There it lay.
A circle of gold.
Beside the container it was ripped from and atop the discarded paper towels, used coffee Kcups and empty Chinese takeout boxes that had contained Darryl’s dinner.
Perhaps it was his. Maybe he was still hungry after the pork fried rice and chicken with broccoli and so he washed it down with one of the mixed berry yogurts Jim had made sure to stock up on before her latest visit.
Darryl was unaware of their lid rituals. He didn’t know how they saved them to adorn the holiday tree each year, a tradition started years back on their first Christmas together with the surprise fir Jim decorated in memories of their friendship and their love.
Apart from the handful of lids now marked with the date of the first Christmas they celebrated together —Jim had never eaten so much yogurt in a one-week period to collect the dozen or so that he hung from the branches that first year—she had since insisted any additional lids to be hung each season be from the prior 12 months, like a new harvest of metallic to symbolize another year of their luminous love.
So, lids were never thrown away. Instead, they were carefully removed, rinsed with care and tucked away into the collection box they kept in the cabinet over the kitchen sink.
But Jim knew this lid wasn’t Darryl’s. In the months they’d been sharing a place, he’d seen Darryl eat a variety of foods mostly chicken wings and pizza, occasionally adding salad or fruit to his diet for a more healthful choice. But never yogurt.
No, he knew it had been Pam’s, this lid that was cast aside like the trash that to most people it was.
What did it say that it was here in the garbage can?
Maybe nothing, Jim tried to convince himself. Maybe now with Cece and Phillip eating so much yogurt she didn’t need to save every single one. They had so many last year, he’s not sure they even hung them all.
The special box wasn’t here, so she probably didn’t feel the need to save this lone lid from today to travel back with.
Then why was it bothering him so much?
Why did a silly tradition, when broken, make him feel broken too?
Why did he wake up next to his wife and still feel like she was miles away?
Perhaps, because for the first time since they’d gotten together, they were in different places. Not just for a few days a week while he slept here in the small sublet with Darryl and she slept alone in their marital bed. The miles separating them was about what they each wanted. She didn’t want any of it and it was everything he’d dreamed of. At least everything he dreamed of that he didn’t yet have.
Why couldn’t she see just how much he wanted this, how much he needed this?
How he had gone as far as he could go as a paper salesman?
There was nothing left for him at Dunder Mifflin, aside from her. But they were married, had a family. He no longer needed to stay in a dead-end job just to be near her.
Why was it so hard for her to see how great this would be for the whole family?
If things took off as he hoped they would Pam might not even have to work and could be home with the kids instead, maybe pick up something part-time in the art field, the kind she liked, not graphic design but at a gallery or at a school. But did she want that kind of job? He realized he didn’t know.
It was hard to imagine that 6 months ago they had a hard time discovering something they didn’t know about each other. That she couldn’t even fool him with a made-up story about an old high school friend who tried to hit on her during a recent shopping trip. No, he knew it hadn’t been true then just like he knew she would be excited for him and the new life they had ahead of them here. Or so he had thought.
She’d blindsided him last night. He hadn’t seen it coming. He knew they were having their issues but he thought it was about the secrecy and the investment and that stupid fight about Cece’s recital.
He never thought she had any issues about moving here with him.
There was a time so recent that he would know exactly what she was thinking, exactly how she was feeling. She wouldn’t have to come out and tell him because he would just know, instinctively.
Could all his time in Philly away from her have numbed his instincts, lessened his acuity or was it him putting up blinders so he wouldn’t see her apprehension.
But he knew he wasn’t all to blame here. After all it was hard to hear what she hadn’t told him, that is until last night.
Why was she so afraid of this move? Philadelphia wasn’t so far from Scranton; they’d still be close enough to family and friends. And though they wouldn’t be working at the same place, they’d have nights and weekends and holidays, just like typical families.
Because she was Pam. Despite all her growth since he’d met her, she still had trouble looking at change as a positive thing.
