Somewhere I read that most people can expect life to deliver a gut punch now and then. Like the time my mom called and told me Dad had emphysema and had to take it easy or else the doctors couldn’t guarantee him any kind of longevity. I’d always seen him strong as a horse, unassailable in a way. I wasn’t ready to believe he was mortal like the rest of us.
Then there was that moment when everything I’d held dear came crashing down around me. That was when Darren, the love of my life, left me after three years of living and loving—or so I thought—together. For the longest time after that trauma it was my complete conviction that no one could ever replace him in looks, ambition or sexual prowess. The many men I’ve known since then have all seemed the same, with one or two exceptions. Few came close in comparison with the son of a bitch who broke my heart. Not just broke it. Shattered it into tiny bits then stomped on it.
I tried drowning my depression with the aid of booze and in the arms of any random guy who looked at me more than once. But nights of self-indulgence followed by hangovers from hell didn’t help soothe the hurt. As each day or week passed, I was more and more certain that the pain of Darren’s leaving me without a word, without even a note to tell me he was gone for good, would never really go away.
* * * *
I’d gone to a three-day convention in New York, representing the software company I worked for. The night before I left, we’d had sex. As I’d lingered in the doorway of our apartment clutching my suitcase, he’d kissed me like it was going out of style, as if he’d never see me again. Little did I know. I called him when I got to NYC to let him know I’d arrived safely. I had to leave a message. I called him again before I crashed for the night. Ditto with the message. By morning, when again there was no pickup on his end, I started to worry.
Had something happened to him? An accident of some kind, bad news from his family, a problem at work? None of those things made much sense. Why wouldn’t he call to let me know? All morning while I was trying to concentrate on the various convention speakers, thoughts of Darren invaded my mind. At the first break then again at lunchtime and at the end of the day, I called him, but could only leave messages that were beginning to sound slightly frantic.
“Where are you? Has something happened? Call me please, Darren.”
“What’s up, Jason? You look like you’re about to implode.” The speaker, William Branson, one of my supervisors at Sonar Electronics, was staring at me, his expression one of amused concern.
“Uh, it’s just that I can’t get hold of Darren,” I told him. “I’ve called him a dozen times it seems like, and all I get is his voicemail.”
“Have you tried his office?”
“He doesn’t like me calling him there.” I bit my lower lip. Boy, did that sound lame.
William lifted an eyebrow. “He might forgive you this time if something serious has happened.”
“Yeah…” What the hell, I thought, glancing at my watch. Almost five. They didn’t close up shop until five-thirty. I punched in his office number on my cell.
“Barker, Hollingworth and Anderson, Attorneys-at-law. This is Cindi. How may I direct your call?”
“Uh, Darren Anderson, please.”
“I’m sorry, Mister Anderson is not here today.”
“I said, Mr. Anderson is not here today. Can I take a message?”
“You—you must be mistaken,” I sputtered. “Wait, did he call out sick?” A vision of Darren languishing on his bed unable to reach his phone flooded my mind followed immediately by the thought, That’s stupid, if he called out sick, he’d have had to reach his phone.
“No, sir, he has an out-of-town meeting. May I ask who is calling?”
“Yeah, Jason Harrison. I’m his… I’m a friend.” Darren didn’t want anyone at the office knowing he was gay and had a live-in lover, me. “A meeting you say? Out of town?” I didn’t quite know where to go with this conversation.
“Yes, sir,” Cindi replied. I could tell she was trying not to sound as if she was getting impatient. “May I take a message?”
“No, no… I’ll try again later.”
“Mr. Anderson won’t be back in the office until the day after tomorrow, sir.”
“Yes, I heard what you said. I’m just finding it hard to process. He never mentioned anything about that to me before I left yesterday morning.” Oops. Darren would frown heavily if Cindi passed on my concern in that manner. “Uh, I mean, I was on the phone…at the airport.”
“Well, Mr. Harrison, I’m sure Mr. Anderson will be happy to return your call when he gets back. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No—no, that’s okay. Thank you.” I hung up and stared bleakly at William who had not moved away but had listened to my end of that entire troubling conversation. He knew about Darren and me and had met Darren on a couple of occasions. “She said he was out of town…at a meeting.”
