The Manner of Happiness Part II

By Keith Trottier Photo Credit: Peter Cyngot: 2013

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Our backyard in North Las Vegas wasn’t large in comparison to our one acre of land in Spokane, but it was significantly more spacious than most backyards in Vegas. The bricks had been painted a painfully bright white and Cyprus trees had been planted along the back walls in hopes of creating natural privacy. The back half was covered in lush green grass that my father took great pride in and the half closest to the house was paved with concrete and decorated with a tacky mesh pool table missing its umbrella.

My father had just gotten home from work only an hour earlier and sat in one of the eggshell colored mesh chairs drinking a beer. The froth of the amber poison lingered upon the black whiskers of his moustache. Like always he was shirtless and a pair of sporty sunglasses reflected the little fraction of the world my overprotective parents had exposed us to.

“What football team has black and silver as their colors?” my father asked.

All three of us–my brothers and I–shouted out at once in excitement, “The Raiders!”

My father smiled and took another drink.

That question had been a no brainer. My parents were Raider fanatics. Every Oakland game was loudly and proudly broadcasted in our home, and a passerby could clearly know which way the game was going based upon either the zealous cheering and laughing or the horrified screaming and yelling.

My childhood was—for the most part—like any other mostly unremarkable and filled with days I no longer remember, but if you liked football, fall and winter were exciting times to live in my house. Except for me. I was screwed. I didn’t like football. I didn’t get football. And so by default I regularly failed these pop quizzes on sports.

As you can imagine, as the questions got more in-depth I, the know-it-all child, started to flounder in his ignorance. Jet was outshining me, a competitive jealousy started to spark and my father’s approval only fanned the embers into a full-fledged flame. I started to whine and say the quiz wasn’t fair. I began to make fun of Jet for his success—something I’ll always regret, it’s probably my fault he thinks he’s as stupid as he does—and visibly show my malcontent.

“Let me answer!” I barked at Jet as I punched him in the arm.

“Ow!” Jet hissed grabbing the spot near his shoulder. “Watch more football then.”

“Ask a not-sport question, Dad,” I pleaded.

“No, ask a football question,” Jet argued.

“Shut-up butter teeth,” I growled.

Jet hated his front teeth. When he was a baby he ran a fever that ruined the enamel on his teeth. His molars were effected the most by what happened and grew in black, devoid of any white, but his front teeth still had most of their enamel, except for two patches on his front teeth. They were permanently splotched with yellow and poor Jet always looked as if he had just taken a big ol’ bite out of a stick of butter.

“No you shut-up beaver teeth.”

I walked over and punched Jet again and he punched back this time.

“Hey,” my father barked.

Jet and I both stopped immediately and looked back at our father like scared puppies.

In those moments a dialogue ensued that I can’t rightly remember. What I do remember are the emotions that pervaded that conversation where I had started to correct my father about something, which lead to him becoming more and more unnerved with me. Like myself, my father was also a know-it-all. Soon he was reprimanding me and I didn’t want to hear it. So being  my stubborn seven year old self, I corrected every reprimand and told him how I wasn’t that but this.

Finally my father stood up, drunk and flustered. “This is why I hate you, Keith,” and he walked inside.

I stood there hearing the words over and over again and letting them slowly sink into my soul. I didn’t garner “why do you have to be so stubborn,” or “you’re so frustrating,” from my father’s response. I wish I had, because maybe if I had there would have been more hope for the two of us, but instead I had heard, “Keith I hate you and I don’t love you like I love your brothers.”

My heart never felt so hollow or my family so foreign like it did that day. At seven I had to figure out how to come to terms with the fact that my father didn’t love me. As the years went by every flaw of my father became magnified, and every “I love you” was deflected by that comment. I knew he hated me. I knew it like I knew I didn’t like football. I never wanted him to hurt me again like he had that day, but I didn’t realize the ramifications my detachment would have. The very thing meant to save me was killing me inside and I was oblivious.

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I was bitter for a long time, and to be honest I was still bitter as I raised my head at the “amen,” of the prayer. I sat in one of the thousands of royal red folding opera house style chairs in the I-Center ready to listen to devotional. A sea of Sunday dressed students surrounded me and I couldn’t help but look around at the infinitely high ceilings or the two floating balconies that overlooked the entire spectacle.