He got it. Change had not always worked well for her. When she tried at graphic design, she couldn’t complete the program. When she acted on impulse and followed Michael, she almost instantly regretted it.
But this was different. Wasn’t it? This would work out. She’d come around. By Christmas, they’d be here, but in a new place with a bigger tree and a year’s worth of lids on it.
He reached into the trash to retrieve the golden medallion, rinsed it off and tucked it into his messenger bag.
Mixed berry yogurt.
There were six of them in the fridge, six yogurts for a single overnight stay.
He was trying.
Here in his fridge was another small gesture like the champagne and candles from the night before.
If only the big gesture wasn’t to start a company without having talked to her about it, in a place she never wanted to go.
She’d tried to accept it. This was what Jim did, he took chances, made leaps and planned grand surprises like the house and the boat reservations and well now this.
He always had their best interests at heart and they always worked out, sometimes they were even the saving grace, like on their wedding day when everything around her seemed to be making her crazy, the private wedding ceremony on the boat was just the thing he knew she would need.
How come he couldn’t see what she needed now?
How come he didn’t understand that this was different from a big purchase or a backup plan and it wasn’t fair that he did this without including her in the conversation?
How come he couldn’t see how scary it was for her? How it seemed like everything they’d built up for themselves was crumbling as he borrowed bricks from the bedrock to build something she had no part in. How she was afraid as he left behind the industry they’d learned to navigate together for the sensational world of sports and marketing, a world she knew little about, he’d leave her behind too.
She’d wanted to tell him sooner how she felt but there never seemed a time. She almost did when he first told her how, despite his previous agreement it wasn’t the right time, he went ahead and became part of the start-up anyway. But her words became smothered and restricted once she saw the pleading look on his face and felt his arms wrapped around her with so much gratefulness, covering her like the swaddling blanket they used to soothe their babies during bouts of incessant wailing. Her true feelings lay trapped inside her, held on her tongue. And the usual Jim gestures that followed, paved the way for more silence. When he depleted their savings so he could be a team player, anger flew from her, the sound and fury unleashed that day like bokeh particles that blurred the focus of what her rage was really about. This time pies and flowers weren’t enough to stop her harsh words but even the furious wraths she hurled at him weren’t the ones that would make him understand what she really felt.
When her nights of parenting their two small children on her own, exhausted her and filled her with resentment, still she kept it inside having neither the energy or the bravery to share her trepidation.
Weeks passed as they rode a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and when they weren’t arguing or holding back their hostility, they didn’t want to disturb the bits of happiness they still could have together.
And while she stayed silent, Jim made more plans, setting up timelines, reviewing local preschools and arranging for Pam to interview at a local real estate firm.
She gave it a shot, went on the interview, thinking if she could land a good job it might be a big step in making her accept where things seemed to be headed. This wasn’t that job, but the interview was an experience. One she couldn’t wait to share with Jim, bursting to tell him how Michael Scott may not be as unique as they once thought he was because she had just met his doppelgänger.
But as she spent the day waiting on him in the small, lifeless apartment it all became less funny to her as she thought about what her next interview might bring and knew no place would make her as happy as working side by side with Jim. In Scranton.
And as the hours past she realized, even if she found something here and they did relocate, she’d still be feeling like a single parent as he stayed late for meetings, took calls at dinner, traveled, and put the demands of the job before the family.
Last night, over dinner, the words finally spilled out, expelling from her body, dropping onto the pristine white table cloth like oil stains that might never come out.
The look on Jim’s face and hurt in his eyes was like a grey cloud come to cast a shadow over their happy champagne date. Attempts to salvage the evening kept them both from saying more as they tried to ignore the sting of their diverging expectations.
She didn’t throw it out right away. Muscle memory was strong, its power drew her to the sink to rinse it off and set it down gently on a napkin to dry. But the feelings she was having were stronger.
Now as she rinsed her spoon and caught the gleam of gold in her periphery, all the bad feelings came flooding back along with the paralyzing fear of where they might be by Christmas if they couldn’t get past this storm. Drops of saline clung to her lashes as she pushed back the gold disc and her worse fears.
