Chapter 2: Aerial Perspective
“Colors become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them.”
-Leonardo da Vinci, on aerial perspective
Her thumb hovered above the dimly glowing arrow; three-lettered names casting mirrored shadows in the pale highlight of her eyes. There was no reason for him to still reside there, in the ranks of that selective list. She could not even recall the last time the pad of her thumb had descended past playful teasing of the green button, while backlit pixels traced his slender, linear characters.
That was a lie. It was the tenth of June; an ordinary day made extraordinary only by the whirling thoughts of canceled ceremonies and that damn phone call.
The tears that stained her cheeks that day were no less briny or astringent than any that fell in the weeks that followed or preceded it. They stung her swollen skin, ungoverned by schedules or obligations, indiscriminate of dates or fingers batting them into submission. They were an accessory Pam wore to mark that time; when the familiar vivid hues of life were diluted by complementary colors and umber. “Her grey period” she remembered declaring those summer months; a passive attempt at artistic humor that matched her underexposed outlook.
But that day. That stupid, pathetic monument to the disaster that was her life rather than the colossal step in a new direction she had to remind herself it was. When her sister had pulled Pam off the saline-soiled pillow she’d cradled against her since the night before; dragging her into Scranton’s sun-soaked streets in an attempt to window shop her way to distraction. It was a valiant effort, Pam remembered. The mix of light exercise and brightly lit displays a healthy alternative to the tequila flights and cheap cocktails Penny had planned for the evening. But she didn’t have the heart to tell her sister there was nothing that would ultimately distract her from that day. Especially once she’d made that abysmally sober call.
Straight to voicemail. The memory still a blade to her heart; his escape to Australia sending him a far greater distance than the ten thousand miles that physically separated them. She’d allowed the familiar lilt of his recorded voice to color her faded soul before racing digital tones to press “end call”. Fifteen seconds; the pathetic extent of her courage.
But she was going to be braver now, right? That was what she had just decided as she walked—no, strode—the short distance between the gallery exit and the driver’s side door of her Yaris. When generous words of encouragement and commiseration had elevated her spirit and heart to reach unexplored heights. That was after all why she wanted to call someone, anyone—well, someone—to modestly boast and share her excitement and optimism for the future.
Why was she letting this pull her down? He’d be happy for her...at least he would have at one time. He was probably busy this evening, but he would have been there if he could. Pam could hear her heart beating its anxious soundtrack in the back of her throat as she gazed with determination at the tiny screen, willing herself to depress the button.
Her courage, this time, was measured by two disappointing clicks.
“Hey, Roy...yeah I just got into my car...” Pam closed her eyes, hiding the shame that resided in them from the night. Indistinct music and garbled voices pulsed against her eardrum as she tried to understand the unintelligible noise. “Hey, I can’t....no, I can’t understand you. Can you go somewhere quieter?”
“Come...Poor Richard’s...Karaoke Night.” The prepositions overwhelmed by what Pam could only assume were poorly belted melodies of karaoke participants.
“No, Roy...I’m...I’m really tired,” Pam bemoaned, inserting her key into the ignition, her foot descending onto the clutch in anticipation. “I was just calling to tell you about...”
“Oh my gosh is that Pam?!” The distinct arpeggio of Kelly’s voice overwhelmed any background noise that attempted to slip through the speaker. “Pam! Pam! Oh my gosh, you have to come tonight, we're having so much fun. We HAVE to do a duet together.”
“Hi, Kelly.” The edges of her mouth begrudgingly lifting in a false grin, an automatic reaction to the familiar timbre. “I don’t think I’m going to make it tonight, my vocal cords need to get retuned...you know, like a piano? It’s a whole thing...”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. You have to come, Pam!” Kelly bemoaned. “EVERYONE is here. Ryan is telling us about Michael's disastrous presentation at his school today. It was so embarrassing. You gotta hear him tell it!”
Any semblance of a smile, evaporating with the pang of her words as she released the clutch. Everyone had gone to Karaoke Night rather than her art show. Who was everyone...?
“Kelly, can you put Roy back on, please?”
“Sure thing. But you better be here in twenty minutes because I’m putting us down for Toxic by Britney and I will be mortified if I have to sing it alone.”
Pam rolled her eyes, knowing that as long as she held the attention of the room, Kelly would never be mortified by any song choice. “Ok, sounds good, Kelly. Is Roy anywhere nearby?”
The indistinguishable fuzz of the cell being passed across an undeterminable distance crackled across the line before Roy’s voice bellowed into her ear again. Pam drew the phone back a few inches as preventative care to an ensuing headache. “HEY BABE! So you’ll be here in what, ten...fifteen minutes?”
