September 4th, 1998
A long sultry day had finally given over to a rapidly cooling night. That was one of the perks of living in a mountain desert like Boise: you had blisteringly hot days, but the nights were cool.
Chris and Sienna had spent the evening at a little mini-fair set up on a farmer’s property out west of town. It had all the trappings of your typical state fair: fried foods, bored teenagers, and rides that could be put together and taken apart in a matter of hours.
Normally Chris would enjoy this setting. He loved Americana, although if called on it he would try to act like he only enjoyed it ironically. He loved the twilight hour when the lights on all the rides were turned on, but before it was dark enough for them to illuminate anything other than themselves. Normally he would love the whole sonic landscape, practically unchanged from the state fairs his quasi-beatnik parents would have avoided going to. But tonight everything was stifled by the fact that Sienna was going to break up with him.
He didn’t blame her; she should never have been with a guy like him to begin with. He had been hopelessly devoted to her all through junior high and high school while she had had a series of increasingly dramatic relationships. Chris had spent the past eight months trying not to think that the only reason she was with him was because her latest break up had happened the night they had graduated, at a party Chris attended. Chris had been wandering around the outskirts of the party, slightly wearied by people but still wanting to participate, when he heard a squeal of tires close to where he had parked. When he went to check on his car he found Sienna sitting on his car’s rear bumper, crying quietly. He sat next to her and she explained what had happened.
Chris put an arm around her and held her close for a few moments, then invited her to come walk with him by the river, along a little part of the Greenbelt that he loved. She said she was hosting a party and Chris told her she was more important than any dumb party.
“You really believe that, don’t you?” She said, and somehow that was enough to promote Chris from the Friend Zone to full-fledged boyfriend. They walked and sat and talked beside that river, and from then on it had been “their spot”.
And that’s where Sienna wanted to go now, as they left the carnival. She wasn’t holding his hand, or walking arm in arm with him. She had been physically distancing herself from Chris all evening. Idly Chris wondered if she was doing it intentionally. Sienna seemed to live almost entirely on the surface, which wasn’t to say she was shallow; Chris knew her far to well to ever call her shallow. Sienna felt things deeply and understood people just as deeply. She just never hid her feelings. If she was angry at you there was no way she could hide it. But she loved a scene. Chris knew her well enough to know that, and well enough to know that in her mind, breaking up with him alongside the river was a “perfect ending”. She seemed to cultivate those.
For a moment, just a moment, Chris thought about saying no. About driving her home, and making her break up with him, no, making her dump him, on her front porch, where her roommate and her roommate’s boyfriend that Sienna hated, would see the whole thing. But he couldn’t. He was never good at confrontation. In some way he still loved her enough to want her to be able to break up on her terms. He didn’t need anything special. In fact, he felt like he was only half-there. Part of him was there, going through the motions, driving to their spot along the river, but it felt like the real Chris was sitting in his room, going through his CD collection, listening to his favorite music.
This was all falling apart because they didn’t speak the same language, Chris thought. Take the phrase that relationships are built on: “I love you”. Chris had said that to one person, ever, and that was Sienna. His parents felt that it was too trite, too common, and had trained him to express his affection in other ways. But to Chris it was the ultimate expression; a statement of deep, permanent, personal connection.
To Sienna it was on approximately the same level as “Good Morning!”. It wasn’t that she was insincere when she said she loved someone. She just loved everyone, and assumed, not without justification, that everyone loved her.
“In other words,” Chris thought, “To me love is forever, to her love is for everyone”.
And now they were at that spot, the place where they had started dating. Sienna took his hands and started saying things. She was leaving him. She still loved him, but things were different now. She needed him to be her friend, not her boyfriend. She said there wasn’t anybody else, and Chris knew it was true. Even if she no longer wanted to be his girlfriend, she was a good enough person that she’d never cheat on him.
But Chris was only partially listening. In his mind he was sitting back and deciding between Toad the Wet Sprocket and R.E.M. for the next hour. This whole breakup was just something in a book. What did this guy think he was doing with a girl like that anyway? Try again, author, nobody’s buying it.
Sienna had stopped talking, her eyes glistening with genuine, but unshed tears. Chris said all the right things back. Of course he understood. It hurt, but all he really wanted was for her to be happy. Of course they would still be friends.
She hugged him, told him how great he was, and they walked back to the parking lot while “All I Want” played in Chris’ mind. Chris hadn’t noticed it when they arrived, but Sienna’s car was waiting on the other end of the lot. That was more forethought than she usually put into things. He should probably be grateful; that drive home was going to be awkward.
She hugged him one more time, thanked him for being so understanding, and then drove away. Chris watched her go, angry at himself for being so understanding, for not fighting for her. A few years later, when he first heard “Fight Test” by The Flaming Lips he would think of this moment and realize he wasn’t the only one who felt like this. But for now, his head full of music, Chris walked back down to the river.
I wrote the first draft of this story in 1994 or 1995. My Creative Writing teacher at the time got mad that I called it “Epilogue” when nothing came before it.
I haven’t seen the original draft in a few…decades now, but the story is sparse enough and simple enough that it stuck with me.
Chris is part of a larger series of stories that I’ve been working on. I had made a promise to myself that I would post stories about him in chronological order, a promise I have just broken.