I first met him in January 1999 after several online exchanges, a funny little man in an old fashioned business suit rushing into our meeting place carrying a single flower. I was charmed at first sight.
The first time I lost him was about 7 years later when he had a heart attack. He didn’t die, but it certainly shocked him into re-examining his life. Along with red meat and a pack a day smoking habit Charlie gave up me.
“You cause me stress, Isadora” he said on the phone from his hospital bed. Stunned into silence, how could I protest that bald statement. All I could summon was “Well, that’s not my intent. So if you ever change your mind let me know.” And that was pretty much that.
In between those two events there were seven mostly fun years interspersed with blips of exasperation. We were both stubborn opinionated people used to our own ways of doing things. I had many judgments about the peculiar way he ran his life and often gave him the unsolicited benefit of my assessments. Sometimes they actually were appreciated, most often not. Charlie had a long history of no intimate relationships, certainly none when sober. I was a relationship expert with a long history…period.
That I was 13 years older never seemed to matter. Then again, the age difference might have partially accounted for the fact that Charlie had many interests that amounted to passions once he focused his attentions: gardening, sailing, baseball, fishing, rock concerts, nature hikes. I enjoyed none of them and was unwilling or unable to share any of them. My own interests of road trips, exploring new towns, family, friends, entertaining, early 20th century music, he shared enthusiastically.
Enthusiastically. That’s how Charlie did anything to which he turned his attentions. He worked with such dedication at everything. He had many strong principles, and he applied them to all he did, work or play, at times to the point of obsession, even to the way his shirts were to be hung in his closet.
As often as I found him rigid, stubborn, compulsive, I found him praiseworthy. He had made so much of his life from a semi-orphaned small town kid with a drug and alcohol problem to a Chief Financial Officer of several successive nonprofit firms whose causes he embraced. He read voraciously, every night, and was curious about everything. I loved him tenderly and admired him enormously and was nowhere ready to let him go when he summarily dumped me along with what he considered his other unhealthy habits.
So while Charlie promptly moved on with his new healthy life when he was released from the hospital – losing something like 40 pounds, taking up bicycle marathons, going back on line and searching for a new, far more suitable mate, it took me much longer. I tried several times and in several ways to reconnect, if not as lovers then as friends. He consented to see me only once coming to see my new home and telling me he was in a serious relationship. Could we not meet, all be friends? No, that was not how something he could perceive as possible and that was that.
When I eventually coupled again I tried once more. I sent him and his wife an invitation to my annual New Year’s Day party in my name and my partner’s, hoping that this dynamic might have changed the equation sufficiently. I missed him in my life. His image was attached to so many major life events for me – the turn of the millennium, the wedding of my daughter, the birth of my only grandchild whom Charlie himself taught to crawl. I missed his presence at every holiday and celebratory occasion.
After almost 7 years without him I wasn’t through trying to reconnect. I could be as stubborn as he was and I kept hoping that our paths would cross and somehow gracefully we could be a part of one another’s lives again. I often comforted myself with that thought when missing him was particularly acute. And then that hopeful prospect abruptly ended.
On New Year’s Day Charlie was killed in a freak accident. The wife I had never met called to tell me personally so that I wouldn’t have to hear about it on the news, a gesture that touched me deeply.
She and I finally met at his memorial service almost 14 years to the hour from when he and I first met. That made seven years with Charlie in my life, seven years without him, and now no possibilities of any time with him to look forward to ever. That day was the second painful time I lost Charlie and this loss is forever.