Even if they weathered it all, which was seeming harder and harder to do, this lid seemed tainted, tarnished by the acid of their current problems. No, she wouldn’t bring this lid back to Scranton. Its poison wouldn’t reach her home. The tears finally fell as the gold dropped from her hand into the trash bin.
She was already gone from the bed when he woke up. He hadn’t noticed her get up but when he reached for her, hoping the tension of the night before had ebbed like morning tides, he felt only the lump of covers left in her wake.
In sleep everything was fine, she was onboard and excited and ready for a new chapter but as he awoke from the Xanadu in his dreams and reality set in, the despair he felt deep in his stomach came back, making it hard for him to move. He wanted to join her in the kitchen so they could share another meal together before she had to head back to Scranton. He knew they needed to talk some more about the revelations of the night before. But by the time he managed to rid his body of the fatigue that last night’s difficult conversation burdened him with and his brain was back in charge of limbs that were fighting to stay where they were, she was already up from the table and on her way back into the room that Jim was now coming from.
Pam planted an emotionless peck on her husband's lips as they passed in the entryway, whispering so not to wake Darryl who had switched with Jim for the night, taking the couch so he and Pam could have some privacy in the apartment’s one bedroom.
“Morning hon. I’d better get into the shower. I’ve got a long drive ahead of me,” she paused and her eyes scanned the dingy beige carpet and similar colored walls before darting off to the slatted blinds that hung in the windows, looking everywhere except into her husband’s eyes.
“I’d really like to try to see the kids before work today."
Guess their next conversation would be when he arrived back at his ersatz home later that evening. The privacy of the bedroom would by then be restored back to Darryl and he would return to the futon but the discomfort of sleeping on the couch was nothing compared to the thought of sleeping continually without her by his side.
He had to convince her. But how? It was hard enough to get her to see when they were face to face but now it would be another important conversation to be had handset to handset instead of in person. Another exchange where he wouldn’t see her eyes, her hands and the body language that used to tell him everything he needed to know before she even said a word. Not that he’d been all that good at reading her lately.
There had once been a time where they could communicate with nothing more than a look, a glance in each other’s direction that would speak volumes but that was a long time ago – when the transmissions were about pulling a prank or mocking Michael or just expressing their love for each other.
But the things they faced now required real communication and that’s where they were failing.
While Pam showered Jim grabbed a bowl and the milk and finished the remaining cereal from a box he hoped wasn’t Darryl’s. He quickly ate his own breakfast, only vaguely aware food was passing over his tongue as there was no taste to what he consumed, only the visual of the spoon reaching his mouth assured him he was actually eating the food in front of him. He left the bowl and the now empty cereal box on the table when her heard the creak of the bathroom door, rushing to meet her back in the bedroom where she silently slipped on her tights and pencil skirt.
“Pam,” he mouthed emotionally. “Can you just tell me why? What are you so afraid of?”
Jim stepped toward her preparing for her to step and twirl into his arms so he could help her with the zipper as he’d been doing for years. But she never turned and instead reached her own arms behind herself, struggling slightly but self-sealing herself into the snug garment.
“Jim, can we not do this now? I don’t want to have another fight before I leave. Now that Andy is back, I’ve got him to deal with and you know how hard that is even in a good mood.”
She turned to make the bed, even though she knew Jim would need to change the bedsheets before Darryl took repossession of the room.
She spoke to the wall as she ran her hands along the madras comforter, “I’ll have to be extra nice after not coming back to the office yesterday and the last thing I need is to get upset or angry again now.”
Jim knew she had a point. He too didn’t want their last words to each other this morning to be ones of anger but he also couldn’t help thinking back on what Brian had said about him and Alyssa. How when the fighting stopped, when they pulled back from the conflict instead of leaning in that’s when they broke. He knew Pam had to be thinking of them, too. It was only about a week ago, they’d learned how their friends were splitting. Then, she was the one who wanted to duke it out and she made Jim stay and fight instead of leaving early for Athlead. And fight they did that night, but about her crying to the sound guy and how he didn’t appreciate all she was doing on the days he was gone and how it wasn’t fair he took his stress out on her.
