--"Small Figures in a Vast Expanse", Rilo Kiley
She was working at the local Taco Bell--she of the pink hair, pretty face, and unsolicited cheery disposition. People had told her that she didn't have the right to be so happy, that only happy, fulfilled people could ever smile as broadly as she always seemed to. She didn't care. She did what she wanted and what she wanted was to be one of thos happy, fulfilled people. She didn't exactly covet the life she had, but, so far, she didn't see much to be disappointed with either. It wasn't a bad life and it wasn't a great life, but it was hers and she was determined to be someone who didn't look back upon it with regret. She of the pink hair, pretty face, and cheery disposition had always gotten along fine in this manner.
He had met her on a Sunday when he had passed through her drive through, ordering a nach bell grande for what he thought was going to be another night alone in his sparsely decorated and even lonelier studio--he of the green eyes, disheveled clothes, and scarred soul. He didn't say much to her besides, "hold the sour cream on everything," but she had made quite an impression upon him. No one working at a Taco Bell at midnight should be that chipper, he thought to himself. Even when he made it home and tore into his meal the thought of her weighed upon his mind heavily. Why should she be so happy and I, so miserable, he reflected. What makes her tick? He of the green eyes, disheveled clothes, and scarred soul had to know and so he drove back to her drive-through window.
It wasn't until later on at around two a.m., when he had convinced her he wasn't some insane stalker and she had agreed to talk to him outside, that he discovered her secret. She wasn't just happy today, she was happy all her life. More than that, she had made it a point to try and be happy for the rest of her life. She didn't want to be one of those people that could only be happy when something or someone made her happy. She had made it an obsession to spend the majority of her time here as grateful and as joyous as possible. She couldn't see how you could live life any other way. He responded to that by complimenting her on her positive demeanor and the firm desire to emulate her philosophy in some way.
"It's easy if you want me to show you how," she said. "Come back tomorrow night, same time, and we'll talk some more."
He did come back the next night and the night after that until it became a regular occurrence. He became a regular fixture at the Taco Bell. So much so that, when it came time for her to get off at 3 a.m., the two of them would hop in his Accord and drive over to the local Carrow's and continue their conversation. Both of them worked later on in the day so it was easy for them to talk all the way up until the sun rose. She told him how she saw life as something you had complete control over, like a television. If you didn't like the program that you were watching, then by all means change the channel. You're only stuck if you let yourself be. He, on the other hand, talked mostly about how unhappy he was and how she was starting to change that for him. Sadness, he said, was like a disease for him. It was like a disease he'd lived with all his life and that, for a time there, he thought it was going to be a terminal one. She helped him with that, though. She said she was glad she could help him out.
When she invited him over to her apartment a month later he almost begged off. He didn't want to believe what was happening to him. Things like being invited back to a pretty girl's apartment was something that had only happened to the younger version of himself. She assured him that this was a real invitation meant for him. Like it or not, this was really happening to him. He resolved to accept that this was his life and that she had somehow had become a part of it. He accepted her invitation and they spent the better part of the next few hours joking around with one another as having sex. They had both spent far too long dreaming of ways to attract the right guy or girl that it was kind of a relief to not have to look so hard any more.
"And you don't mind that I never made it through college?" she asked him in bed that night. "Like it doesn't bother to be with someone with barely a high school education?"
"No. It's not like you're interviewing for a job. I'm fine with it as long as you're fine with it."
He already knew the answer, though. He had learned enough about her to realize that she as a person thought life was education enough. She had done alright without school and she felt she didn't need any more. For him, though, he worried that that was going to be a point of contention later on for the both of them. It wasn't that he looked down upon her, but eventually, he thought, there was going to come a time when they would run out of thing to say. He wanted to believe that they were suited for one another and that everything would turn out perfectly, but everything breaks down in the end in his experience. He wanted to have some assurances that the two of them wouldn't be one of those casualties.
