“All Happiness is Forgetfulness” by Garwood Kern


If there is one thing we are blessed with, it is forgetfulness. The sunny day, the butterfly landing on a leaf – they seem perennial, something we can count on. The beautiful face held in your hands, smiling as you kiss it, blurring as you close in and close your eyes, becoming a moon in your mind as you pucker and tingle with excitement – who can think dark thoughts at this moment, or, if they come, not banish them? The child reaching up to put her hand in yours as you start to cross the street – do you not forget that a truck can run you both over, even as you habitually look out for the truck? A melody from Telemann played on period instruments, drifting in from the living room, as you add soy sauce to the stir fry, hear it sizzle and breathe in the aromatic steam – do you not forget the stretching of catgut and the impermanence of the candles burning on the dining-room table? And as you turn into bed, position your pillows just the right way and draw in a deep breath that will lead you, hopefully, into untroubled sleep – must you not forget the mortality of your wife sleeping next to you, the stack of bills waiting on the counter, and your death and dismemberment policy that will pay off best if you die worst? All happiness, all happiness is forgetfulness!


On death row, alone in your cell, playing solitaire, don’t you chuckle when you make a match? Don’t you smile to yourself when you remember that tan, long-legged blonde in the summer of 1973 – she was called Cookie, what was her real name? You couldn’t locate her now even if you tried. Besides, how could she fail to be somebody’s grandmother, possibly deceased? And yet you can see her diving into the pool and coming up smiling, swimming its length to the deep end, toward you. You’ve just come out of the locker room in your dry trunks and seen her start her dive. She puts her arms up on the curved concrete, pulls herself up part way, spilling cold, chlorinated water, beads of sweat evaporating on her cheeks and upper lip. The sun hits her face and lights up tiny light hairs on her neck against the tanned skin. She squints and holds her left hand up to shade her blue eyes, and then, treading lightly, tells you that the water is fine. If only you could dive in! All happiness, all happiness is forgetfulness!
And when you write out your epitaph – “What is, is wrong!” – and imagine how others will read it, standing there on the green, don’t you forget that they, too, must write out their own? They don’t forget; they remember, standing there and smiling at your remark and looking down on your paltry plot of earth, purchased in advance when the price was right, but their kids forget, looking to the side and wanting to go home, to go swimming. All happiness, all happiness, is forgetfulness!


On the other hand, if we did live forever, who would want to remember everything? At 3 a.m. all your faults come home. The ill-considered words, the blindly self-centered behavior, the manias driven by sex and ambition and frustration and zeal; the people, especially loved ones, disappointed, mistreated, hurt. It helps to have Bruckner on the radio, so that you can sense the full sweep of your life and the enormity of your wrongs. How glad you are at that time, when the heavens roar in your earphones and you ought to be sleeping, that ultimately everyone will sleep, that the human comedy and all of its documentation will enter the maws of eternity, the lights will go out and oblivion will cover over your strut on the amateur stage.
Having reached this station, you begin to look with approval on the universe as a gigantic garbage pail, a shredder of all pretensions, idiocies and guilts. Committing a new outrage, blunder, inanity, you begin to look fondly to the far-distant end, when the Sun will burn up the Earth and all its records; or, if something digital is transferred to a terraformed Mars, when the whole solar system starts to blow like the eye of a cat just run over by a truck. But a moment’s reflection brings back the contradiction: you don’t want everything to go, just the bad. You want to save the cat, correct the universe, not to obliterate it. But the universe won’t be corrected. It throws out the baby with the bath water – every single time. All happiness, all happiness is forgetfulness!




Garwood Kern lives in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, searches for fossils and writes fiction and creative non-fiction.

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