A Taco Bell Breakup
Author's Note: This piece of fiction was a submission rejected by Taco Bell Quarterly. I can neither confirm nor deny whether Taco Bell discontinued its Mexican pizza in retaliation of said rejection.
There's only one Taco Bell in this town, and you think you own the place because we broke up a month ago.
When we sat down to negotiate our post-breakup lives, I did not argue when it came time to divide our friends. In fact, I let you have all of our friends, even the friends I brought into the relationship. My friends sucked and I needed new ones anyway.
The truth is I hoped my sacrifice would get me favor in other aspects of our negotiation. But when silence fell upon us, you blurted out, “Taco Bell is mine.” Your tone and tactic clarified this was not up for compromise. I wanted to protest, but I had lost enough fights with you to know better.
I went to Taco Bell the next afternoon and asked if any of the employees would keep record of your visits. I wanted to ensure you maintained the same schedule after our breakup so that I could someday dine inside again without facing you.
A wise man would have recommended staying away and counting my losses. I hardly went to Taco Bell before we dated, but you got me hooked and now Taco Bell was my heroin, for which I could find no methadone. What was I going to do—go to Taco Bueno? As if.
I did not expect the Taco Bell employees to work for free, so I offered twenty dollars. I wasn't asking much, just someone to keep tabs of the days and times when you came in for your usual XXL grilled stuft burrito. This someone would keep a log on a notepad or in an Excel spreadsheet. The method did not concern me, as I can be flexible when necessary. I asked only for weekly updates.
Most of the employees looked at me as if I was crazy. In fact, one did call me crazy. But one stood forward and accepted the task. Benny, I believe, was his name.
“I'll take your twenty dollars, man,” Benny said. When I handed over the twenty-dollar bill, I thought Benny meant he would take my money for services rendered. I did not realize he meant he would no-show the next day and force Taco Bell to terminate him.
I am going to have to play a more active role in my Taco Bell future. I can't stalk the restaurant every night, so I pick Tuesday night since that's your yoga night.
I go through the drive-through and order the three-taco combo and a Pepsi. After I've gotten my food, I back into a parking spot that allows me to observe the lobby. You do not appear.
I repeat this stakeout for the next two Tuesday nights with the same results. On the third Tuesday afterward, I allow myself to dream big: I'm going for it all tonight. I'm going to eat inside.
I get to Taco Bell early, before the dinner rush, and I bypass the drive-through and back into a parking spot and gaze into the lobby. I tell myself it's showtime and I enter the restaurant.
I approach the register and order my usual three-taco combo and claim a booth. I'm two bites into my first taco when something hits me. It's early for Taco Bell to be wrecking my digestive system. Could it be regret? Grief? Nostalgia?
I realize I'm sitting at our booth, the one we would sit in if it was available. As I sit there with my emotions, a wave of memories bombards me.
I remember when you introduced me to cheesy fiesta potatoes...
“They're just potato chunks topped with cheese and sour cream,” I said.
“And they're amazing,” you insisted.
And you were right. That was when I learned I could trust you to always have my culinary interests in mind.
I remember the time I explained inflation in terms you could understand.
“Imagine you buy one taco for one dollar today,” I said. “Now fast forward a year and that same taco costs one dollar and three cents—”
“I'm paying more for the same goods!” You exclaimed, making the connection.
I smiled so big I thought my lips would crack. My mom was wrong about you. You weren't dumb. You just needed things explained in terms you could relate to. Slowly and repeatedly.
I remember the time you caught me at Taco Bell even though you told me to stay away...
I come out of my trip down memory lane to see you standing beside me. I brace for your wrath. I violated the rules of our ceasefire agreement and now there will be hell to pay.
“Hey,” you say, almost a whisper.
“Hey,” I reply. “No yoga tonight?”
“I skipped tonight.”
“Cool,” I say and nod as I notice the to-go bag in your hand. “That looks like a lot of food for one person.”
“It's not just for me.” Your tighlippedness tells a truth I'm not ready to hear: You've already moved on. I almost ask who it's for before I realize you don't owe me that information. Not anymore.
“I need to get going,” you say. “Have a good night.”
“You too,” I mutter. As you're walking toward the door, I realize this is how it will always be—parting without a goodbye hug and a goodbye kiss. Taco Bell without you. This is not a world I could have imagined a month ago.
You're at the door, about to lean into it and open yourself to the world when I stand and call to you—“Allie”—and you rest against the door and look back at me.
As I stand there, I realize our relationship exists in three separate moments in time.
There's the past, when you first said “I love you” after I took your cup with mine to the fountain drink machine without your asking and I brought you a refill of Sierra Mist. You meant to say thank you, but you didn't regret the slip-up. Neither did I.
There's the future, unrealized. A future without our children—our perfect son and our perfect daughter—who look so much like you that everyone asks if I'm sure I'm the father and I laugh and I say I sure hope so as I clinch my fists in rage. In this future we've ended all possibility of, we bring our kids to Taco Bell every Thursday night when it's Daddy's night to cook.
“Mommy,” our perfect daughter will say. “Is this really the booth where you told Daddy you loved him?”
“Yes, it is,” you'll say and we'll look into each other's eyes.
“How romantic,” our perfect daughter will say. But her perfect speech impediment makes her say her r's as w's, so it comes out as womantic.
And our perfect son, being the Neanderthal that young boys are, he'll fart with his perfect comedic timing and it'll reverberate against the seat and he'll ruin our sweet moment with his noxious fumes. But we won't get mad. A little post-Taco Bell gas is to be expected.
That future is dead.
There's only the here and now, as I stand before you, unsure of what I was planning when I interrupted your exit. This may be the last time I see you, Allie, and I don't want you to walk out that door. I'm not ready to let go—of our past, our future, even our present. But I have to, despite the pain. I must release you.
And so I offer you this wisdom: Live mas.