He began to take her to and from work. Eventually, two months later, they planned a short trip to Vegas for later on that month. He'd never been there before and she was determined to show him how much fun it could be. When they arrived she noticed he had this bored look on his face. She asked him what was wrong. He could only say that perhaps Vegas wasn't his speed. She had noticed that he was happiest when it was only the two of them and had had been hoping this trip would have the effect of pushing him a bit out of his shell. But, in the end, she was pragmatic about the situation. He was who he was and she was nothing if not flexible. Instead of hitting the clubs and the bars, instead of doing a bit of the gambling, they mostly stayed in their hotel room and ordered in room service. She still had fun and had seen to it that he did as well.
"You think I'm boring, right?" he asked her on the way back home.
"No, I don't think you're boring. I was just worried that you weren't going to have a good time."
"I had fun. Well, I had fun with you."
Eventually the decision had been made that they should find a place together. They had been together for a sufficient length of time that the only logic step was to share a place. It wasn't really discussed much beforehand. She had kind of nudged him in that direction and by that time he was starting to really worry about what he was going to do if the two of them ever broke up. For her part, she liked him well enough and they had been seeing a lot of each other lately. She thought the decision was inevitable so she took steps to insure that it happened sooner than later. Besides, she thought, it'd be good for him.
Fairly soon, they had settled on a place just outside the city. It had taken some reconditioning, but through hard work and determination over the course of the next few months, they made it into a cozy home for themselves. They christened it "The Golden Milestone" in honor of one of their favorite series of books and soon fell into the routine of being a couple who lived together. They took walks everyday with each other, ate dinner together, and slept together. They went out to movies together. They left each other cute voice mails while the other was at work, saying endearing phrases like "come home soon," "I miss you," and "I'll be waiting for you." Every so often they would sneak off to some exotic locale like San Diego or Seattle. And, once in a blue moon, she got him out to come to a party with her at her other friends' houses. All in all, they built what was turning out to be a good relationship.
It wasn't until he began thinking about changing the jobs that the cracks began to show. He began talking about how, since he was planning a career change for their future, that maybe she should start thinking about the same. He asked her if it wouldn't be nice if she maybe could go back to school they could afford bigger and brighter things. She took what he said into consideration. She was hurt slightly that maybe he thought she wasn't good enough for him as she was, but decided he was only thinking about their future. She told him that he would think about it. That's all he asked, he said. In reality, though, he had been thinking long and hard about the state of things between them and he was beginning to be really bothered how ignorant she seemed at times. It wasn't so much how she talked because she carried herself very smartly and concisely; it was more of the range of subjects she felt comfortable talking about. He like talking to her still, but didn't want to feel like he was tiptoeing around certain subject. He wanted her to be his everything.
At first she took in schedules for classes at the local JC's, but her heart just wasn't in it. She liked who she was and felt no desire to change it. She felt her growth as a person was something that should be left up to her. At that point in her life she felt fairly stable, fairly confident, and fairly happy. She was mostly going through the motions to make him happy.
"Have you decided which classes you want to take yet?" he asked her.
"Do you need some help because I've got some suggestions if you want to hear them?"
Soon she began to despise him for his insistence. She told him flat out one day that she wasn't prepared to go back to school just yet. She just wanted to be happy with him right now and that later on she could see herself going back to get her degree. That's when he told her that later on wasn't good enough for him. He made the mistake of telling her that he was ashamed for her, ashamed for the fact that she had no desire to better herself. He asked her why she couldn't see that he was only trying to make her a better person. She answered that she already thought she was a better person because of him and how that should be good enough for him. That's when she told him that she despised him--not for the fact he kept harping on her going back to school, but for the fact that for the last couple of weeks that he had been slowly eking away at her bliss. She told him that the main reason she was with him was because he had made a positive contribution to her life, but if he stopped being that beneficial influence then she really couldn't see remaining together.
"Is that the way you really feel?"
"That's the way things really are with me," she answered him.
She packed up her things two days later.