“That’s good then. No need to worry. Come on, let’s have a drink before dinner.”
“It’s just strange that he never mentioned any of it to me…the meeting I mean…and going out of town. I don’t get it.”
“I’m sure there’s a rational explanation. It may have just slipped his mind.”
I threw him a look of disbelief. “Darren letting something like an out-of-town meeting slip his mind? I don’t think so.”
“Well, try not to worry about it, Jason.” He put an arm around my shoulders. “Come on, that bartender looks mighty lonesome over there.”
I let him steer me over to the bar and ordered a Scotch rocks when he asked what I wanted. Darren was going to have some explaining to do when I did eventually talk to him.
The convention couldn’t end fast enough as far as I was concerned. I’d actually contemplated skipping out early and taking a red-eye back to San Diego, but I knew this would not be viewed amicably by William and my other bosses back at Sonar. William kept trying to assure me that I was worrying needlessly and that when Darren got back to town all would be satisfactorily revealed. On the third day we shared a cab to the airport and I had to listen to him voice his thoughts about how the convention had gone. I couldn’t have given a flying fuck on the subject but, somehow, I managed to interject a few thoughts of my own, if only to stop the feelings of dread that kept surfacing in my brain.
William slept through most of the flight back, which was good and bad. Left with only the drone of the plane’s engines to fill the silence from my sleeping companion, all kinds of scenarios filled my mind, the overriding one being, of course, that Darren had left me. Hard as that was to imagine or to believe, what other explanation could there be? I had thought of calling his mother, but then nixed the idea for fear of worrying her unduly if she hadn’t heard about this ‘out-of-town meeting’. Lisa Anderson’s health was fragile at the best of times and I didn’t want to be the one who sent her into a relapse of some kind. Plus, she didn’t like me very much, so a call to her would have to be a last resort.
William and I parted ways at the airport and I took a cab for the relatively short ride to our apartment on Sixth Avenue. The concierge gave me a cheery “Good evening, Mr. Harrison” greeting when I rushed past him for the elevators. I figured there would be nothing left of my lower lip if I kept gnashing at it like a nervous rabbit. Pull yourself together, I told myself over and over while the elevator climbed to the tenth floor. Like William said, there had to be a rational explanation for this—but what the hell could it be?
Standing outside our apartment door, I took a deep breath, inserted the key in the lock, pushed the door open and stepped inside. The forced jollity of my “Hi, honey, I’m home” died on my lips. It was as if my stomach had sunk to my knees while I stared with horror at the near-empty living room. The bare walls, the missing comfy couch where we’d spent so many evenings cuddling while we watched television—also missing—was hard for me to at first process. My suitcase slipped through my nerveless fingers and dropped with a thud onto the tiled floor. Like a zombie I walked toward the bedroom, already knowing what I’d find. Another near-empty room. The California King bed was gone, along with the nightstands, and the closets on Darren’s side were completely bare.
The spare room still had its double bed. Well, at least I wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor or find a hotel room for the night. How thoughtful of you, Darren. I held back my tears, manfully, and bit back the words of rage that threatened to pour from my mouth. Instead, they screamed at full throttle inside my head.
You’ve left me, you unmitigated bastard, you soulless son of a bitch. You’ve left me! I fell to my knees and the dam burst.
The next few weeks sort of passed in a blur of tears, anger and self-recrimination. After all, one has to wonder why, right? My frequent calls to his personal and business numbers went unanswered and that was when the anger surfaced for real. I’m ashamed to admit that I left some pretty horrible messages on his voicemail until the day when I was electronically told that the person I was trying to reach was no longer the owner of the number I had dialed. In addition, when I called his office, I was told in no uncertain terms that Mr. Anderson did not wish to accept my calls.
Okay then. I no longer knew where he lived. I contemplated a face-to-face confrontation in his office, but the coldness of his ‘not wishing to take my calls’ made me think he might summon security to escort me from the building should I dare to show up unannounced. There was only so much humiliation a guy could take, after all.
The weeks lengthened into months. For a time it seemed as if I were on autopilot. Get up, go to work, answer when spoken to, go home, stare at the walls while drinking too much Scotch. Eventually, William called me into his office for a ‘chat’.