“Our speaker today will be our President and his wife,” explained one of the heads of the university. “Let’s show them that we’re ready to be instructed,” he finished and raised a volume of scriptures up in a sort of salute.

As he did so thousands of scripture sets and notebooks went up into the air and I sat there feeling stupid not having been at the ready to participate.

The President of the university, a small pale man with a pink face, sparse snow-white hair and the deeply serious expression of a scholar took to the pulpit with his petite wife. In comparison she was a cute mousey woman with classy black-framed glasses and an expression that demonstrated an impressive amount of whit.

“The theme of our message today is Nephi’s description of the way his people lived:  ‘And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness,’” His voice was neither deep or high pitched, but even and decorated with a level of stability and rigidity of one deeply devout.

“Brothers and sisters, we want you to be happy! We want you to walk the path of holiness, a way of life that will bring you joy and happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. We want you to learn to live after the manner of happiness,” she added in a warm motherly tone.

As they embarked on their instruction of Pre-Mortality and how we all once lived with God and were sent here to be tested to see if we would chose to follow God or not, I began to retreat within myself. What was happiness? Was I happy? Could this “true manner of happiness” actually make me happy?

I had realized months ago I would never marry, but the feelings I hadn’t quite worked through began to resurface and the pain emerged hot and real all over again. Chances were that I was probably the only one in the entire room dying on the idea as they spoke, and a wave of loneliness and desperation washed over my otherwise content face.

“In order to guide us in this process of becoming, Heavenly Father has given us a divine pattern to follow,” the President continued unwavering in his confidence. “That pattern is eternal life, the life that He and His Beloved Son live. Three aspects of eternal life create a powerful plan of action in our quest to live after the manner of happiness. They are: be holy, do divine work, and create a celestial family.”

There it was. I was doomed. My heart sank and I felt as if the entire conference hall had become tiny and overwhelming. So that was the manner of happiness. That was what it took to experience the entire spectrum of human joy. The doors had slammed shut in my mind, and I stood there before complete bliss locked out.

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“Wasn’t that great?” a brunette girl in front of me asked her friend as we all made our way out of the I-Center.

“Devo is always good. The Spirit is so strong there,” her blonde friend responded.

“And didn’t his wife just look adorable?” the brunette asked almost incredulously.

“Totes adorbs. I hope I age like her.”

Apparently I had been the only one dying on the inside during that opening semester address.

Keithaaard,” came Katie’s familiar voice.

“Hey!” I smiled enthusiastically. “What’d you think of Devotional?”

Loved it,” she sang. “What’d you think?”

“Oh it was great. The Spirit was so strong in there,” I responded.

“I know right? The President and his wife gave such a good talk, but then again Devo is always good,” she said matter-of-factly. “So have you ever seen Glozelle?”

“What’s that?” I asked with a confused look.

“Who’s Glozelle?” she nearly gasped in shock. “Ok, you need to come over sometime and I’ll show you who Glozelle is. And then I’ll have to take you to the Ghetto Perk.”

“Ghetto Perk?” I repeated in a questionable tone.

“It’s mine and Kris’ secret hangout spot. Only the cool kids know about it, and since you’re a cool kid, you can know about it,” she explained in a ritzy tone. “Anyways, I’m this way,” she pointed off towards some random building in the distance. “I’ll see ya later, Keithard.”

Katie never knew it, but she in that moment had saved me from myself. Our little conversation had been enough to distract myself from the barrage of emotions festering inside of me. I was still a mess, but a hopeful mess.

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I walked in my apartment and sat down on my bed and looked at the rainbow butterfly blanket Ann had made me for Christmas a few years ago. A faint smile lit across my face as I pondered my future. I saw myself single, but not alone. I was surrounded by the Gang and smiling. I could see us all living on the same street and raising each other’s kids together, and I felt a bitter sweet joy in the fantasy.

Just then Alexander walked in, my platinum blonde roommate that weighed maybe a hundred pounds. “Hey, the Bishop would like to meet with you tonight at 8. Just a heads up.”

“Alright,” I responded in shock.

“Cool. See ya,” and he closed the door.

“Huh…it’s just one surprise after the other here. Next thing you know I’ll have a gay roommate,” suddenly the idea of a gay roommate terrified me. “But lets hope not,” I added as I opened my laptop and started on homework.

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