They still they never got around to discussing the things that it seemed were the real problem.
And now here she was circumventing the argument, doing exactly what Brian said was the final nail in the coffin of his marriage. Were they becoming just like him and Alyssa? Holding tongue, turning inward instead of pushing each other to say more, even if it was in anger.
He wanted to do it now, press her to yell, force her to lash out, make her say words that would wound but paradoxically lead them to healing.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he picked up her bag and her coat and held her hand as he walked her out to the car. The cold morning air was like a slap, further stiffening their farewell embrace and cutting it short.
Pam promised to call when she arrived back in Scranton and slipped into the front seat to turn over the engine. Jim settled her bags in the back and when he lowered the hatch, he noticed the thin cloud of white vapor from the tail pipe that matched the billowy puffs that escaped his mouth as he walked back around to where she sat waiting for the car to warm up.
Pam rolled down the window so Jim could give her one last kiss and then she drove off, the cloud of vapor fading away along with feel of her last kiss on his lips.
Back in the apartment, Darryl had taken the opportunity to jump into the bathroom while Jim tidied up the remains of his rushed breakfast. It had been cold outside when he walked Pam out, but as he now noticed the gold lid in the trash, his whole body went numb with a chill so deep he shuttered as he retrieved it.
Pam cried almost the whole trip back. So much for avoiding conflict so should wouldn’t get emotional. But she couldn’t bear to see that look on his face again before her drive home.
She knew they had more to discuss.
She knew he had a right to know what she was afraid of but how could she tell him she was afraid this dream of his might fail. That she didn’t want to uproot their life for something that was still so tenuous.
But worse, she was afraid to tell him how scared she was that it would succeed, and with its success take him further and further away from her and the kids.
Either way it was change and she wasn’t ready for it.
She tried change. She enrolled at Pratt, wasting three months away from Jim only to fail at it in the end.
She tried acting impulsively, foolishly leaving to follow Michael when he threw his tantrum and, on a whim, started his own company.
Neither worked out very well for her. No, whenever she tried to change, change came back and bit her in the ass.
This was his dream, not hers and while she was wearing herself thin holding down the fort, parenting their children, making excuses for him at his other job and trying to be his cheerleader when things weren’t going well, he seemed too preoccupied to care about the things that they once shared, like the insanity happening at the old office and who wasn’t getting a rose that week. Sometimes he even seemed too preoccupied to care about Phillip’s newest quirks, like the little wiggle he seemed to develop in his gait and Cece’s naughty, but nonetheless adorable, sass. When he wasn’t rushing off the phone for a meeting or a more important call, sometimes she felt like he was barely even listening to her.
All for something that wasn’t guaranteed, and even if it was a success, it would be something he had achieved without her.
He’d wanted to talk that morning, again on his timetable. Where was he all the nights she had waited for him to call back after his quick chat with the kids, all he had time for in the earlier evening?
It was always, “Sorry I took so long hon. I just needed to get my notes together for tomorrow’s meeting or I promised Darryl I’d do the dishes first.”
What about the promises he’d made to her, that he would always be there for her and the family?
So no, this time he’d have to wait until she was ready to talk again.
The deal with Trent Edwards was a big coup, but it took most of the day. Jim was exhausted by the time he got back to the apartment.
He had been able to compartmentalize his concerns about Pam while they worked up the package for the football star but now that he was back at the apartment, it weighed on his mind again. He wished she’d talked to him this morning, because he didn’t know if he had the mettle or mindset for discussing it now.
It wasn’t an issue though because that night it never came up.
Or the next night. Or when he was back home later in the week.
Two weeks later after another exhausting day, he arrived home early enough to call home well before the kid’s bedtime. In fact, as tired as he was, his plan was to be in bed earlier than his three year old back home, but not before he spoke to her and Phillip as he did most nights he was away.
