“A Life in the Year of Charlie King” by Lawrence Williams

My wife Vicky strode into the kitchen, said she no longer loved me, and was moving out of New York to start a new life. She left me standing with the kettle whistling, the dish rag in my hand dripping water and the only life I knew on the floor. The next day my sister-in-law came and packed twenty years into bubble wrap and ferried it out the door. The petals fell off our flowers because I never watered them. I didn’t see it coming, and that was the reason she left. 

As the calendar flipped its pages, solitude consumed my life. I moved from Westchester into Manhattan to be closer to work and to try to escape my ghosts. Most nights I did not leave the office until after midnight. Clara, my boss, and my friend told me I engaged in an unhealthy lifestyle, to take a leave of absence and reboot. She suggested a cruise, or a dating site. Her nephew met his wife on one of those sites, and they married and expected a child.

So, I began my exile. I enjoyed painting and spent hours in my studio apartment unleashing my fears by splashing colors across the canvas. I signed up for volunteer work teaching an art class to children who otherwise would not participate in the experience, hoping their smiles provided some clarity in my life. But Clara was right. Vicky was gone and never coming back. 

One evening I plopped on the couch and popped up Caribbean cruises on my laptop. Photos of white, sandy beaches and clear, aqua water adorned the screen. Offers from all the cruise ships promised the vacation of a lifetime leaving from a port near me, with couples sipping exotic drinks with red, orange, and yellow umbrellas sticking out of a frosted glass under a moonlit sky. But being stuck on a ship with complete strangers appealed to the outgoing, assertive personality club of which I was not a member.

I entered one of the dating sites in the search box. When I clicked on, they asked for a subscription, a profile, and a photograph. I found a recent picture of me and Vicky as she planned her escape, the unhappiness in her smile evident, so I photoshopped her out of my life and uploaded the file. My brown hair tinged with salt, my gray eyes under thick eyebrows. Next. Charlie. Forty-eight. Divorced. No kids. Sounded like a rap sheet. 

I searched for what people put in their bios and pulled one up entitled, How to write an online dating profile. The site contained numerous tips, the most important being specificity about who you were and some filters as to what appealed to you in a partner. 

Did people make things up? I typed in I liked to paint, cook, read, and listen to music. Decided not to say what I wanted out of this, because my life was empty, and I was not sure what to fill it with. Scrolled through an assortment of bios and checked out four or five but found no connection. How did one sum up a life in a paragraph? 

Then I clicked on a Kathleen. The lines prominent around each one of her brown eyes framed a pleasant face. Mid-forties, divorced, one son, liked to take walks, listen to live music, drink red wine, read classic books, and believed in second chances. 

I fell back in my chair, the words resonating inside my head. Something about her eyes touched me, like she raised them at the last moment to catch the camera and tried to lower them in mid shutter, almost like she was embarrassed to do this. I submitted my e-mail and said I would like to make contact and start a chat.

I checked my computer every day like a thirteen-year-old, the apprehension tingling my insides as I logged on. After three days and no response I wanted to ditch this cyber cupid stuff. Other people requested a chat, but I had not responded. One evening when I logged on, a message from Kathleen.

We chatted back and forth, brushing the surface, past and present. Neither of us not wanting to reveal too much, afraid of what might burst through. After two weeks of messaging, she asked to meet for coffee in midtown and I suggested a café called Angie’s on 79th Street off Broadway.

I had not been out with anyone since Vicky, and I wiped the sweat from my brow. Should we have spoken a while longer? Face Timed or Zoomed once or twice? Were we desperate? I guess I was.

In the ensuing days, I received six more potential matches and ignored them. The rational thing was to give myself choices, doubtful this association with Kathleen would germinate—not sure I wanted it to. I still loved Vicky—I think. 

Kathleen and I exchanged four or five texts, how are you, what did you do today, small talk—a term I never understood. But I had an obligation now, and panic rippled across my chest. Was I ready for another relationship? I called Clara and told her I wanted to stop by and ask her advice. When I showed her Kathleen’s picture and the e-mails, and told her my concerns, she frowned. She stood and got in my face, like she always does when she wants to make a point. 

“Charlie, I like her direct approach. Easier to judge someone in person. But think this one out before you jump in. I mean, I’m worried about you. You’re still wrapping your head around your divorce. Wouldn’t be fair to you or her.”


