My "Good Time Charlie"
The dictionary defines “torrid” as full of passionate or highly charged emotions arising from sexual love. When I described a past relationship as such to a former lover, he took it as an insult because I don’t think he understood it the same way. I meant it as a positive thing, but I think he mistook the word for “sordid” which means involving ignoble actions and motives, arousing moral distaste and contempt. Dirty. Squalid.
Charlie and I met on OKCupid very shortly after my husband of 28 years decided we should separate and took up another romantic relationship immediately. His reasons weren’t as clear in my mind as they were in his, but the gist of it was he was done living with a woman who had a disability from a devastating stroke 16 years ago. It was a crushing rejection for me that lead to a massive heartbreak. Charlie thought my disability was part of what made me interesting as he had a very scientific mind.
Our first date was for lunch at one of the finest restaurants in town. We spent over 2 hours talking, eating and drinking. We had the usual “what’s your story” first date conversation. I was very recently dumped from a 37 year long monogomous relationship and feeling horribly crushed. I had had a stroke when I was six months pregnant and mother to a two year old when I was 35. I was now 52, disabled, and on my first “date”.
Charlie explained that he had been married for 12 years, divorced for 10, and was now living a polyamorous lifestyle whereby he had a live in girlfriend and they each agreed it was fine for the other to see and sleep with other people. He said she kept a lot busier than he did. He also explained that he had a forty year old relationship (he was also 52), with the drink that was sitting on the table in front of him. I probed for further information about this “relationship”, and he said he had starting drinking when he was 12.
His live in girlfriend was apparently in the process of dumping him, too, which is tricky to do when you live with someone, share the house, and have a year remaining on your lease. He said he was in love with her, and very sad to see it end. I tried my best to keep an open mind.
He went into detail about his interest in polyamory. His strong position on the subject was based on more of an anti-monogomy belief. He had been faithful and monogomous with his ex wife for 20 years, and now believed that was not the right way to live. He had had a few relationships after his divorce, but the only one that took hold was the one he was in the process of losing.
We both seemed to be reeling from rejection and heartbreak. At one point, we had tears streaming down our faces. The conversation went very smoothly. It was a good first date. Charlie walked me outside to my car where we had a sweet hug and kiss. It was mid June, 2015.
We had several more romantic dinners out, and laughed a lot. We learned that we were both “sex positive”, coming out of long term relationships where the sex was limited. His ex wife just wasn’t interested, and my former husband had lost his desire for me when I became disabled.
I believe it was on that magical date #5 when we decided I would spend the night at his house. His housemate’s kids were with their father for the night so presumably it wouldn’t cause trouble for the housemate. Wrong.
She was used to bringing man after man into her bedroom, and Charlie would quietly seethe with jealousy. I was the first woman he had brought into the house since starting their arrangement. She was furious, and hated me sight unseen.
She noticed my fancy car out in the driveway, which stirred up jealous feelings as she was in difficult financial straits going through a divorce with 3 kids.
Charlie and I spent every other weekend when he wasn’t seeing his kids at my lake house, a romantic log cabin in the mountains. It was a fantastic summer, with lots and lots of sex, pot smoking, drinking, eating, reading, swimming, kayaking and going out to dinners. He definitely drank too much, but he was never mean, nasty or abusive. He did usually have a distasteful odor about him, though, which I overlooked because I was having so much fun.
It was enormously refreshing to feel desired again, and Charlie was very sexually charged. Often, we would stop at a restaurant on the way home and he would drink a lot so he ended up sleeping at my house. We spent more and more time together and got closer and closer.
There were a few times when the drinking was a problem. He fell in my garage once, then in my living room. He never got hurt.
It was embarrassing when he was flagged at some restaurants.
I knew that being with an alcoholic was not a good long term plan, but I was having so much fun after living in a dark and failing marriage for so long that I was not making rational decisions. It was my therapist who dubbed him my “good time Charlie”, just a guy to have fun with. It was clear there was no future for us because he was just a “hot mess” to use her words. An alcoholic with no good prospects. I dated a bunch of men at the same time because we were, you know, polyamorous. Charlie was wildly jealous.