Jim suspected Phillip was beginning to understand it wasn’t just another talking toy that Pam held up for him each night, as he’d begun to babble Dada during some of the more recent times they’d talked. Tonight, as Jim regaled him with lines from Ryan Howard’s screenplay—maybe there was an audience for it after all—he swore he heard him repeat the word ball or maybe it was just the sound of him drooling and smacking his lips together, but either way it made Jim sad he couldn’t show his son his new signed baseball and kiss him goodnight in person.
When it was time for his nightly giggle fest with Cece, he was so tired he almost forgot the knock, knock joke he’d looked up earlier, remembering it just as Pam passed her the phone.
“What are you so excited about?!”
Jim didn’t know how much she actually understood the jokes he told her each night but she burst into laughter every time all the same. Sometimes, like tonight she even tried to tell her own.
“Dada, why the cookie crying?
“I don’t know Cece, why?”
Cece began chortling before she got the punchline out, her adorable little snicker tickling Jim’s ears but making him miss her even more.
“Because, he had crumbs.”
Another round of giggles came from her little voice while in the background he heard Pam correct her.
“Cece, sweetie, it’s because he felt crummy.”
Pam took the phone back from Cece as he heard the theme song to The Backyardigans start to play.
“She’d been practicing all night. I can’t tell you how many times I told her the punchline. She makes me think of Michael, the way she tells jokes.”
“I don’t know Pam, I like her version. And her delivery was much better than Michael’s ever was.”
Suddenly the sound of Uniqua and Tyrone and the rest of the animated characters Cece loved to watch before she went to bed at night got softer as Jim assumed Pam had moved from the den for a little privacy.
“More promos started airing. There seems to be a lot of me and you. They call us the lovers. In the one I saw today there were four clips of us.”
“Like what?” he questioned, fearful at just how much of their lives was going to be shared with all of the country in just a few weeks and just as fearful that as the series was beginning, the love story it portrayed would be at risk of reaching an ending.
“Remember when we had the picnic on the roof after reading Michael’s script. They caught that.”
Jim sat up from his prone position on the couch, about to reach for his bag to get out his laptop so he can try and find the one she was talking about on the web but just as soon changed his mind. He told himself no computer tonight. He knew once he booted up, he’d only get caught up in more work and he told himself he’d make it an early night, catch up on the sleep he needed so he could be 100% by the time he was home for the weekend with his family.
“You’re kidding. That was before we were even together. You were still with Roy. Why would they even think to follow us up there?”
It relieved him to think of the event she described, to remember the foundation their love was built on, friendship and connection, and a history of little moments. It reassured him they would somehow find their way back.
“I guess they knew we were going to be a thing before we did.”
Back in a lying position on the couch, eyes closed already he didn’t need the laptop to see the beautiful smile of the girl he fell in love with all those years ago. It was a sweet memory to fall asleep to, the two of them on the roof, sharing a quiet night and grilled cheese unaware of all they had ahead of them, tough times and then finally happiness. He found himself zoning out thinking of it, drifting under already until he heard her speak his name.
“Jim,” she said quietly the lighthearted tone she’d had moments ago suddenly deepening to a more somber quality. “What are we doing? We really need to figure out this stuff between us because I can’t keep doing this. I need you home.”
Two weeks he’d been waiting for her to be ready to talk. He hadn’t brought it up, hoping maybe time would be what she needed to come around. Why, tonight was she ready to talk, when he was too tired to even change from his work clothes before crashing on the futon couch.
“Pam, I’m so tired. I just used the last of my energy making Cece laugh. Can we please not do this now? I’ll be home tomorrow and I promise we will sit down and talk.”
But they didn’t.
As usual the time he was home with her and the kids was too precious to waste fighting.
The time he was away continued to be too stressful and tiring for both of them, neither able to exert any extra energy on weighty conversations.
So they kept on ignoring it. And the resentment built up, the fears got worse and lids kept getting thrown out.