Betsy Halpert couldn’t sleep. She spent the night tossing and turning and thinking about her son and his heartache. The terrible pain in her stomach was not from something she ate at dinner and the helplessness she felt was not for her own problem. Except that it was. The day she gave birth to her first child, her worries and concerns were no longer just hers, she would feel everything through her son as he experienced life’s ups and downs. And with each child she had, that extension of herself would compound, all their many joys and accomplishments delivering her euphoric highs but their pains felt equally as intensely in her heart.
It didn’t matter that this child was 27 years old and had long since left home. It didn’t matter that he had been through romantic entanglements before that left him hurt and lonely but had since gotten over them. She knew this was part of growing up. That heartache was just one of the rites of passage that teenage boys and young men would go through in their search for that special someone. And she knew he knew that, too.
But this felt different. When she heard her son’s voice on the phone, she knew he was aching in a way that was unlike the times before. This pain was not the kind she could make go away with a kiss to the boo-boo like when he was a little boy or a special meal when he got into a fight with his brothers. It wasn’t the kind of pain she could lessen by letting her 6’ 1” teenager snuggle up to her while she rubbed his back and assured him he’d wouldn’t feel this way forever following the breakup from his first real girlfriend in high school.
She’d never met Pam, but she’d seen her in a photo of the two of them taken at their office and heard hundreds of stories about her. Jim worked in a moderate size office with about a dozen people but she was the only one whose photo was displayed on his refrigerator. The many stories she’d heard from him about the antics in his office always included Pam. He’d confided to Betsy how he’d felt about her a long time ago, but he’d left out one detail at first. The advice she’d given him, before knowing she was engaged to another man was not the same she’d have presented to him had she known all the facts.
By the time she knew, it was too late. Jim had already fallen hard. He’d show up sometimes at his childhood home, with that look on his face, saying he needed a break from the cameras and from putting up a brave front. Betsy had set ground rules up front when the filming began, no cameras in her house. Jim would come inside and let go of everything he couldn’t show during the day. In her presence he’d be most himself, releasing all the feelings he kept bottled up while at his office.
Betsy wasn’t sure there was any advice that could have changed his feelings or prevented him from opening himself up to the heartache of her rejection, if you could call it that. From the way Jim described it, she was in denial about what she felt, too. She seemed conflicted by her commitment and taken by surprise at his confession. Betsy tried to explain that to her son, but was unable to know what advice to give her youngest boy. This was not something she had experienced. Gerald and she were high school sweethearts. The closest she had to a love triangle was when another man would try to cut in on them when Gerald took her dancing.
It didn’t matter anyway, Jim had already made up his mind to take the job in Stamford and that hurt Betsy’s heart, too. Pete had already moved to Boston, Tom was close but not quite close enough in New Jersey and Larissa was off at college. Though he was busy with his own life now, she had comfort in knowing Jim was local, living in the same town, visiting his parents occasionally and randomly —though in her mind not often enough. Now he was leaving too for Stamford. At the same time proud and happy for her son for the promotion he was getting and his ambition to move up in the company, she would miss having him nearby. She blamed the girl a little bit, but really she knew it wasn’t her fault. She only wished Jim would have waited before making his decision. Maybe she would have come around, after all you don’t kiss someone else when you’re absolutely sure about your love for your fiancé. And absolutely sure you’re not in love with someone else.
Betsy Halpert couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t for days. She was having trouble eating, too. Her bones ached, her stomach was in knots, she couldn’t concentrate. Gerald told her not to worry so much, it would all work itself out. He was an adult and he had to find his own way, work through his own stuff but every time she talked to him, she could feel what he felt. She knew he was not happy, knew what a hard time he was having adjusting to his new life and knew she wasn’t fading from his memory. Betsy tried not to let it affect her so much but she couldn’t help it. His pain was her pain. His heartache was her heartache. The tube that connected her to him, sustaining him through 9 months in utero, though severed at birth still retained its connection like a phantom limb. She sometimes found herself crying, crying for her 27-year-old child who was out on his own in a strange new place without his family or buddies or the goofy co-workers she’d heard so much about.
She hoped Gerald was right, that in time he would adjust to his new city and his new office; that in time he would get over her and move on. That 10 years from now he would not still be wallowing in misery but likely would have a wife and family and will have long forgotten what ultimately will have been a blessing in disguise. The thing that made him buck up and take his job more seriously, earning him a promotion even if it did send him away from us.
But right now, in her chats with him all she could think about was how down he sounded. Even his emails and texts somehow conveyed a melancholy that was so unlike her normally cheerful child. Betsy knew Jim felt out of sorts and by extension so did she. She tried to cheer him up, sent packages with her homemade cookies and goofy cards she found at the nearby Hallmark store. She tried to give him advice on ways to meet new people. She even tried to get him to plan a big prank on his brothers. Normally she was Switzerland when it came to the prank wars between her boys but she’d make an exception and even get in on some scheming if it helped him get out of his funk.
