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“Happy Enough” by Amanda Erdmann


Commercials for feminine products declared Ruth was happy enough, and most days she tried to agree with them. She had a condo in Arlington, a fulfilling career at a prestigious lab, and a calling as a temple worker on Friday evenings. Sometimes she traveled the world with friends; sometimes she watched k-dramas alone on her couch. But sometimes, despite the commercials, she felt frozen in time.


One Sunday, Ruth walked into a Raleigh church building on a visit home and greeted the

familiar faces of the ward she’d grown up in. She gave her practiced responses to the older

sisters when they held her hand and asked again if there was anyone special she was seeing (“No one’s caught my eye yet!”).


The real answer to the question was that the only man who she’d found interesting, a boy she’d liked before both of their missions, had chosen someone else and Ruth had held a matchstick candle ever since for an alternate life in which he’d picked her. But how do you tell that to an octogenarian who just wants a story to share about you before Relief Society starts?


How do you say that what she thought had been love at first sight had only been her gazing

through a one-way mirror? Adam had never known how much she liked him. But Abbie had.

Ruth had burned to tell someone of her heartbreak the day she’d seen Adam and Abbie together, holding hands, totally engrossed in one another. She had wanted to rage about how her freshman frenemy knew she liked Adam, shout about how triumphant and vindictive Abbie seemed at having stolen him away. But Ruth’s devastation was private. The experience hardly seemed to warrant the tears she cried that day--and it seemed ridiculous to think of it with regret now, seven years later.


Despite this being the central loss of her romantic life, she’d made progress over time. If she did think of Adam, it was from a distance. But because she thought he would be well settled in a career, maybe have a dimpled child or two, she still felt stuck on what her life might have been if she’d had the chance to be with him. The dimpled child could have been hers.


But of course, she didn’t tell that to anyone that Sunday at the Raleigh ward building. Instead,

she smiled and hugged as the ladies of the ward made a fuss over her.


Suddenly, a woman of about Ruth’s own age rushed down from the choir stands to greet her.


“Ruth! Do you remember me? I didn’t realize this was your home ward! What a small world.”


Ruth’s eyes focused in and out to fit the memory of her old nemesis to the person in front of her. Abbie’s face and body had all softened, though her voice was as shrill as it always had been. A baby ate its fist on her hip. Ruth thought, with the vestiges of competitiveness, it would be better not to recognize her immediately.


“Oh--Maybe... yeah, Abbie? I’m trying to remember. . .”


Abbie’s smile sharpened a little as she said, “Do you remember Adam Miner? I married him.”


She could no longer pretend not to remember now. “Yes! Of course. What a small world

indeed.”


Abbie kept talking, bouncing the baby on her hip as if it was an award she wanted Ruth to notice: “I’m so sad Adam isn’t here--he is a medical fellow at the hospital and is working today, so I’m alone with our four children.”


Four children? Ruth’s smile became fixed on her face.


Just then, a deacon sidled up next to Abbie, embarrassed but determined.


“Sister Miner,” he whispered. “Your son took a bite from all the sacrament bread.”


In a flash, Abbie disappeared in search of the son, who turned out to be a wild toddler, not much older than the baby. Then, Ruth just watched Abbie’s pew for the next seventy minutes. Watched her wrestle the toddler into the pew with his brother and two sisters, watched her break up a fight between the two older children, watched a child spill a bag of chips and a water bottle onto the pew, watched the toddler wail with discomfort from a messy diaper, watched Abbie carry the toddler out during the sacrament followed closely by another woman holding the baby who had begun to scream when she was passed away from her mother, watched as several other women came forward to appease the older children left alone on the pew with suckers and extra board books. Abbie eventually returned, head bowed, a suspicious yellow stain on her white sweater, carrying the sacrament bread snacking toddler who looked quite proud of himself. It was a painful kind of secondhand embarrassment to witness.


Ruth noticed other things as Abbie slid into her pew: bags under Abbie’s eyes, hair pulled back in a wet ponytail, eyes focused on the middle distance. Ruth thought about a family of six people living on a medical trainee’s salary, the chaos and noise of four children under eight.


As she drove back to her Arlington townhouse in a soft rainstorm that evening, she reflected on the quiet coziness waiting there for her: dishes that stayed done, books found right where she left them, routines welcoming her back. To the rhythm of the windshield wipers against the rain, she released any envy she ever had for Abbie, and any longing for Adam she’d ever felt. She wished him well, but no longer wished to share his life. Her own life felt peaceful, unfrozen, and truly right for the first time: an unexpected and even unwanted blessing, but a blessing all the same. If, someday, a person she liked truly saw her, even through a one-way mirror, she would be as bold as her biblical namesake to claim him. But even if no one ever did, she had enough happiness, and enough wisdom to recognize it.



This piece was published in 2024 as part of the 13th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz by the Mormon Lit Lab. Sign up for our newsletter for future updates.


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