They spent the next couple of months acclimating themselves to life on their own again. She began going out more and more with her old friends, the ones she had sort of neglected while she was with him. He, on the other hand, went back to the isolation he experienced before she had met her. He forced himself to believe that he was better off without her. He didn't need someone that didn't need him. He tried to believe that things were for the best. She, however, never gave up on him or them. She thought it wouldn't be long before he would call her to apologize and tell her that there was nothing in the world that he needed more than her. She loved him. She could see herself saying that, but she needed to be sure that he felt the same way. After all, there were a lot of things she wanted to change about him, but only if he thought they needed changing. She knew that everything that she wanted to change were minor, insignificant details. There was nothing drastically worrisome about him that raised any red flags with her. He was just this careful, methodical guy who carefully and methodically cared about her very much. Nope, she never gave up for him.
He never knew this, though. He took her leaving as a sign things weren't meant to be. In fact, he had steeled himself for the blow by telling himself she was beneath him and that she couldn't see what a great guy she was missing out on. He avoided going out altogether and shut himself away in the place they had shared together for a time. He tried not to see how large and empty the house was without her. He tried to forget what it was like to sleep next to her. He tried to escape the reality that they were better off together than apart. To him his life was something he had come to expect as being always disappointing and she was just the latest in a long list of disappointments. There was nothing he could do now about that.
A year passed and then another, and soon it was four years since they had seen each other. In the interim she had come to her own decision to go back to school. In the beginning she had deluded herself into thinking that he would magically show up at her door the instant she got her A.A., but he never did. Soon, though, she saw it was more important for her to get it so she could be proud of finally getting around to it. She moved on from Taco Bell onto a better job that took her four hundred miles away. However, it was until she had actually moved away that she finally gave up hope on seeing him again.
Meanwhile, he had hit bottom. It wasn't all her fault, though. The new job had only served to exacerbate the problems he had been having all his life. He wasn't a happy guy to begin with and all the time spent away from the company of his friends and loved ones only exaggerated his loneliness. He had just ceased caring about anything and everything. He had finally let the misery consume him until it was all he was. He sold the house, their house, and moved back into a tiny, shut-in apartment where he was sure no one was ever going to bother him again. There he lived and died a little each day until he was only an imprint of his former self.
When she of the now brown hair, pretty face, and unsolicited cheery disposition bumped into him of the still green eyes, disheveled clothes, and scarred soul at the airport that Sunday, she almost didn't recognize him. She had spent what seemed a lifetime remembering how he had looked in her arms that the person before her had seemed downright a stranger. He knew who she was at first sight, though. He had spent that same lifetime trying to forget her. Now, he realized, he had never really forgotten her or what she meant to him.
They stopped in at the Starbuck's at the airport to catch up with each other. He felt the sting each time she mentioned how happy how she was with her new life. He had hoped there was still a place with her. He knew he didn't deserve it, but he wanted her back and was trying to work up the nerve to ask her back. But with every one of her successes he was only reminded of his every setback, with every one of her accomplishments he could only see his failures. He was no longer the person of her he decided and he left the table after their talk thinking that she was better off without him.
"Aren't you going to come with me? I mean--that's what you've been wanting to ask me all this time, isn't it?" she asked him after he had turned and walked away from her.
"Why should I ask when I already know the answer?"
"I told you when I first met you that I wanted to teach you how to be a happier person. And the first lesson you need to learn is that when you find someone who makes you happy," she continued as she put her arm around his, "is that you don't walk away from them completely."
"No, you don't. Don't you know that all you ever had to do was ask me back? Don't you know that the happiest I've ever been is with you?"
He tried to protest with claims that they still had problems between them and that she should be worried about how things between them were always going to be slightly off. Mostly though, he was insistent that they could never get back to where they were before, that that point in their lives had possibly left them behind. He didn't think he deserved a second chance. He didn't deserve her back.
"Well I'm coming back either way. Like it or not, this is really happening to you."