Charlie and I increasingly got the feeling that we belonged together. We were madly in love. We partied and screwed all the time. It felt good. It didn’t hurt that he was brutally handsome, either, and funny as fuck. He was also smart and well educated.
He had a good job in the insurance industry with the same company for 30 years. He seemed to be taking more “paid time off” days from work whenever I needed him to be around. He stayed in my house for two weeks and took care of my every need when I fell and broke my ankle a week before Christmas that year.
I wondered how he managed his drinking around work because he just about always smelled from booze, but I figured if he had made it work for that long, he must have it figured out.
The fun continued and our love grew stronger over the winter. We agreed in the fall to stay together at least until the winter was over so we could keep each other warm. Both of us had a severe aversion to cold weather. We continued going to the cabin to party on the weekends. It was cozy and romantic.
Charlie heard a rumor at work that winter that he was going to get in trouble because of his drinking. He dismissed it.
Of course I voiced my wish for him to get sober on many occasions. He tried it once at the beginning of the relationship but it only lasted 2 weeks. He was addicted. He avoided discussions about sobriety with great fervor. He claimed he really didn’t want to get old, anyway, and was afraid he might outlive his money.
On one of our trips to the lake, he brought up the subject of quitting drinking. I was flabbergasted. He said there were a number of signs pointing him in that direction, things like relationships and work. Of course I jumped on the subject on this rare occasion when he brought it up. During this discussion, I looked closely at the license plate on the car in front of us and I swear it said “12 steps”. What were the odds? I was almost jumping up and down with this clear sign from above for him, but he pooh poohed it because he was a strong atheist and only believed in things scientific.
We carried on having the time of our lives until in June of 2016 he was fired from his job. It was devastating for him. He was fired BECAUSE he drank, and I’ll never know what else may have actually happened. His lease was up with his former girlfriend in September.
It seemed possible for a short time that he might get his job back if he went to rehab and got sober so while he still had health insurance he checked into a medically supervised detox program at a world reknown hospital.
This was followed by a 3 week stay in a residential rehab program where he was the oldest participant at age 53. The other residents were mostly teens and young adults with drug addiction problems. Upon his release, he went home and tried to find another job in addition to contacting his former employer about possible re-hire. He attended a few AA meetings, but did so half heartedly because he had little faith in the program. He went back to the rehab facility for follow up and tried to get documentation for his former employer about his success at getting sober.
He was not able to get re-hired or find another job, and became depressed.
He believed he had no other choice than to move in with his alcoholic brother back in the midwest because he was not able to find another job immediately and with no way to earn money, he saw living with his brother with few expenses as his only choice.
I asked Charlie “So, when you move in with your brother, is he going to get sober, or are you going to relapse?” He looked at me like I was out of my mind, and said that was a ridiculous idea. I was pretty sure his brother had no plans to get sober, so unfortunately, I knew what would happen.
Charlie asked if he could move in with me because my home is large and he saw no reason why I couldn’t fit him in along with his lifetime’s belongings. It was a simple decision for me as I had always maintained that I would NEVER live with him because of his illness.
He was confused when he took off for the midwest with his van towing a Uhaul full of his stuff because he had been sober for about two months, so he believed I should have welcomed him into my home rather than forcing us to part because he had no other place to go. I knew better than to trust his very new and precarious sobriety so I said goodbye and good luck. It was a sad day indeed.
We stayed in touch after he moved in with his brother. He flew back to visit me in short order and we attended a gala event for the second time during our relationship, this time with him staying sober. He wouldn’t dance with me this year as he had at the last event when he had been drinking. We still had fun, and stayed at a nearby Inn for the night since my estranged husband was staying in my home with our sons, and the lake house was too far away to travel to after a late night party.
Charlie very much wanted me to meet his large family out in the midwest in order for me to better understand his roots. We believed we could maintain a long distance relationship because we were so deeply connected. I booked a short trip to the midwest to meet his family and to have another visit with him. His brother’s house wasn’t handicapped friendly, with several flights of steep stairs, and I booked us a hotel room nearby so we could have privacy.
I deplaned and rode to baggage claim in a wheelchair, as usual. I was excited to see Charlie again, and expected to be greeted with similar excitement and enthusiasm.
