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The Demise of Mr. Happiness

I'm getting better at cracking open the boxes of my hives. I had better be, as beekeeping season is upon us. When I check on my bees, I know now to leave much of the propolis, or "bee glue," that the workers have used to seal the hive bodies together. They have had reason to propolize their home; it keeps them safer and healthier, protecting them from predators and disease. Nothing, though, is for certain.

They have all come as bundles of mystery, varying in size, histories largely unknown, secrets sealed as with their own kind of propolis. Sometimes they lashed out with forceful cries of unrest. Sometimes they hid behind who they were or who they wanted us to believe they were. Sometimes, they were not old enough to speak. Still they writhed, and their bodies called up the messages that were left for me to interpret, and not very well.

We walked together, and sometimes apart, on the path and through the thicket, falling more times than we could count, but somehow still still waking with the next sunrise.

The baby pictures of the smallest boys hang on the wall in the living room. All three little ones are smiling. The pictures of happiness are part of how I remember those years. The sweet grins, the belly laughs, the joy of pushing the stroller loaded with little boys...but also the stiff arching postures, the sleepless, anguished nights, and the incessant hope that the hardest days had been left behind.

We have always said that we just want our children to grow up to be happy. That seems a simple wish. We just don't really know how to get there.

I can relate to the worker bees. They have tasks, and there is always something to do. There are baby bees to feed, cells to build, clean-up chores, pollen to gather, and a hive to protect. The summer bees tend to their duties and literally work themselves to death after their final foraging flights. For me, there are appointments to keep, piles of paperwork, homekeeping tasks, farm chores, and, on days like today, an unsettled child to pick up from school. Sometimes I would like to be out gathering pollen.

One boy (who had just eaten two separate lunches) called us "bitches" because he didn't want me to cook cheeseburgers for his brother. Another boy, caught in an escalated state, climbed atop the two-story farmhouse because he liked how it felt to be dangerous.There were overturned chairs and new marks on the walls, and I just finished cleaning a weekend's worth of dishes.

It seems incessant: the angst and the struggle. We don't know what to do, so we do what we can. We love them. There have been times when I have questioned my purpose in this. Our stories have not always been happy; the hurt has been unthinkable. I have wondered terrible things that have not left the confines of my head for fear that they might manifest.

On a cold day last October, I was trying to fit a wooden entrance reducer into one of my hives. Instead of carving out the wood, the blade sunk deep into my finger and cut through the nerve. The feeling has yet to return to the injured area; I don't know if it will.

I hate you. I don't want to be in this stupid family. You're such an idiot.

In some ways, I am hardened to much of the banter that fills my ears. I didn't know that I had cut my skin until I saw the blood dripping through the hole in my gloves, which were intended to keep me from getting stung. Sometimes, our days are so blindsiding. We can no longer feel the hurt, because it's just too deep.

Five years ago, I would have expected these rough patches to look very different. The hard days have been too much of a burden for the little light to shine at full force. I know, though, that it will be back, stronger than ever, for all to see.

Nearly every day during the long winter and into spring, I have pressed my ear against my hives in hopes of hearing the sound of the bees. My stronger hive had a sound so robust I could hear their wonder even through the wicked winds. It was different with the other hive. For strings of days, I would listen, uncertain. Last week, I looked deep into both of my hives on a warm day. My smaller hive was buzzing with workers, and the sun shone on the queen among the workers. She surprised me, but I shouldn't have doubted her.

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