We Were Happy

by Elizabeth Day


Based on the song by Taylor Swift

The tent stood tall and grand at the front of the pier, striped in red and white. He told me to trust him, and I did, with everything in me. I felt the nervous giggle bubble out of me as he grabbed my hand and we ran through the opening of the tent before anyone could catch us.

It was standing room only, and we took it. I held his hand while we watched the clowns because he thought they were creepy. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders when the sword swallower performed his act because it made me nervous. We stayed that way for the rest of the show. I remember looking up at the trapeze artists performing in the sky, leaning back on his chest, hearing his laugh just above my head. I felt like I was right where I belonged.

Our laughs followed us out of the tent. The sun was setting on the ocean as we ran down the rest of the pier. Others got sidetracked with carnival attractions or with street performers, but not us. He and I were always focused on the horizon. It’s true what they say, about running while holding hands not being practical, but we didn’t care. We had all the time in the world, and nothing was more important than his hand in mine.

We sat on the edge when we finally reached it.

“This is such an angel number moment,” he said. “I wish it was 11:11 so we could make a wish.”

“Don’t say that,” I said. “Look at the sun. It’s so pretty.” It was low enough in the sky that it wasn’t at that excruciating height where the entire ocean glows like a flashlight and blinds you, so instead the water was a collage of colors: blue, orange, yellow, green.

“Why can’t we just make a wish anyway?” I asked.

“That’s a fair point,” he said. “Alright, ready?”

“Ready,” I grinned.

We sat in silence for a moment to make our wish. I can’t be certain what he wished for, but I wished for the farm.

He tried to get it out of me, what I wished for, but of course I didn’t give it up. I’m sure it was easy enough for him to guess, though; because I said, “I can’t say it. I can’t risk us not getting it.”

He smiled like he knew. I bet you anything he wished for the farm too.

We watched the boats until the sun had disappeared from the sky completely. The pier was alive around us, but it was quiet and peaceful. Our laughs as we talked together were the loudest sounds for miles. If the pier was alive, our laughs were the heartbeat.

Once our joy was the only thing lighting up the sky and it was too dark to see anything, we started the long drive home. Not that we were going home. We fully planned on being out all night, and our mothers fully planned on us being out all night too. The world was ours, and we had no intention of letting go.

We parked in front of his house once we got to the neighborhood, and then we started walking. We didn’t try to quiet our laughter, quiet our joy. It shone golden in the dark. Sometimes we would stop and dance together, the porch lights acting as spotlights on the world’s ballroom floor.

One such time he stopped and just held me there, then said quietly, “It’s 11:11.”

In the hush of the moment, I wished with all of my heart for the farm. With everything I had. I pictured our life together—him working on his daddy’s farm until he had enough money to make it ours. Me singing in coffee houses in town for a little extra change. Until finally one day we would own it together as husband and wife. Just one more piece of the town that would belong to us.

Our eyes closed, our faces together, the comforting feeling of his nose on mine, I whispered, “If we wish for it together, can we say it out loud?”

“Yep,” he whispered back.

“I wished for the farm,” I said.

We kissed, and I have wondered since that moment if I made a mistake saying it out loud, if that kiss whispered in intimacy sealed our fate.


I had never thought of going to New York before. I sang in the local coffee house through high school; music was my passion. I never even thought of taking the music out of our town, but everyone said I had so much potential. I started applying to schools, because it couldn’t hurt, right? It would just help me see what I could really do.

He knew about it, and he supported me. Neither of us thought about what would happen if I got accepted.

I was offered a lot of money by every big name school on the horizon. At first it was amazing—I had no idea how good I was. I was okay with just knowing that.

But with everyone’s congratulations came the questions about where I was going to go. My parents started researching in depth the programs at every school. New York shone through the haze of all the others. The prospect of possibility was so exciting.

I was young, they said. I had the entire future ahead of me. Who was I to deny myself of these incredible opportunities? It got to the point that it felt like I must just not know what I wanted. The decision was made.

The day I told him, I watched the internal fight behind his eyes, battling with his life to smile for me.

He congratulated me, but then he asked a question no one else had asked previously: “Will you come back?”

I said I would, of course, when I had my degree. I think he knew it wasn’t true, in that very moment, long before I did. There was never a concrete breakup. We had the false hope of fading slowly.

I think I knew on the day I celebrated working for one year at the singing bar in Hell’s Kitchen. My new best friend led the house in a toast, saying, “Here’s to many more!”

I started weeping, not for joy, but for the realization that I was still living my dream, playing music in a little restaurant, with no end in sight… except this time I wasn’t with the love of my life.

To this day, every time I visit town, I hear Graham’s voice in my mind clear as day. I see him kissing me and pulling away to say, “Emely, I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. It’s only a matter of time. We’ll graduate, and then I’ll keep working, and we can get married, and the farm will be ours. I can’t wait.”

I hate visiting home, because I can’t stop crying. I didn’t merely let him down; I betrayed him. When I remember that, I think they must be right, all the people who say I love my career more than Graham.

I want him back, but I don’t deserve him. I have given him nothing to love me for. He works on the farm without anyone to look forward to sharing it with, and I live in a bigger city with bigger dreams that feel absolutely hollow without him in them. Maybe we were happy once, but not anymore, not since I watched our happiness set like a golden sun on our town.