Her lids shuddered, already exhausted by this conversation “I...no, I’d really like to just go home but...I wanted to tell you about what my teacher, Ms. Shay...Madeleine said...”
“Ah, I yeah wanna hear all about that...”
Pam paused, hearing the distraction in his voice, hoping it was imagined. “Wait...are you being sarcastic or....”
“Of course not...Pam, I’ve been...telling all of these guys about your art...and how it was the prettiest art of all the art in that uh...”
“Gallery...and, that’s really nice of you. Um, like I was saying, Madeleine...”
“Hey Pam, I can’t really hear you, I think the connection is busted...or this stupid phone. But you’ll be here soon, right? You can tell me then about all the great things that Cray lady said...”
“Right, Shay—...ok, well I gotta go, we’re doing shots. I’ll order ya a double. See you soon, Pam!”
The sudden silence hung like smoke inside the cabin of her car, as the high-pitched ring of tinnitus beset any sense or cognitive thought available to her. “Shit!” She cursed herself, knowing that her choice was made, knowing that she was the one making it. Acknowledging the poor decision it would inevitably be. Allowing it to happen.
“Ughhhh!” Pam moaned into her steering wheel as her fingers pushed aggressively against the key, igniting the engine; the hatred she held for herself muffled by the low purr. Well, at least I’ll find out who "everyone" is...and where we all really stand.
The shimmering lights of red and yellow that illuminated the streets of Scranton peered through the driver’s side window, casting elongated graduations of highlight and shadow along her purple sleeves. As reds turned to green, Pam’s hazy musings of dark-haired couples singing classic rock ballads in nauseating harmony were interrupted only by her own berating conscience. A rhythmic tick, syncopated against a flashing green arrow, announced Pam’s arrival as she pulled into the dark lot behind Poor Richard's.
Her lips, wrapped in an ‘O’, released a long, cool breath as she cut the engine. I’ll be quick. I’ll find Roy, tell him the good news, discretely dispose of whatever shot he ordered for me, and leave. I’ll be in my bed in thirty minutes...ok, in forty-five minutes.
It was, she would later think, an act of God—perhaps the same deity that had been in that Chili's a year ago—that she thought to glance into her rearview mirror before opening her car door.
She watched as the confidence she longed for strode merrily through the backdoor of the bar, accompanied by indistinct bass lines and heady laughter of strangers and friends alike. It walked hand in hand with its equal, its complement; the hue that brought out the best and brightest in the other, she was certain. Her easy mastery of color theory was one of her natural talents. And the pair was walking right towards her.
A familiar double chirp that usually signaled her chance to leave the office without uncomfortable elevator rides, sounded nearby. He was parked two spots down, with Kevin’s car, she realized, nestled between them. Pam sank deep into her seat, her fight or flight reflex playing her ribs like a marimba. I should go. I should just pull out and go home. They probably won’t notice me. He wouldn't recognize my car in the dark, right...? Her mind a prancing jackalope in an ancient wood.
But isn’t this what you wanted to know...? The truth a bed of stinging nettles that she had agreed to lie upon. Reflexively, she sought to shield her conscience, to shut down, not think about it; deny the difficult reality before her. She was so well-practiced in this dance that she almost didn’t catch herself performing it. But for once, she did, and she was done with this act.
She’s livid. And hurt, but mostly livid at what they have become. Not friends, not lovers, not even enemies; all of those took a particular level of commitment and acknowledgment. They required both parties to actually care, even in a twisted capacity about the other. And it was clear, as she watched his head tilt back in a hearty laugh, his hand interlaced with Karen’s, unweighted by sorrow, or pain, or guilt, that Jim had moved on, and truly no longer cared for her.
She waited until the slam of two doors echoed across the lot before opening her own. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, Pam extricated herself from the safe confines of her vehicle; flinging shut the door with more force than necessary. Looking over to his glowing taillights, she timed her stride, marching to the tempo he had decided for them, as usual. Her eyes glared past the dashboard, seeing the ruffle of unkempt hair that caressed the back of his neck—an all too familiar sight to her these days—as he checked his rearview window.
His pirouette choreographed perfectly with her subtle plié. Pam bit the inside of her cheek as she watched the green and yellow stars that danced in the reflection of his eye suddenly be submerged in stunning darkness. She would never admit to anyone the satisfaction she enjoyed in seeing the smile he had worn throughout his recent promenade fade from his face when he saw her, spotlighted in the effervescent shine of his headlights.
Her expression remains stoic. She will not cry or break. She just wants him to know that she knows. They aren’t friends, they are less than that.
Pam did not look back as she traveled the brief distance to the pub entrance. She did not notice his car linger; stalled in place for more seconds than necessary. Nor did she see the hand that rose from the passenger seat to nudge the driver forward, breaking his trance. By the time her hand brushed the cold metal of the door, he was gone. And that was just as well for Pam. In the clarity of the night, she had resolved herself to be brave. To move on. To not care either.
