Charlie was my answer to Sept. 11. Some people opted for duct tape. I went for sex. Feelings were forged, but Charlie essentially became my two-month long one-night stand.
He was designed from a stereotypical masculine gay man floor plan. He came equipped with a live-in closet. His structure was weakened by depression. Too bad that wasn't mentioned on the real estate brochure. I returned my metaphoric key to the property.
Charlie flashed his occupancy sign late fall. Lunch, he said. Upon meeting, a resounding chorus ensued: "Brandon, I'm doing really well. I've really changed. I really have. I'm doing so much better, Brandon."
Repeated affirmations leave a question to the validity of real, substantial change.
I responded minimally, "Uh-huh. That's great."
I gorged myself on hamburger, fries and refill after refill of water. My family taught me not to talk with my mouth full of food. Great advice, especially if you have nothing to say.
"I'm really happy for you, Charlie." Munch, munch, munch.
With each bite I watched him. Gay spikes replaced his frat boy tussle. Glasses added wisdom to his jocular frame. Animation and smiles framed his conversation. I felt nothing. My attraction to him -- physically, emotionally, romantically and platonically -- had dissipated.
"Good for you, Charlie," I mustered.
Suddenly I was Dr. Phil, lobbying back reaffirmations as if they were Hallmark tennis balls.
"So, Brandon, would it be OK if I called you again? Maybe we could do dinner?"
YEAH? What's the best response to an incredibly awkward meal with an ex? Absolutely! Lunch was lovely. It's been so wonderful seeing you again. We should totally do dinner sometime. Kiss, kiss.
Or how about just sticking a hot poker in my eye?
Dinner came two months later. In the interim, I braved phone calls and online chats. I hemmed and hawed. I forced conversation (but I didn't open up). I joked. I laughed. I listened as Charlie repeated the same stories and remarks, two, three, four times over.
"I'm doing better. I'm really doing better."
"That's what you keep saying, Charlie."
"Well, I really am."
I didn't know. I don't know. I reminded myself of the one truth of which I was sure: Charlie is a good man.
"I wanted to kiss you," Charlie later revealed about our lunchtime rendezvous.
Ehhhhh. Great. Let's just kick the awkwardness up a notch, shall we?
I washed over the remark like an oil spill. I ignored it festering on the surface, allowing it to eat away at my insides instead. I spouted babble. "Friends ... one thing at a time ... blah, blah, blah."
Attempting to distance myself through polite pseudo-truths that keep my good guy persona intact only served to lead him on. He mentions friendship but indicates hope for something more. Dinner?
"I'd like that."
I'D LIKE THAT? Who gave me permission to speak? Clearly whatever synapses connect my brain to my mouth are malfunctioning.
I'm nauseous. I ponder canceling. My mouth, still operating on a mind all its own, won't let me.
Dinner turns out to be just like lunch, with two exceptions: better food and better-looking waiters. I make good. I engage in conversation, as stagnant as it is. I tell stories of ghosts and family health crises. I ask Charlie for details on his recent vacation. I listen, mostly. I wait for his mantra.
"I'm doing good, Charlie."
My stomach turns in knots. I can't finish eating. Hot flashes come. Am I visibly sweating? I feel like I'm suffocating. I try to downplay my eagerness to leave, though I can't help but wonder where the hell that damn check is.
OK, come on. Let's get out of here. It's so obvious how far apart we've grown, how little Charlie and I now have in common. That is if we ever really had anything in common to begin with. Finally. It's time.
We head out the door. I play mediator between my brain and my mouth. I prepare myself for all possible responses.
"I had a really good time, Brandon. We should do this again."
"Yeah, me too. Give me a call."
LIVING OUT LOUD is a rotating blend of essays and editorials by CityBeat staff about life or something like it.