I first spotted him in the airport waiting for me dressed in shabby clothes, not cleanly shaven and looking very much unlike the handsome, sweet guy I knew and loved. We had a warm greeting, but it seemed a bit strained. I dismissed it as being due to us being apart for longer than we had ever been in a year and a half. I planned to stay for 5 days.
We checked into our hotel, and things just seemed to be off in a way I couldn’t quite put my finger on. After we settled in, I asked him to explain his appearance. It was a simple, ugly explanation. He said, “V., I’ve had a relapse.” It felt something like a punch in the gut. I reacted quickly, trying to frame things in a positive light. “OK, these things happen, people recover from them, blah, blah, blah.” Inside, I wanted to kill him. I had clearly laid out that any drinking on his part would result in my absence from his life, and here I was, with 5 days ahead of me in the midwest with him. He explained how much he wanted to tell me before I came to visit, and even debated whether to tell me at all, but his brother talked him into the necessity of telling me right away.
I played it cool. I wanted to believe he was having a temporary setback. Down deep, I knew he was finished. He didn’t drink in front of me during my visit. We did visit his brother’s house so I could see where he had been living and meet his family. He helped me get down the steep, narrow basement steps so we could watch movies on his large screen home theater. The first night we visited went off smoothly.
The next night when we visited his home, he once again helped me downstairs where I was trapped in a sense because my disability prevented me from getting upstairs at will. I remember being downstairs alone for a period of time watching the movie. We drove back to our hotel late at night.
Upon entering our room, he became physical with me very quickly. Hugging and kissing, I smelled it. “Charlie, you are drunk.” He shrugged it off with “Oh, I had a vodka upstairs at Scott’s house”. I think this was about 3 days into my trip. I blew my top at him. I had spent a lot of money on a plane ticket and a hotel room for us, and now he was drunk again. This ruined everything.
I hung out until it was time to fly home in 3 days. Charlie made no promises about getting sober again. I knew it was time to start to detach from this man who was my great friend and lover. It was clear his “relationship” with the bottle was the ultimate for him, and he had no control over it. He had clearly been “white knuckling” it for the four months he went without drinking.
During his sober period, I had booked a Rhine River cruise for us. When I got home from my short visit, I continued to talk and text with him. He became increasingly, alarmingly paranoid about his home and electronic communications being “monitored”. His sister-in-law told me one night he parked himself out in a lawn chair in the freezing cold to watch out for the surveillance crew. She said he sat there and watched the garbage trucks go by, all the while convinced it was some government organization. It was a constant story about his email and cell phone being “hacked”, so he frequently claimed to not receive my messages. I would email him, and receive a text in response or vice versa. It seemed that the drinking was taking a toll on him in new and strange ways. When the whole thing just started to feel like just too much work, I wrote him a long, sad email telling him just that. He was too much work, and I would not engage with him under any circumstances while he was actively drinking.
I was able to re-book the cruise with my brother as my travel companion, and sent Charlie all of the emails showing this change occurring due to a change in his health status which would likely not be resolved by the departure date. It was the fall of 2016, and the cruise was set for the spring of 2017.
Charlie was furious that I could not “accept” his relapse, and would not take him on the cruise. He spoke some German, and thought I would be lost without him traveling through five European countries. It was actually a no brainer for me since I had repeatedly told him that there would be no engagement on my part while he was drinking. We both felt an acute heartbreak at things having to end, but there was no way around it.
We had very limited contact in the coming months, mostly with him professing his undying love for me and disappointment in the firmness of my decision that we had no future whatsoever. Of course, there were the inevitable late night drunk messages left on my answering machine, with an occasional nonsensical conversation between us.
I had the painful realization that I had to just let him go, even if it meant he was going to drink himself to death. I had to carry on living my life, and try to find someone new to love, taking care not to get sucked down into the vortex out in the midwest. I rarely looked back. I was sure he was going straight down, with no hope for redemption.
I did continue to date new people, and have fun without my Good Time Charlie.
I wrote him an occasional email or letter just with a joke or a well wish, with nothing in return on his part. I recently wrote to him asking for friendship following a serious health crisis that I went through during the summer of 2017. He didn’t respond. The last postal correspondence I sent asked him if he wanted to forget me and carry on, and I would assume so and not contact him again if I didn’t hear from him by Thanksgiving.