Betsy eventually had some better days because her husband had been right—though she’d never tell Gerald he was. It took some time but Jim slowly was sounding more and more cheerful each time they spoke. She could almost see his smile as he told her about his big sale. She was surprised to hear Jim talk so animated about the office sport, some game that Jim said he was just terrible at. She found that hard to believe, Jim was a natural competitor and with his height and athletic ability it was hard to imagine him unable to pick up any sport, that is until she found out it was a video game. That explained it, Jim always preferred to play physically– no wonder he wasn’t able to keep up in an electronic version.
When she heard he was still in touch with and even playing pranks on his old deskmate, she laughed along with him. In the past she had pretended to be reproachful of the things Jim would do to the poor guy who sat next to him in Scranton—but deep down she would find the silly antics he played on his gullible friend quite humorous and was entertained hearing of them. Now she almost went as far as to encourage him, as it seemed to be one of the things that cheered him up. It seemed he was also trying to introduce his playful ways to his new co-workers. Sounds like this Andy fella was a real prize and deserving of some classic Jim pranks. There was even talk of a woman, Katherine or Karen, something with a K. She’d have to confirm with Jim which it was. Maybe there was something brewing between them. Maybe by the time he came home to see them for Thanksgiving he’d be back to his old self and have tales of a new romance to share.
Betsy Halpert couldn’t sleep. She was so excited to see her son, finally, after 6 months away that felt much longer. He’d arrived back in Scranton a little more than a week ago after having done a lot of thinking and a lot of talking with her and Gerald about his decision to come back. She was surprised he had to think about it at all. Even though he was finally starting to sound a little happier each time she spoke to him, she knew Stamford wasn’t the place for him. From the way Jim described it Connecticut was stuffy and snooty and somber. And they routed for the Patriots there. Now that football season had begun, Jim realized he had nowhere to go to watch his beloved Eagles play. The bars were full of New England fans and he said watching alone at home was kind of a bummer. Not that football alone was a reason to come back home. His family was in Scranton and so were his old college and high school buddies. The job they were offering him came with another small salary increase. His history was in Scranton, but that was what he said he was afraid of. It didn’t matter that he had begun to date again – her name was Karen and she sounded lovely—he still had his anxieties about going back to the place where he would be confronted daily with the memory of, in his words, one of the worst nights of his life.
Betsy had hoped to see him sooner, but he had lots to do after arriving home, settling in to a new apartment, helping his new girlfriend get acclimated, seeing his old friends. She understood that top of his priorities was not checking in to see his mom, but she was anxious to see him in person. It wasn’t as easy to tell on the phone how he truly was adjusting to being back. On the phone, Jim could disguise his true feelings better. He could mask his apprehensions about being back at work with the woman he ran all the way to Connecticut to escape from seeing every day. But Betsy would be able to tell everything going on with Jim the minute she saw his face. She always could.
He’d told Betsy that Pam never did go through with her wedding months before when he himself had first found out. She’d known it—called it back when she first heard the story of their kiss. But when he heard, Jim wasn’t ready to put himself out there again. Besides, he told her, she hadn’t told him herself, he’d heard through the office grapevine so it wasn’t as if it was an invitation to make contact. Now that he was back in the office they shared, Betsy asked how he felt seeing her again. Jim had answered with a verbal shrug. Even through the phone Betsy knew he was dodging any real answer. He danced around the details with incomplete thoughts that went something like: she hugged me, we shared a joke and I went on with my day. It was not very reassuring to Betsy that he was healthily dealing with being around Pam again. But then he went on to tell her more about his girlfriend, Karen and he did seem to be taken with her. He’d described her exotic looks, her ambition, her sense of humor (Jim said it needed a little work but he would take care of that in time), and her sophistication. Betsy couldn’t wait to meet her. She supposed it would be another time since tomorrow Jim would be coming by to see them alone, claiming he was not yet ready to bring her around.
Betsy Halpert couldn’t sleep. Tomorrow was the day she was finally going to meet Jim’s girlfriend. At last; it had taken long enough. She felt almost as if she knew her already from all Jim talked about her. She was always nervous to meet any of her son’s girlfriends but never more than this one. This was the girl who sent him running off to Stamford and then almost to New York. But this was also the girl who spilled herself to him in front of all their co-workers and even Jim’s girlfriend at the time at an office outing. He said she was shy but that took a whole lot of courage. Courage and intense feelings.
