She used to be different.
She wore blouses buttoned to the collar, unflattering pleated pants, sensible shoes. But none of that mattered, really.
And she had him.
He didn’t want anyone to know, and she wanted to be with him, so she went along with it. Along with anything he said. She felt something like shame, every so often, when he would do or say just the right thing at the office that made her fall even further, inexplicably; they were the only two who understood.
[He says he’s attracted sexually to whites and Indians, she makes a face for the benefit of everyone else; inside, her stomach turns over because they haven’t done that yet and she feels like maybe he’s telling her something. But then she slaps Michael and he’s mad at her for a week.]
He liked it when she wore her hair in a severe bun, pulled tight from her face. It gave her headaches, but she did it as often as she could stand, shaking her hair out with a smile when she got home from work, massaging her scalp.
[He’s on a high the night of the Dundies, finally feeling appreciated by Michael. She always appreciates him. She follows him to the farm, sits by the fire and listens while he fills in Mose about the evening. It isn’t until they’re alone that he realizes he didn’t get a Dundie, not this year.
She reaches next to her, hands him her “Spicy Curry” award. He stares at her, and the fire is reflected in his glasses when he kisses her, leads her to his room; she watches him place her award in the center of his display case before he walks her to her car.]
He took her for walks through the fields, and she would listen as he talked about the harvest, how to plant, fertilize and care for a beet from little seed to full grown plant. One day he helped her plant a seed, his hands closing over hers as she patted the soil down. She looked up at him and everything felt so right; she wished the seed could be full grown right now, right at that moment.
[He finally, nervously, undresses her and they lay on his bed that smells like soil somehow, and sweetness and him. He seems to concentrate so hard and she feels swept away, like maybe this is real and perfect and when it’s over she places a hand on his face, straightens his glasses that he never takes off, tells him she loves him. He looks at her and she knows he means love when he asks her if it was alright, if he was ok. She sighs and kisses him yes. For a moment she thinks he says something about thanking Toby, but his hands are already touching her again and she lets herself slip under.]
One day he used a fight with Michael as an excuse to touch her in the kitchen. As some others walked in, he mentioned taking her from behind and she had to fight to look offended because all she can do is remember the night before and she hopes the others mistake the flush appearing on her cheeks for anger.
[They spend the whole day outside because of the fire, when he seemed to get so caught up in the moment that he forgot they were together, grabbing her and yelling at her as she tried to get out. But she knows that something is bothering him all day, and feels something like nausea twist in her stomach when she says she would “do” Jim and not him. He doesn’t call her that night.]
She felt like she was losing him so she started dressing a little better, holding shirts and skirts up against herself in the mirror while she tried to imagine what would make him smile. She lost him anyway. She talked a little more, put on a little more make-up. He didn’t come back, she knew he was serious when she opened her car door one day before leaving and found her spicy curry award sitting on the passenger seat. Alone.
[She feels lost and a little drunk at the Christmas Party and kisses him; when he says that the man should do that all she can think of his lying in his bed and when he asks her why she did it, for some reason I don’t know instead of because I love you comes out. She sees him talking to Angela in the parking lot as she leaves, and she can tell by the way he’s looking at her that she never really had a chance. He’s found someone who is what she used to be, only better, somehow, for him.]
She started eyeing Ryan, because he was cute and she knew he hated him. She bought more pink clothes, donated her pleated pants and always left at least three buttons undone. She heard herself chatter incessantly to Jim about Ryan and babies and reminded herself that this is what men want; that what she’s really like didn’t work.
[She sleeps with Ryan early, on their second "real" date because she thinks that's what he wants; not like before, when he wanted to wait and be the man who decides when the time is exactly right, even though she really wanted to, sitting in his lap on the porch of the farmhouse, fixing his hair so it didn't split down the middle.
Ryan doesn't touch her there, kiss that spot on her neck that pushes her over the edge, or lay next to her afterward and compare her to a sunrise over a beet field with a voice that is so deep and sincere that she loses her breath for a moment; instead, he finishes and just lays there, looking uncomfortable until she leaves.]
She noticed a familiar key dangling from Angela’s hand one day; she could see Ryan roll his eyes at her and she let him think that he is what she was crying about. Like everything else about her, it was a lie.
[She is so settled into her new self that she can’t remember what she used to be like much anymore. But every so often, something happens and everything comes crashing down. Sitting in a booth feeding Ryan fries, she dips them in ketchup; hearing him mumble that he “doesn’t like it” gives her pause because she remembers that he does. Or maybe he doesn’t, anymore. Either way, she steps right back into it, pretending that Ryan does like it. Maybe if he said no, just once, she would give up, leave him; but he takes everything she gives him, and even though he’s rude and just sighs sometimes, he still hasn’t left her and that’s more than she can say for someone else. Someone she loved.]
She found a way to upset Angela, telling her that he was a freak and watching for her reaction. It was a good way to smooth out her own feelings, feelings where she imagined Ryan at the farm where she once thought she wanted to live. With him.
[She starts slipping, acting more like herself when they’re alone, and Ryan suddenly cares a little, holding her hand willingly and pulling her close to him instead of pushing her away after sex. He runs a warm hand up her thigh one night, causing her breath to catch and the word maybe to form in the back of her throat. She starts to forget, really forget.]
He quit and she realized how much she needed him around, needed to see him on a daily basis just to remember how she once felt. When he returned, she felt a flutter somewhere in her chest, but then she watched him shake hands with Angela, eyes burning, and suddenly her memories felt like her worst enemy.
[Ryan tells her he loves her, one ordinary day, when she isn’t wearing any make-up and they haven’t fought in weeks; looking at him, a nervous, slightly cocky look on his face, she hears herself squeal and kiss him as he wraps his arms around her, tight and sure. She forgets what she needs to and thinks; maybe this is how she was supposed to be, all along.]