— -- —
Whether it was curiosity or bitterness or pitiful self-destruction that led her into that bar that night, she’d never know. Yet as the door swung open and she was met with the musty malodor of cheap beer and spilled vodka, Pam’s intuition that this was a horrible idea was confirmed in her mind. Standing on the threshold, she hesitated, considering retreating for only the hundredth time in a matter of twenty minutes. But before her foot could cross behind her in an elegant pivot, a familiar shriek erupted from nearby and she was suddenly engulfed in a trilled appoggiatura of speech.
“Pam!! You’re here, oh my God, you just missed the craziest thing!” Kelly’s voice, an icon of perpetual motion, nearly knocked Pam off her feet. “I almost had to make Ryan be my backup singer, but wouldn’t you know that just as I was walking up to the stage, Kevin...get this, so he’s playing Texas Hold ‘Em with Darryl and Roy's brother which, by the way, what losers play cards when there is karaoke, am I right? Anyways, all of a sudden, he gets super upset and pushes away from the table and is all ‘You know what...I am never, ever playing with you two again!’ and then he turned and tripped on an extension cord and crashed into the karaoke machine and...”
“Oh my God, is he ok?” Pam interrupted, her brow furrowed in concern, only then becoming mildly aware of the, thankfully, lowered volume in the bar.
Kelly gave an exasperated sigh, “Yes, Pam, he’s fine...a bunch of dollar bills fell out of his coat pocket and Darryl was all ‘Looks like we found the missing cash after all’...but that’s not the point, Pam. The point is that they are trying to fix the machine so that we can do our duet and I swear to God, if they don’t get it fixed soon, I am going to scream because I have been waiting for like forty minutes for the...”
Pam’s focus floundered from Kelly, her ability to mask her disinterest waning considerably in her fatigue. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the young woman. Kelly had been a saving grace of sorts during her separation from Roy and others. She had enthusiastically taken Pam under her wing, introducing her to hipper styles and trends, moderately distracting her from the cavernous hole in her heart. But as her eyes darted across the bar, seeing Ryan, Phyllis, Bob Vance, Meredith, Creed, even Angela and Dwight—the collection of her colleagues talking jovially amongst themselves—she was hit again with the particular pain of realizing how little they valued her. Perhaps that’s not entirely their fault though...perhaps if I valued myself a bit more... “I’m really sorry, Kelly, that’s awful...” Pam heard her voice interrupt her own thoughts. “Have you seen Roy? I need to talk to him.”
Kelly’s eyes flashed darkly, knowing she was being brushed off, but at once masked the snub with an artificial smile she had perfected in her years of customer service. “Oh, yeah of course! He’s right over there in the corner...”
“Great, thanks, Kelly...” Pam said distractingly, her focus turning in the direction Ms. Kapoor had indicated.
“No problem, Pam! I’m going to go yell at the bartender to see how long it will take them to fix the karaoke system. I’ll let you know when it’s our turn...”
Her eyes settled on the burly man, his face alight with laughter and inebriation, standing on the opposite side of the room with several warehouse comrades and Kenny. His pale cerulean eyes shone despite the distance and poor lighting, and Pam was taken aback by a striking moment of clarity. While she would never expect him to be as passionate as she was about art or visual masterworks, she knew that the muted glow of feigned interest that had bedaubed his face earlier that night at the gallery was merely a fleeting attempt to appease her. And though she appreciated the effort, it was clear that his attendance was not so much to support her but to check an obligatory box on his temporary list of ‘Ways to Win Pam’s Favor’.
She knew it would only be a matter of time before he’d consider such propitiation won and old habits would return in full force. He didn’t mean it, he was trying his best; but the fact that Roy was tragically blind to was that his love for her was not in the person that she was but the idea of a person he wanted her to be. And if she was truthful with herself, she knew that her heart mirrored his.
“PAM! Oh my God, you just missed t’f—funniest shit...” Roy beamed first to her and then his buddies knowingly, his arm falling sloppily around her shoulders, bringing her into an awkward side hug.
“Yeah, I heard a bit of it from Kelly...” Pam replied, her shoulders tensed beneath his heavy embrace.
“Oh, crap...where’sh your shot...” He twisted around searching for the glass.
“Thatsss fer Pam?” Kenny said in a slur of words not uncommon to his vernacular.
“Roy, I actually don’t need...”
“Nah I gotta go getchu one...celebrate your big success...” Roy said as he moved behind her towards the bar, ignoring her repute.
Pam exhaled a tired sigh, the dull headache she’d been fighting back was winning a recent resurgence.