Betsy wasn’t quite sure how she would feel when she finally met Pam. Her feelings about the girl were in constant motion, swinging back and forth like a metronome, marked by the particular moment in time she thought about her. When Betsy had first heard about her many years ago, she sounded like a perfect match for her son. Not everyone appreciated the Halpert sense of humor and penchant for pranks. Betsy recalled how when she met Gerald his devilish side took some getting used to. Likewise, for all her boys’ girlfriends growing up. Each of her sons had trouble at one time or another with a girl who couldn’t take the constant joking. But from what Jim said, it was actually what drew Pam and him together. She was the first to warn him about Dwight, the very strange young man who he sat next to. She was in on most of the crazy pranks he pulled. But according to Jim, she was warm and sweet too, never letting him go too far or do anything truly mean. Seems he did the really mean tricks without telling her first.
But Betsy’s tune changed when she found out the girl had a fiancé and she became a little miffed with her for toying with her son’s heart, flirting as she did. But as Jim talked about their strong friendship, she began to like the girl again for being a friend to her son despite being with someone else. That was something that wasn’t really done in her age. You had girlfriends and a boyfriend, but never boys who were just friends. But as Jim continued to pine for her and complain about how this other guy treated her, it angered Betsy that she couldn’t open her eyes to what a catch her son was. Then there was the kiss and Jim’s flight, then the return and Jim’s stubbornness and blindness to his own feelings. It continued like this, back and forth, the pendulum marking beats when Betsy either wanted to see them get together or wished he’d be done with her for good.
Finally, after it seemed Pam had her own epiphany and decided Jim was worth stepping out of her comfort zone for, Betsy learned she’d had a heart to heart with Jim – first in front of everyone they worked with but then privately. Betsy had known it was only a matter of time at that point before he would break it off with Karen. In every conversation she’d had with her son, Pam’s name came up, whether intentionally as he told her funny things she said or accidentally when he meant to refer to girl he was dating, but called her by Pam’s name instead. She was more than surprised when he actually did go through with the New York job interview but not surprised at all when he called her a few days after he’d had his first, second and third date with Pam all in one weekend. The last time he sounded that happy and excited was when he was played for the little league all-star team and scored the winning run in the championship game. However, that glee was fleeting as his team fell to the next team they played in a devastating blow out. Betsy hoped, no Betsy knew, don’t ask how she just did, that her son’s current state of bliss would last and for that reason she guessed she already loved Pam.
Betsy Halpert couldn’t sleep. She was beyond excited, so keyed up that even while her husband snored soundly next to her in the cozy hotel room, she laid wide awake. Tonight it wasn’t the snoring keeping her up. Her youngest son was getting married in the morning. Married to Pam, the love of his life, the girl he had waited for, no the wife he’d waited for, sometimes patiently, sometimes not so much. It had been a long wait, first through friendship, then through heartache, then through stubbornness and pride, then through time apart, only physical distance, not in their hearts and now it was the night before the wedding at last. Thank goodness they didn’t go through with their silly idea to elope. Betsy would have been devastated to miss the moment when he officially made Pam Beesly a Halpert even though she felt like family already.
Betsy thought about the little boy he once was and it didn’t feel so long ago, and now not only was he getting married but he had his own child on the way. Thirty-one years ago, he had entered her life at 9 pounds 2 ounces and playing his first practical joke by coming on early so that Gerald had to miss watching his Phillies clinch the NL East title, but then stalled in the process, her labor extending through the night and into the next day, when he finally arrived 23 hours later. The joy he brought them exceeding that of any baseball championship and now he would get to experience that too. So what if they got the order of things a little backwards. Jim always seemed to go by his own time table. Just as long as they were getting married first. And soon Betsy would have another grandchild to love. But tomorrow it was Pam who was becoming part of the family. Pam, who she loved not only for how happy she made her son but for the warm, funny, kind person she was and the wonderful mother she knew she would be. From the moment they met her—Betsy had been worried for no reason before that first meeting—she fit right into the family. She was like coconut flour, the magic secret ingredient recently added to the chocolate chip cookie recipe she’d been making for years. The cookies always were delicious but with the addition of Pam’s suggested ingredient they tasted exponentially better and now Betsy always made them that way.
It was late and Betsy Halpert was tired. Tired but content. The day had been wonderful even if a bit out of the ordinary. With Pam 5 months pregnant already, she knew the wedding would be a little different from the typical. And it was starting with a long wait for the bride, which she later found out was because they’d run off to get married on the Maid of the Mist, before they got married in the church. Then there was her son’s wacky half tie which she felt ruined the photos but Pam and Jim seemed so unfazed by it she tried not to let it bother her either. Then that crazy dance down the aisle and the turtle that found its way up to the altar mid ceremony. It was a very untraditional wedding. But then again nothing about their relationship was traditional, except maybe the love they shared. Jim and Pam kept on a schedule of their own doing things their own way in their own time. But once they said I do, for the second time that day, the rest of the day went like clockwork. The ceremony was full of joy, the party full of energy, the room full of love. She thought one more time about the magical day and the happiness she saw on her son’s face as he danced with his new bride and she easily and blissfully fell asleep.