“Jason…” His expression was one of sympathy mixed with a definite lack of patience. “It’s time for you to get over this.”
“I’m trying,” I mumbled.
“Not hard enough. Look, Jason, I’ve had complaints from…some people…about you not pulling your weight. They’re a bit pissed off with your attitude, which I know is harsh, considering…but this is a place of business, Jason, and we do have a quota to keep up with and… Well, what I’m trying to say, without actually saying it—”
“You’re firing me?” I gaped at him, a bit slack-jawed.
“No, not yet, anyway. I don’t want to, Jason, you know that. I like you, you’re good at what you do, but…”
I sighed, a rush of breath that left me slightly dizzy. I covered my face with my hands. “I’m sorry, William. I’ll do better, I promise.” I didn’t add ‘please don’t fire me’ but I came close. Darren had left me alone to carry the exorbitant rent for the apartment. I’d made a half-assed attempt to find something cheaper, but the last thing I needed was to lose my job. The rent had already punched a giant hole in my savings account.
So pull yourself together, idiot, or join the crowds of the homeless on the streets of San Diego.
I straightened up and met William’s gaze full-on. “Sorry about that. I appreciate your concern, William, and I will endeavor to do better from now on.”
William nodded and gave me a small smile. “Good. And, Jason, I do know how much Darren has hurt you. Just don’t let it ruin your life.”
I returned his smile, pretty sure it was more of a grimace than anything else, but it was the best I could do at that moment.
When I got back to the apartment, I looked up the terms of the lease. I was relieved to see that I could give thirty days’ notice after six months. We’d been there over a year so…time to get off my ass and really look for a cheaper place. I’d miss this address with its beautiful view of the park and easy access to Downtown where I worked, but with the sparse furnishings a constant reminder of Darren’s betrayal, I figured it was best that I find somewhere else.
A month later I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in North Park. I bought a new sofa in a completely different style from the one Darren and I had shared, plus some plants and knick-knacks to brighten the living room up. It was quite a cute place and had off-street parking which my Nissan Altima appreciated.
I might sound as if I was in a good state of mind, but that was far from the truth. Despite the shitty way Darren had treated me, I missed him so much that at times it was like a physical ache in my chest. My heart was broken and I was convinced it could never be healed. Not if I lived to be a hundred years old, which at that time I desperately hoped would never happen. Imagine being one hundred and still nursing a broken heart. Okay, common sense, along with my mom and dad and the few friends I had, told me that before I expired, I’d probably get over this.
Why didn’t I believe them? Months after Darren had left, I still felt as if I were adrift, unfocused, wandering aimlessly through life…oh, but the self-pity went on and on until even I was sick of myself.
William had told me I needed a night out on the town. He’d even offered to accompany me to a gay bar, which was sweet seeing he wasn’t gay. I declined but after a few more weeks of festering and hopelessly longing, I decided maybe that was what I needed. If nothing else, I was getting bored with my empty life of work and watching TV on the new set I’d finally gotten around to buying. I called a friend, Pete Benson, I hadn’t seen in a long time.
“Pete, it’s Jason Harrison. How are you?”
Pete laughed. “I couldn’t believe it when your name popped up on my cell. I’m amazed you still had my number.”
“Sorry…yeah, I should’ve called you sooner.”
“Eh, that’s okay. I know what it’s like when you’re in a relationship. His life takes you over kinda. How is Darren?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“You could say that. Listen, I know this is probably crass of me after all this time, but I wondered if you’d like to hang out, go for a drink sometime, maybe?”
“Sometime, maybe?” He chuckled. “How about tomorrow night? I got nothing going on that can’t be avoided.”
“Tomorrow night’s good.” I smiled. Something I hadn’t done in what seemed like forever.
“Great. Bobby’s Tavern? I remember you used to like it there.”
He remembered? “Sounds good. Seven-thirty? We can grab something to eat there too. Their tacos were good.”
“Still are. Okay, see you tomorrow, Jason. Looking forward to it. We have a lot to catch up on.”
As long as he didn’t want to talk about shithead Darren. But what were the chances he wouldn’t?