“Yeah, Pam...Roy was going on and on about how pretty your art was...” Philip said brightly.
She almost bought it. But Pam saw the lie like a beacon on the elderly warehouse worker’s face and she winced. “Thanks, um...I’m gonna go see Roy, I’ll be back...”
She walked towards the bar, the vague knowledge of what she needed to do sending ripples of unease through her limbs. “Hey, Roy, listen...please, don’t get me anything, I’m not staying. I just need to talk to you...”
Roy’s face went momentarily pale at her words, “Wh...what’s wrong, whaddya need to talk a— Oh! Your teacher lady...what was she goin’ on about?”
“Oh...” Pam shook her head, that conversation a distant memory in her mind. “Yeah, she’s offered me a gig, thing. I’ll get to help teach watercolors on Friday nights, and some Saturdays. It’s not a big deal, it’s just for one of those Wine and Paint things I’ve maybe told you about...?”
“Fridays, eh?” Roy questioned. “Well...whattabout date night...Fridays ’r always date nights...”
Pam stared at him, utterly baffled. She couldn’t recall a time when Friday nights were ever synonymous with “date nights”. To be honest, she couldn’t remember the last time they had gone on a real date that didn’t include Kenny or a stop at Darryl’s to watch the game. “Right, well...I really could use the income and it’s a really generous offer from Madeleine...”
“Babe, if you need money...”
“No...” Pam shook her head, feeling herself losing control of the conversation and her patience. “No, Roy...I need to be able to pay rent and pay for my classes. I need to be self-sufficient.”
“W—why doncha you move back in with me...I can take care of rent, especially with Kenny staying in the second bedroom.”
Wow. “Roy, no...listen, that isn’t a solution right now. And this isn’t even what I really needed to talk to you about. But I am taking that job. It’s a good thing for me, it involves something I’m passionate about, and I can still keep my receptionist position.”
“Well, I’m passionate about us, Pam...” Roy’s voice edged with a simmering annoyance that articulated past pickled slurs. “And I came to your show tonight...don’t you appreciate that?”
“Of course,” Pam sighed, her hand raising to massage her temples. This wasn’t the time, she knew. She shouldn’t push him through this conversation when he was drunk and wasn’t listening, and all Pam longed to do was retreat to the warm comfort of her bed and let the day become a forgotten memory. But there was a gleam in the pit of her stomach, a shining ray of determination to be brave, to stand up for herself and her own desires; to be honest, and to be listened to. A spark that she knew, if she diffused now, would be lost forever. “Roy...I need to tell you something...”
— -- —
She could never be certain what exactly had triggered that insatiable need to confess past transgressions. The words were written into her diaphragm before her lips could filter them through any constructive means. She just needed him to know, because he wasn’t understanding, and he wasn’t hearing her. Roy couldn’t see what they had become.
When once she had likened him to an oversized sweatshirt: comfort-ridden and familiar, she now realized, in the years of that comfort, she had lost herself; her slight form becoming overwhelmed and obscured. Her dreams forgotten and perspective dulled. Now, her eyes gaining focus on the man before her—if she could call him that amidst his tantrum—fit her like an itchy sweater that was shrunken and stiff; suffocating and restrictive. She had, in every way possible, outgrown him.
“We’re done, Roy. This is over.” Her voice, calm in its strength and resolve; measured in the truth it wielded.
Pam’s tears reflected the shards of glass that erupted behind her as she hurried to the back door of the bar, unable to look back. From one chaotic scene to the next, she emerged from the bar to see Phyllis, Bob, Ryan, Kelly, and Meredith harmonizing in improvised laughter over a story or joke she took no interest in.
“Hey, where are you going?”
Pam glided past them, their words a meaningless jumble of syllables until Ryan shouted in cruel comic relief. “Ok, Crazy!”
She almost toppled over in the abruptness of her pause but maintained full composure, the rigidity of her stance anchoring her as she turned on the spot. “Why didn’t any of you come to my art show? I invited all of you! That really sucked...”
They simultaneously choked on the poignancy of her words. “It’s like some of you act like I don’t even exist.” And she knew that, in all likelihood, she meant that for someone else, but she wasn’t caring about them anymore.
— -- —
As she sat in the driver’s seat, her hands gripping the locked wheel, clinging to its stability, a luminous memory took flight in her mind. Releasing a shaky breath, she reached into her purse, her fingers filtering through the contents to find the pseudo metallic cube, before raising it into eyesight. In a flurry of clicks and beeps, she eviscerated the two names from the list that denoted her “Favorites”, the ghosts of their three-lettered names still glowing in the darkness behind her eyelids. It would take a few blinks, and perhaps a few more tears, but eventually both would fade and she could be free.