A gripping fear seized me that I embarked on a journey I did not want to be a part of or capable of completing. The thought of someone else’s happiness depending on me scared the hell out of me. I had failed miserably on my first and only shot and did not want to make the same mistake. Clara, of course, was right. Not fair to Kathleen to drag this out if I did not give my whole self. From our brief time together conversing, she intrigued me. Her willingness to take chances, her sincerity and loneliness impacted me. But wasn’t I the lonesome one?

I got to the café ten minutes early, so I ordered a hot coffee and sat in a corner booth away from the clanging and clinking and chatter at the counter. This establishment enjoyed charm and comfort, with high vaulted ceilings, red, white, and blue toy tricycles and colorful dolls hanging from the wooden beams. The flagstone walls added a rustic touch here in the heart of steel and concrete.

I mulled over what I would say but rehearsed lines would just sound rehearsed. She came through the door, caught my eye, hesitated, smiled, a quick wave. She wore jeans and a beige sweater. I stood to greet her, glancing down at my black pants and button-down shirt, a decision I agonized over all morning.

“Hi, Kathleen. I hope this is all right.”

“Oh, this place is adorable.” Her eyes swept the ceiling and rested back on me and then away. “Smells fabulous in here, like a cinnamon candy stick.”

A smile creased her face, but the hardened tracks of life ran through her skin, like rivers dried out long ago. Her light brown, wavy hair brushed her shoulders.

She ordered a cappuccino, and we mixed words about our daily existence. When I told her this was my first date in over twenty years, the last being with Vicky, she asked what happened. To reach a level of comfort together in this abbreviated time, I needed to release my vulnerabilities. We had not talked about our exes other than we were both divorced. I played with a lock of my hair, a habit since childhood, and yanked my hand away. “Little nervous,” I said.

“So am I.”

Her deep, chestnut eyes locked me, searching my face for what, the truth? The server came over and asked if we would like to order any food. We placed our orders, and Kathleen smiled.

I sighed and forced the words up and out. “Vicky, my ex, she walked into the kitchen one morning and said she didn’t love me. Two things happened. We were not able to have children. I mean, we considered adoption and tried other options, and when that didn’t work, I gave up on the idea. I never followed through. We fought and then we didn’t. I got used to life without kids. Kept busy with my job, and myself, and I was not available for her life, her needs. The years dragged by, and she provided all the signs of her unhappiness, but I took our marriage—and her—for granted. I recognize now, way too late, how selfish, and wrong I was, how I screwed up. I wish her only the best.”

I dropped my head, afraid to engage her eyes, blurting out too much too soon. Did not make myself sound attractive, and now a burning fear rose inside me that I ruined this thing before it got started.

“Hey, Charlie, I don’t think many men would have the guts to admit these kinds of things, and if you’re able to grow from them—” 

“Probably not what a first date should be about.”

She waved her hand in an arc and rested it back on the table. “You’re raising the bar here, get all this out of the way.” She blinked, and a slight twitch of her upper lip morphed to a nervous laugh. She twirled a Claddagh ring on her right index finger, and her shoulders tightened. “My ex-husband—we divorced about six years ago.” She shuddered, and her eyes misted. “We fought constantly. The marriage, let’s just say, was a disaster.” She lowered her head. “He’s not really in our lives anymore.”

I wanted to ask why, but I sensed the time was not now. “I’m so sorry. And your son Patrick, he’s sixteen, right?”

“Yeah. These past few years—been rough on him, but he’s so fearless. Sometimes—”

She ran her fingers over her cup. Words to soothe her would not assemble in my brain. The server brought the food but the last thing I wanted to do was cram a muffin in my mouth. Kathleen lifted her eyes and smiled. “Wow, perfect timing.”

“No—I mean—”

“No, no worries.” She fumbled with her ring again. “I dedicated myself to my son, and only started going out six months ago—tried this service two other times. Patrick, he has his own life. So, I get lonely. Not into this, but a friend insists I give this a chance. But the guys—real assholes, only interested in one thing. And a lot of sickos online, so you have to be careful.” 

“Why did you come?”

“Not sure. Like I said—” She grabbed the check. “This one’s on me.”

“No, I mean, why did you come today? What made you think I would be any different?”

“I, you know, I don’t know. From the few times we communicated, and I don’t mean this in an insulting way, but you seemed a little sad, like me. And you like to be quiet. And you like to paint. My son loves to paint.”

