Recap: In the last chapter, Shep came home from work to find Lyle in a positive mood. Not only is Lyle cooking dinner (albeit Tuna Helper with peas and pink salmon), but he also says he’s giving up drinking. Lyle tells Shep that he’s decided to take Shep’s advice and write about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Annabelle — not only as a way to cope with their breakup, but also as a way to get him writing again.
(From the personal writings of Lyle Colane:)
My name is Lyle. This is a portrait of who I was two years ago — back when I had a purpose in life, and hope for the future.
Well, that sounds bad, I know. But with no job and no girlfriend, I’m not exactly leaping out of bed in the mornings, eager to tackle the day.
Two years ago, I had just met a wonderful woman and started a new job as an executive assistant. And now here I am, stuck at home at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, with no job, no girlfriend, and really nothing to do until Oprah comes on at four.
So I’m going to write, and remember. Because maybe by remembering who I was, I can come to terms with who I am.
So this is me, two years ago, back when my life had meaning, and hope.
Back when I had a job, a career.
And, of course, back when I had Annabelle.
I hate talking about myself. I never know what to say. And besides, what’s there to know? I’m a regular guy living a regular life — nothing more. In fact, if anything, I’m living the vida boring. Not much interesting going on here. Nope: nada.
But I’ll give it a shot, since you’re interested. At least, I hope you’re interested … because that would make one of us.
I live in a small, dingy apartment in Reno, Nevada. The rent’s OK, and I keep the place tidy … somewhat. I also work as an assistant to the communications officer for a mid-sized company … but I don’t want to talk about work. So many people start conversations by describing what they do, as if their jobs somehow define them. My job doesn’t define me. I don’t want to be defined by anything.
Actually, if you want to know the truth, not only does my job not define me — it confines me. Whenever I’m at work, I wish I was back home. I don’t know — I guess I don’t care much. I’m not career-driven; I just want to pay the bills. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think that’s how most of us are, really. Animals have to hunt to eat, but they don’t have to enjoy it, right? They just do it, because that’s what they’re programmed to do.
So, no, I’m not going to talk about work. But what else is there? Life is a series of 40-hour workweeks punctuated by too-short weekends. Time flies too fast, and I blame work. Once you slip into a routine, your life slips away. When I was younger, I would stop to smell the roses — to savor their earthy, perfume-like scent. Now I barely have time to pull over and piss.
Or, let me put it this way: The Road of Life once looked like an infinite highway. Now, I’m starting to see the curves, and they’re getting sharper and scarier.
I’m approaching 30 faster than I ever thought possible. Yesterday I was 21 and drinking my first beer — well, my first legal beer. Back then, the future was wide open. Now as the years pass, my future is narrowing and my gut is growing. Too many beers. At least I still got my hair, right? But in 10 years I’ll have a horseshoe-hairdo — I know I will — and I’ll also have a husky stomach. When men fade, they fade fast. We devolve to shadows before dissolving to ghosts.
I’m not a major social animal. I have a few friends, but I don’t see them much. My buddy, Brent, lives in Reno, but his lifestyle is one of nightclubs and one-night stands. Which is ironic, because before I knew Brent, he was shy and withdrawn. Nothing like the Charlie Harper clone he is now. I’m the one who convinced him to break free of his shell. I’m not sure what I said to sway him, but I wish I could remember, so I could take my own advice.
When it comes to women, I need all the help I can get. Brent’s a smooth-talker, but me, I’m a stutterer. I think Brent would hang out with me more, but I hold him back. I’m kind of a babe-deterrent; a magnet with an opposing force. I repel women without even trying. I’m something of an involuntary expert.
But I do have a girlfriend. I should mention that. Her name’s Annabelle. We’ve been dating for about a year, now. She’s on the short side, with reddish, shoulder-length hair and piercing, emerald-green eyes. We don’t live together, but we do hang out a lot, and we often spend the night at each other’s places. She’s sweet and down-to-earth, and I love her subtle sense of humor. It’s kind of dry, like mine — not overt — and it always works when I’m in one of my cynical slumps. Annabelle knows me, I think, on a deeper level. We “click”; she can sense my moods and always knows what to say. She’ll cheer me up when I’m sad, help me laugh when I grouse.
I think I know her, too, though I know I’m not as sensitive. Sometimes I know Annabelle will want (or need) me to say something, to do something — I’ll know this on an unconscious level, from her body language or her tone of voice, which I can tell is masking an emotion — and I won’t know what to do except maybe to hug her, or hold her — to whisper in her ear that I love her … and sometimes she’ll hug me back, and I’ll know all she needed was reassurance: a simple demonstration of my affection, if I haven’t given it enough. Other times, she’ll glance at me with those piercing green eyes and say, “Um, thanks, but could you take out the trash?”
Which goes to show, I don’t know anything about women. It’s all chance, like going to Vegas and putting all your chips on red. Sometimes I win, but all too often I’m wrong. For whatever reason, Annabelle puts up with me anyway.
I’m one of those guys who likes romantic movies — chick flicks, you might say — because love, true love, is that one vestige of hope we all can cling to. Love, after all, is universal. And I like how the movies portray love as something definite and concrete — something you know once you have it: an ideal to be aspired to; a haven you can reach if you work hard; a sanctuary from the rest of the world. The stark, glossy descriptions … the simplistic, glamorized portraits — I mean, I know it’s hokey and corny and all that, but the clear-cut, black-and-white version of love gives people hope: it inspires us to find the real thing. That’s what romantic movies — chick flicks — are for.
But the real thing, most of us know, is a lot more complicated than the Hollywood version. It’s more organic, more obscure. It isn’t summed up in a climatic ending or in a pivotal plot twist. No, I think love, true love, is more of an everyday thing: an unexpected kiss in a restaurant; a touch of the hand during a stroll; a meeting of the eyes from across a room. Annabelle taught me that. Before I met her, I was always focused on the Big Picture, the Grand Ideal.
Now, with Annabelle, I notice the small things. Instead of seeking the milestones, I cherish the moments. With her, I don’t care that I’m approaching 30 and that the future’s narrowing. I mean, so what? That’s how it’s supposed to be. When you’re young, you have the world. But the world’s like a sky full of stars: you can gaze at them all and become overwhelmed, or you can focus on one in particular and appreciate its unique beauty. The trick to living is to find your perfect star: the one that, for you, shines brighter than the rest. And your star isn’t necessarily a single thing: it can be your spouse and your kids and even your house. Your star is your niche: that place where you’re most comfortable and happy. With a star of your own, who needs the sky?
Anyway, after meeting Annabelle, my life seemed to make more sense. I think it’s because my life was senseless before — Annabelle gave me meaning. She’s the energizing optimist against my enervating cynicism. She helps me treasure the moments above the milestones. She’s the brightest star in my night sky, and the first at eve to shine.
So, I guess in order to tell you about myself, I have to tell you about Annabelle, because in a way she defines me more than I define myself. And I know I said I don’t want to be defined by anything — especially by my job — but you know, I don’t think I mind being defined by Annabelle. With her, life is rich in meaning: I can finally put myself in context; I reconcile my place in the world.