May 2005 -- Walking into work, I spot a familiar face reading a newspaper as he's walking. I head in his direction and he looks up before I arrive.
"Aaron, how ya' doin'?"
July 1993 -- Newly arrived in DC, I'm crashing on the sofa of a friend's place, my worldly possessions are in a rental truck out in the apartment complex's parking lot, and the truck's due back in one more day. The room for rent I'd pinned my hopes on has finally fallen through, and I'm desperately trying to find somewhere to live, somewhere that will take me, my stuff, and most importantly, my dog. I can extend the truck rental if I have to (though being unemployed, I certainly don't want to have to), but my brother's bringing Rosie up in a couple of weeks, and I can't keep her at my friend's apartment.
"Yes, I'm calling about the room for rent?"
"Yeah? When can you come over?"
"Right now if you'd like."
"My name's Aaron."
Now -- We'd last spoken in the Fall, but it'd been several years since we'd gotten together. Strange, considering we work less than half a mile away, and I pass by his building whenever I walk to work. He finally looks older -- the perpetually boyish face showing a bit of what the years have brought, and gray finally settling into his dark hair. I want to know about the boys, which is good, because that's what he wants to talk about.
Then -- I move in on the evening of the same day. It's a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom rambler in Falls Church, right by Seven Corners. At some point before I decide to take the place, he tells me about his pending divorce, and his three sons, ages 6, 5, and 3. He tells me that they'll be living in the third bedroom about half the time. Somehow I miss such minor details -- I've found a place to live, a place that'll take my dog, sight unseen.
Now -- Conor is finishing up his sophomore year, and is doing great. He's in a magnet school, getting good grades, and doing great in sports. He was featured in the paper for a soccer hat trick he scored, but his favorite sport is football. Alex, finishing up his freshman year at a different high school, is also thriving academically and athletically.
Then -- It's strange, this totally alien environment of small children surrounding me while I'm still a mess from my ex. But strange is not the same as bad. Charlie is great in action with the boys -- that he loves them is never in doubt. He's very patient, hardly ever raising his voice, constantly giving them his unconditional love in a very difficult time for all of them. He never speaks bad of his spouse in front of the kids, even though she doesn't reciprocate. She's fighting for full custody of the children, while Charlie wants joint custody. Charlie ultimately wins the battle, but his ex is never ready to cede the war -- eventually, her determination to fight costs her even joint custody.
Now -- Shawn lives with his mother. He got kicked out of school in 8th grade, for smoking pot. At that time his mother swooped in and offered him a chance to start fresh. Charlie didn't say no, but he later came to realize that "fresh start" meant was that Shawn didn't have to face the consequences of his actions. Charlie feels that Shawn has become something of a lost lamb -- his mother indulges his laziness, for fear that he'd go back to Charlie. Shawn's about to graduate, and has found a New England school that'll accept him. He's interested in drama.
Then -- When the kids aren't around, we talk a great deal, about relationships, writing, music, and anything else. We also go to a few concerts -- he delights in taking me to Hot Tuna, in which Jorma Koukanen, from whom Charlie took some lessons, is front and center. Despite these interests, he has but a single devotion, and that's to his children.
Now -- "It was great seeing you Charlie."
"You too man -- I'll tell Shawn you say hello." We start moving past one another in the directions of our respective workplaces.
"Thanks, I'd like that. When do you want to do lunch?"
"Work's pretty busy, I usually work right through lunch."
"What else are you doing outside of work and the boys?"
"Nothing really -- all the activities for Conor and Alex keep me pretty busy. With the two of them at different schools, I'm constantly going all over the place."
"You need your own life too -- what happens when they go off to college?"
"Don't remind me!" More than a trace of annoyance, anger even, slips through in his response, and as we leave the meeting place, I worry that I have hurt him somehow.