Derek Fisher and Sandy Price were sitting in the car in the parking lot of a superstore, watching people come and go from the store to their car, carrying enormous bags of groceries and other purchases. They had a huge bag of chips in between them, shoveling them into their mouths as they people watched, and Sandy stopped eating to light a cigarette. She took a few puffs and left it between her lips as she motioned with her hand towards the windshield, at all the people outside.
“I’m not against consumerism or capitalism in any way,” Sandy said, “But think about it this way…this is the highlight of these peoples lives. This is what they do for fun. They spend money on something they’re guaranteed to hate and be disappointed by in under an hour.”
“Shit, if I had money I’d do the same thing,” Derek said, and Sandy exhaled some smoke.
“Yeah, me too, it’s true.”
“I’d complain about it, go buy stuff and then complain about it afterwards too,” Derek said, “That’s the American way.”
“…I got a job,” Sandy finally said and Derek looked at her, his eyes wide with shock.
“Yeah, I mean, sort of. It’s a temporary situation. I’m going to be a pseudo ballet instructor for the girls downtown,” Sandy said, “I’m pretty happy about it, actually.”
“Well, good for you, I’m proud of you,” Derek said and Sandy blushed, looking out her window.
“I guess if I can’t dance myself, I may as well help kids learn to,” she said, then after a pause added, “I don’t know why but I can’t shake this feeling that we were supposed to have more than this. I don’t mean like a 401k or anything, but…something…bigger. A better reason for being here. Not like, fate or destiny or anything like that written in the stars bullshit, but just something better in general, for existing.”
“I don’t know where you ever got the idea that life was supposed to mean something from,” Derek said, and she chuckled.
“We’re told since childhood that we’ll be loved by someone, that we can be anything, that we will be happy…but what happens if none of that comes true? There’s some people out there who can’t find love no matter how hard they try or how badly they want it. There’s others who can’t succeed, no matter what their level of schooling was. Some have degrees upon degrees and still can’t get a decent job now. A lot just aren’t happy. Not for selfish reasons either, like the media would like you to believe, but for legitimate reasons. For believing the things our parents told us. The things I just listed.”
Derek didn’t respond. He just ate some more chips and looked at the people.
“Look at this woman,” he said, “She’s got three kids and she’s wheeling out a large wide screen TV. She’s in yoga pants and I guarantee you she doesn’t do real exercise. She probably jogs and drinks expensive coffee and listens to self important talk radio and recycles and is a vegan. She probably puts so much effort into that appearance, that she’s better than everyone else, and then she goes and buys a huge TV for her three kids. She is everyone else.”
“I don’t want to judge people anymore,” Sandy mumbled.
“I don’t want to be that kind of person. I’ve lived off hatred and snark my entire life. I want to try and be more positive. I want to be uplifting and…and just…nicer. I’m so tired of being so angry and mean all the time. It takes too much energy.”
“…well, I mean, nobody’s stopping you really,” Derek said, taking the cigarette from her and taking a long drag.
“I need to quit smoking at some point too, but god knows when that’ll happen. One lifestyle change at a time.”
Another pause, as Sandy watched that woman Derek had ripped apart open her van and get the TV in the trunk, and then get the kids into their seats.
“I’d be her,” Sandy said, “I really would. She looks happy. She looks like her life is great.”
“American life is engineered to look great and ideal. That’s how they lure people into the trap of student debt and housing payments they can’t afford,” Derek said, and Sandy glared at him. He thought for a second, and then said, “I mean, I guess she could be happy, sure. But it’s not ideal for everyone.”
“It’s ideal for those who don’t have it.”
“Not really. There’s lots of women your age who wouldn’t want that.”
“…I guess that’s true,” Sandy said, “To each their own though. Still…bet she’s happier than me.”
“When I was in elementary school, this woman, Miss Klinger, came to the classroom and asked everyone what we were proud of the most about ourselves. Guess she was some feel good child psychologist or some shit. Anyway, she took answers from everyone, and we had to write it down on a piece of paper and hand it to her, and then she’d meet with us about our answers. I just wrote ‘I don’t know’ because I was in elementary school…I didn’t know what the fuck pride was. How could I know? I was like, 7. I’d barely been alive long enough to even accumulate anything to be proud of.”
“What did she say to that?” Sandy asked as he passed her cigarette back to her.
“She took me aside, like she did with all the others and she told me ‘there has to be something that you’re proud of’ and I always assumed grownups were right about everything so I believed her and just made something up to be proud of so she’d be happy and let me go. I don’t even remember what I told her. I just know it got her off my back, and so for the rest of my childhood, I just told adults exactly what they wanted to hear because I didn’t know what really to feel or say.”
Sandy looked at Derek, who was looking at his fingernails.
“I guess,” he continued, “if I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t know what to be proud of. Knowing you, I guess. That’s been something I’m happy about.”
Sandy smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder. Derek reached his hand up and stroked her hair.
“When do you start your new job?” he asked.
“This Monday,” she replied.
“…have you told your mother?” Derek asked, and Sandy tensed up.
“No,” she said flatly, “Why would I. She’d only be annoyed that I didn’t have a real job.”
“Are you proud of what you’re going to do though?”
“Well, then that’s all that matters.”
Sandy put her arm through Derek’s, smiling. He may be negative a bit, and he might be a bit lost, but he grounded her, and she lifted him up, and watching this woman and her children, Sandy realized what she had was better than what this woman could ever have, and yeah, she was proud as hell of that.