Molly Fisk: Contrails & Happiness

Contrail.fourengined.arpA high-flying jet leaving a condensation trail (contrail). Source: Wikipedia

Don’t tell anyone, but I have a secret. I’ve been keeping it quiet — this is mid-January, people are cold and cranky and everyone I know seems to be arguing, either in person or on Facebook — I haven’t wanted to irritate anyone further.

Most of the arguments — incredibly heated, the kind that wreck friendships in the blink of an eye — are about things like whether contrails are a natural result of airplane flight or a government plan to change our atmosphere. Or, how long we have until global warming kills us off: six years? 25 years? Can we reverse the effects? Is global warming a liberal fantasy in the first place?

I know how an argument like this — big question, impossible to answer — can jeopardize an otherwise thriving relationship. My favorite ex-boyfriend Tad and I only had one subject we truly, passionately, disagreed on: whether O.J. Simpson was innocent. From here it seems ridiculous, but we almost came to blows. Once a year this would come up and ruin a day for us. We never resolved it: neither capitulated to the other’s view. We either got tired of fighting or something else struck us as funny and once we got laughing together again, we were fine. Tad is dead now, so I’ve won the argument by default, which is no consolation.

In my humble opinion, arguments over O.J., contrails, and global warming are part of a basic issue that everyone faces: are we in control of our lives, or are we powerless? And if we’re powerless, how can we learn to bear it?

Not being in control is a primal human fear. Without agency, how will we survive? We try to protect ourselves with knowledge, skills, understanding, or surrender. Yet even those who’ve turned themselves over to one of the gods and said “Thy will be done,” still get plenty attached to the placement of a backyard fence.

Powerlessness is something we run into all the time. Sudden death from disease or car crash. Betrayal, adultery, divorce, the roulette wheel landing on red instead of black. Genetics. Admitting this — carrying it around in your breast pocket every day, is hard. But not admitting it keeps you constantly battle-ready, likely to join every argument-du-jour just to prove to yourself and others that you’re in charge.

You’re not in charge. Neither am I. That’s no secret.

My secret is that ever since October 9th, the day I suddenly accepted that I had been powerless when I was being hurt as a kid — which happened in a fancy restaurant in Portland, Oregon of all places, and felt entirely physical, like being doused with ice water — I’ve been slowly growing happier and happier

It’s January. I’m still single. Wrinkles still crowd onto my face like shipwreck-survivors into a lifeboat. My bank account, as usual, nestles comfortably in the low three figures. The weather’s unseasonably warm and white lines criss-cross the winter sky. Nothing in my life has changed.

Except I’m happy. And everything’s changed.


More by Molly Fisk:

Molly FiskDeportee

Pick A Word for the Year

The Swan



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  • CJ ALLEN February 6, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks Molly. I enjoy all your essays, but this one in particular touched a nerve. I wish I had discovered this point of view sooner. I shall ponder it……

  • Susanna Gaertner January 18, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Straight from and to the heart, Molly, like all of your essays…plus I learned what contrail stands for!
    I’m tempted to ask what happened in the restaurant, but you would have told us if you wanted us to know.

  • elaine lafferty January 17, 2016 at 7:54 am

    What a beautiful essay! Brava..

  • Regina Kelly January 16, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Molly Fisk,
    This essay is very, very good.
    It was like I heard
    Ping, Ping, Ping——
    After many of the sentences.

    It is really too soon to tell
    But this may be happening to me right now,
    Even though I turned 60 years
    On November 28th last.
    Still, I think it might be.

    Too soon to be sure.
    If true, it means that I have leaned into suffering,
    Escaped the victims unlovely hat,
    And get to start over (inside at least.)

    If this IS true,
    The river of ancestral confusion.
    Presented me with a boat,
    And I am not afraid to ride swift moving currents,
    I am unafraid of stopping and stillness.

    Thank you,

  • Shirley January 16, 2016 at 7:52 am

    So glad to hear that you’re feeling better now! As my mother used to tell me, “This, too, shall pass.”