How do you locate the beginning of happiness? It starts on a sagging couch, body angled politely toward the girl who will become your very best friend. No, before that. The moment you see her in the newsroom, face lit by vodka and the glow of a computer screen. The others are taking shots in the corner, celebrating the publication of the latest issue. She’s working on the next story. It’s always like that with her, go go go, every part of her in perpetual motion, eyes darting around a room hands rupturing the air one broad, Midwestern syllable tripping over the next—
She spears a fork into her waffle over brunch, quotes RFK who misquoted Aeschylus. You release sentimental songs into the still mid-October night and she doesn’t laugh. Later she drags you to the chapel, recites Mayakovsky as you listen, rapt and uncomprehending. For you she translates the Russian line by line. But there are other things lost in translation, parts of her you cannot decipher, absences she will not explain.
You tell her about your obsession with Sappho, whose vast body of work survives only in fragments. Anne Carson renders much of it in If Not, Winter. Even the title drives you mad. You think if longing had a body it would look like this: em dash, the curved spine of a question mark, hand furling and unfurling against sweat-drenched palms—what you’d give to fill in the whitespace, hear her voice. She is an enigma. It’s said that omission is a different kind of speech. You wonder if there’s something in the silence, the hollow between her words.
How do you locate the beginning of happiness? It starts on a sagging couch in a newsroom, or a red-eye bound for home. It starts minutes after you sit on the luggage while she wrestles the zipper into submission, minutes after she seizes your wrist almost violently outside the airport, eyes ferocious and bright, mouth contorted oddly a low-pitched ringing in your ears and you can’t hear her can’t hear her, the transmission’s garbled by all that static between you. But happiness starts again. It takes minutes, or maybe years. It does not announce itself. Until one day, a knock on the door—
Emily Yin is a freshman studying applied math at Princeton University. Her writing has been recognized by the UK Poetry Society and the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. Read her work in Indiana Review Online, Track Four Journal, and Rust + Moth, among others.