I hesitated before I put the photo of me and Kim in the box. We had just broken up a month ago, and I wasn’t quite ready to throw it away yet. I didn’t want to carry it home, either. I had saved it for last, putting off the decision as long as I possibly could, but now I had to make a decision, and I didn’t like either choice.
The security guard who had been watching me clean out my office cleared his throat, and gave me an impatient would you hurry the fuck up? look, and I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. Fuck it, and fuck her, too. I put it in the trash, scooped up the box with all of my other personal belongings, and walked away from eighty thousand a year and a fully vested 401K.
I threw the box in the back of the jeep and got behind the wheel. I caught a glance of myself in the rearview, but looked away quickly. I wasn’t ready to face myself…not yet. Another failed relationship, I had just lost the best job I had ever had, and I had absolutely no fucking clue what I was going to do next. Forty fucking years old, and back to square fucking one.
Charlie greeted me at the door, as happy to see me as he was the first day we met. I kneeled down, scratched his ears, and ruffled his fur. He licked my face, and I smiled despite myself. I stood up, and looked around my condo. Who lives here? Where did all this crap come from? And that’s when it really hit me. I had been living someone else’s life. Kim’s life. Or rather, Kim’s fiance’s life.The job, this condo, these clothes…they were all her idea of what her fiance should look like. This wasn’t me. None of it was me. Charlie nudged my leg, and I looked down and smiled.
“Yeah, buddy. You’re right. You. You were my idea, and you’re the only thing here that truly belongs in my life.”
I went to the closet, and dug out an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and changed into them. I found my old backpack, and stuffed another pair of jeans and a few other T-shirts into it, grabbed my baseball cap and hoodie, and took a look around the bedroom. My father’s watch was in the drawer in the nightstand, so I grabbed it. Nothing else appealed to me, so I moved into the living room. Nope…nothing in here, and nothing in the kitchen, either. I got my stuff out of the bathroom and stuffed it into the backpack, too. I left a note on the bar, telling Kim that the place was hers, as was everything in it, and she could have it. I took the key off my keyring, and left it on top of the note. I put Charlie on his leash, slung the backpack over my shoulder, and locked the door behind us.
I called Kim, and left a voicemail telling her to come over to my place, and pick up her shit. I called Tom, my lawyer, and told him just to let Kim have everything, including the condo. Protect my bank account, I told him, but give her everything else. I don’t even care anymore. I put Charlie in the jeep, threw my backpack in the back, and put on my shades. I cranked the tunes, and spun right the fuck out of the parking lot.
Rush hour traffic in Atlanta starts around five AM, and ends sometime right after never. I didn’t even know where I was going, I just knew I was never coming back here. Out of habit, I had turned south on 85, headed back into the city. I started to turn around, but then I saw the sign for the 75 junction, and I smiled. 75 goes to the beach, and that seemed fucking perfect to me. It was just after lunch, and I knew if I timed it right, I could watch the sun set over the gulf.
I was halfway to Valdosta when Kim called. I was surprised, and even a little touched by the concern in her voice as she asked me if I was feeling okay. I told her I was, and that I had really meant what I said in the note: She could have it all. I told her I had already asked Tom to make all the arrangements, and that he’d probably be in touch with her in a couple of days to finalize everything. I could tell that she had started crying silently, so I wished her well, and hung up. I took Charlie for a quick walk right there on the side of the interstate, and then we got back on our way. We stopped off in Lake City and got some fast food (the first I had eaten since Kim had forbidden it three years ago) before turning West on I-10. Straight through Tallahassee, and we arrived in Panama City just as the sun was starting to set.
I found a dog friendly beach, and let Charlie run free while I walked through the surf. The sunset was beautiful…the most beautiful thing I had seen in a long time. I watched it long after the last colors faded, and night overtook us.
I started to leave, but then I noticed a bonfire just a little bit up the beach from us. I’m not normally one to intrude, but there were a lot of voices and some good tunes, so what the hell. I went over to see what it was all about. I expected college kids, or worse, high school kids, so I was pleasantly surprised to see people closer to my age. It turned out to be a corporate retreat, so I excused myself pretty quickly. I just gnawed my leg off to get out of that trap. i wasn’t about to fall in it again.
We found a hotel that would let me bring Charlie, and checked in. I got him set up with some food and water, then went out for some more fresh air. I hadn’t quite gotten enough of the beach just yet. I walked down to the water’s edge, and sat down, letting the surf lap at my feet. I don’t know how long I sat there. Maybe ten minutes, or maybe two hours. I was knocked out of my thoughts by a sudden splash right next to me, and in the next instant, a dog who was definitely not Charlie tackled me into the sand. A woman’s voice called out in shock and horror,
“Chaplin!!! Oh my god! Chaplin! Get off him!”
It was a lost cause. My new buddy and I were already rolling in the surf, laughing and barking as we wrestled for control of his little chew toy.
“Chaplin! Fuck. Are you okay? Get OFF him, Chaplin!”
I sat up, and turned to look.
She was fucking gorgeous. Brown, almost black, hair just past her shoulders, green eyes, and stacked. She was tall, too. Almost as tall as me, if my guess was right. It was hard to tell while I was sitting in the surf, but when I looked up at her, I had to look UP at her, if you know what I mean. I liked that. I stood up, and saw that I was right. Just a few inches shorter than I am. I brushed my hand off against my jeans, and held it out. “I’m Jack,” I said.
She took my hand, but stopped just short of shaking it. The result was that we ended up just holding hands…perhaps just a heartbeat too long before we broke the contact nervously. “I’m Kari,” she said. “And you’ve already met Chaplin. I’m really sorry about that. He’s usually much better behaved.”
“Ah, no worries. I have one of my own. I’m used to it. Wait. His name is Chaplin? Like Charlie Chaplin?”
“Yeah…it’s cheesy, I know. What? What’s so funny?”
“Life. Fate. Destiny. Fuck, I don’t know. But it’s funny. My dog is named Charlie. after Charlie Chaplin.”
“Shut the fuck up! You’re fucking with me, right?”
“Nope. I used to love watching all those old movies when I was a kid. I never had a dog before, but when I got this one, I knew right away what i’d name him. He’s up in my room, otherwise I’d introduce you.”
“And here I thought I was the last Charlie Chaplin fan in the universe,” she said. “We simply must get these two together sometime!” She laughed, and it was the most intoxicating thing I had heard in a long time.
“Wait right here,” I said. I’m staying just up there. Let me go get him, and we can go for a walk together.”
“Okay! I’ll be here!”
I jogged up to my hotel, and took the steps two at a time. I got to my room, grabbed Charlie, and we bounced out of the room together. True to her word, she was right where I had left her, and Chaplin was sniffing around right by her feet. Charlie charged down the steps, Chaplin charged up the beach, and the two met halfway and exploded into happy bounces and playful nips. Instant best friends. I was already hoping Jess and I would have a similar connection.
We started walking down the beach, with the dogs running ahead and jumping around. We talked, and we laughed. She was recently divorced, and had moved to Florida just a month ago, looking for a fresh start. She told me that she had just gotten in her car to drive around and clear her head, but that she was in Florida before she really knew what she was doing. I told her my story, and she really listened. I couldn’t even remember the last time Kim had listened to me. It felt good.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today started as the worst day of my life, and turned into the best day of my life. I hope she’s still here when I wake up tomorrow…
Image by kordi_vahle