“I’m not insulted, not at all. You’re right. This whole thing is scary, not knowing anything about each other’s lives.”  

She tipped her head. “Maybe that will change.”


We spoke on the phone every day, each time opening the door a little further. Something about her moved me in a way not even Vicky had, but maybe the isolation controlled my thoughts. I did not think so. Kathleen’s kindness, her dedication to her son, the way she listened when I spoke instilled in me an affection which I don’t remember ever experiencing before. 

Uneasiness occupied one side of me, calmness on the other. I welcomed the prospect of a bond developing between us, but I constructed a wall of protection against future heartache. And Kathleen, if I built her confidence in me, how could I take it away? If the kindling relationship burst into a roaring flame, I could not predict what my heart would say. I needed to hear her voice, and I hit her contact, and she picked up on the second ring. 

“Hi, Kathleen. Not too late?”

“No, not at all. You can read minds, Charlie King. I wanted to talk.”

“Yeah, wanted to say hello. What are you doing?”

“About to curl up with my book, the Magnificent Ambersons.”

“I never read that. What’s it about?” 

“A family at the start of the industrial revolution who can’t adapt to the changes of the times but what they really can’t adapt to are the changes in their personal lives. They were afraid. Charlie. I’m afraid.”

“Me too. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

She laughed. “I swear, you can read my mind.”

I pictured her on the other side, her thoughts far away, and I felt the heaviness in her chest.

“My ex—his name is John—started cheating on me right after Patrick was born, or probably even before.” Her voice quivered. “An old girlfriend, except I found out later old was not the correct description. So, for the sake of our child, we attended counselling, and he promised it wouldn’t happen again. When I found out it didn’t stop, the confrontation turned physical, cops at the door, the whole ugly story. He’s married to her now, with two kids, and when he finds the time, which is never, he remembers he has another child.” 

She expelled a deep breath, and I wished I could be next to her, to hold her. I was not sure how to process that knowledge, afraid I would say the wrong thing, afraid of building a trust and then destroying her fragility. But the more time I spent with her, she was the strongest person I ever met.

“I went through the whole guilt thing, blaming myself.”

“Hey, you’re the victim, you and your son.”

“I’m ready to move on, finally.”
A warm sensation wrapped its arms around me. 


We ended our fourth date with a kiss, the first time I kissed someone other than Vicky since high school. Loneliness can confuse love with longing, and I needed the correct emotions controlling my decisions. I did not want to suffer again, and more importantly, I did not want to hurt Kathleen.


We had been together for over two months, rending our souls bare, our hearts interlocking, and we took the leap. Like teenagers about to lose their virginity, we worked ourselves into a delirium where you realize it is about to happen until the nerves slam the brakes and your body comes to a screeching halt. This woman who I found so beautiful had been hurt so bad, but Kathleen led me to her bed. I never experienced something so tender, so secure, yet so powerful.                                   

My heart rendered its opinion. 

We made an appointment for 3:00 in Central Park at the boat basin the following week. I wanted to meet Patrick, and he wanted to meet me. Kathleen allayed my fears about whether her son would like me, telling me he already made jokes about us talking on the phone every day like adolescent lovers. I arrived a half an hour early toting a bag of assorted cookies from Levain’s Bakery, wondering what I would say. I peeked in the bag and some of the cookies cracked in half, but still looked delicious.

In my valise was a portrait of a landscape with a snow-peaked mountain swooping down into a crystal-blue lake, and a deer in the foreground, head bent to the water, as white swans bathed themselves. I spent the last nine months working on this portrait, what I deemed my best work. What brings two people together to trust each other with their lives, with their souls, with their hearts? I wanted to be one of those persons but was not sure if I earned the right, my guilt and shame over my marriage still taking up space in my heart. 

As I stood watching the lunch crowd escape the pandemonium of the city to find a little slice of peace, I waited for the two people I hoped I could provide a little slice of love. They appeared through the crowd of faces, Kathleen smiling and waving, her son Patrick taking in the man who dared to spend time with his mother. As the two of them approached, a wave of emotion rolled over me. I wanted this more than anything, but the fear gripped me, and I struggled to catch my breath. Kathleen reached me and brushed her hand across my forearm, as Patrick extended his. A cool breeze rose from the pond, blowing back my hair. As I grasped Patrick’s hand, Kathleen slipped hers into mine, guiding me forward.

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