Charlie called me from the hospital to tell me he was suffering from end stage cirrhosis. He spent 25 days in the hospital, including his 55th birthday. He went home with big plans to get his affairs in order. He called one last time and could barely speak. His once deep, sonorous voice was reduced to a whisper that sounded as if it was coming from a 100 year old man. His brother told me they were putting him on hospice, and just trying to keep him comfortable at home.
When I next called his brother to check on things, Charlie was back in the hospital with liver and kidney failure. They are sure he won’t see 2018. I am struggling with the thought that we may never speak again. I hate to say I knew this would happen. My Good Time Charlie is going to die before the year is over. He often said that he did not wish to get old, and lived in fear that he would outlive his money. I suppose he is getting his wish.
The positive side is that I was actually able to disengage from him and will only have to bear this loss from a great distance. Charlie was the first man in about ten years to be genuinely nice to me when we first met. That feeling can never be re-created. I am sad and without a thing to do about it. I mailed him a few photos from our time together, and just hope I can make him smile one more time.
Some immortal words from Charlie I will always remember:
“The best way to get over a man is to get under another one”.
That one served us well while I was trying to get over the end of my marriage.
DBS “Don’t Be Stupid”
One of his favorites from his brother who served in the military, and used it as a motto for safety during his service.
“Go with God”
This was meant for use when having sex so you never have to worry about calling out the wrong name in the heat of passion. e.g. “Oh God, oh my God!” Always safe to say.
There are only three rules in life:
- Don’t get hurt
- Don’t get arrested
- Have fun.
On Thanksgiving Day of 2017, I was able to convince Charlie’s brother to bring the phone to the hospital so I could have some final words with him as it was quite clear that he would not see 2018. I asked if he would be able to hear me because earlier in the day his brother said Charlie was slipping into a coma. I heard his brother ask if he could hear, then he said “OK, go ahead”. I said “Hi Charlie, you don’t need to speak if you don’t want, but your brother has been filling me in on what has been going on. He told me you are getting ready to leave, and I just want to say goodbye and good luck, and thank you for everything. You will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope you have a nice trip.” He said, “We had some great times”. I was happy to hear him say this because when he first called me from the hospital to tell me he was sick, he was still angry with me for breaking up with him. I now felt we were ending on a positive note.
The day after Thanksgiving, I went away with my new boyfriend to the lake. We were sitting and chatting with a friend in a local antique shop on Saturday when I took out my phone to show my friend some photos of my sons from Thanksgiving and saw a text message pop down from the top of my screen that said:
“Charlie has just passed over into eternity.” Even though I had been waiting on pins and needles for a message or a call to this effect, it was still jarring. I showed my friend the family photos and kept quiet about the news until I was browsing around the shop with my boyfriend who understood what had been going on. I quietly told him I got the message that Charlie was gone. I was glad for the company and the diversion of shopping around town for a while to slowly absorb the news. I guess I was in a minor state of shock. I was putting one foot in front of the other, but I was having trouble absorbing and processing that Charlie was gone forever. My emotions bubbled up the more I talked about it with my new companion. Charlie’s immortal words haunted me: “The best way to get over a man is to get under another one”.
I asked if he suffered, and his brother said he died peacefully and he was with him at the end. I was in full on tears by the time we got back to the house.
I will not be making the trip to the midwest for Charlie’s graveside service because this has become a terrible time for me to travel as my mother has just started chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. I emailed the girlfriend Charlie had been living with to tell her the news, even though she hated me to the core, because if I were her, I would want to know. She did share a home and child raising with Charlie for two years. She was grateful that I let her know since she would likely have heard the news through her kids who are still in contact with Charlie’s kids. She said she was heartbroken, too.
I mailed a sympathy card for “the loss of your brother” to Charlie’s remaining eight siblings. I had memorized the nine of them in order, and it felt truly strange to write the list in the card without Charlie right in the middle of it.
The photos I sent to cheer Charlie up arrived in the midwestern post office on November 13th. I suppose his brothers and sisters will enjoy them when they arrive at his brother’s house in the coming weeks.