant to handle a life that no longer makes me happy. My mother has always liked Randy. More than even me, I sometimes think. He’s a decent handyman. He buys old sailboats, fixes them up in the backyard, then sells them for double the money. Never sails them, but that doesn’t strike my mother as strange, or sad. He compliments her hair, even when it’s too yellow. Randy’s been known to make cherry pie when she comes for dinner, or lemon meringue with runny filling, which she things is adorable. When I make a chocolate cake from scratch, she tells me the frosting is too sweet.

Most of all, I think, she admires my husband for sticking with me for eight roller coaster years.
A week later, a package arrives in the mail: it’s a Happy Light, a square, fluorescent, cornea-burning thing you plug in and sit near for 20 minutes two times a day. I swear, if you look directly at the light, you see spots for an hour. But the instructions say it increases Vitamin D and improves mood, so I use it to put my make-up on in the morning and sometimes when cooking dinner, because who has the time to sit for 40 minutes a day? Unless I haul it to work, but I’m a teacher and I don’t want to blind my students. My kindergartners are my kids. I tell myself they’re enough. Randy gave up trying a long time ago. He was okay with it. I don’t think he really cared that much about having kids.

“Cass, we’re free to do whatever we want. We can go anywhere or do anything.”
Thing is, we don’t go anywhere. We don’t hop a plane bound for someplace sunny in the winter, we don’t go to spas to de-stress with deep tissue massage, we don’t even get on one of his fucking sailboats to take us away from a life that’s become blindingly painful.

The Lexapro can’t make up for Randy patting my shoulder and telling me it’s okay, in a way that tells me he believes our life is fine the way it is, vacant and cheerless.
When I smash the Happy Light on the floor, the cheap plastic cover breaks open, and the bulb inside goes out slowly, sputtering.

“Must have been defective,” my mother says when I tell her. “Maybe what you need is a new hairstyle. Something to liven things up a little.”

about the author:

Cari Scribner lives in a historic sidewalk village in upstate NY. Her fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Gravel, Bartleby Snopes, Brilliant Flash Fiction, the new renaissance, Drunk Monkeys, New World Writing, Fiction Southeast, and The Tishman Review. She is at work on a short story collection, and a memoir, 6 CAROLINE, about growing up with a father with schizophrenia