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"We all miss Charlie."

When I was a young man, I liked young women. Yes, I’m heterosexual. I’ve grown much older, and most of my, let’s say, ‘daydreams’ have grown older, too. I prefer fantasies that are at least remotely plausible, so the women on my mind usually have wrinkles. But young women could catch my eye when I was young, and they still do.

Charlotte Wiggins was 21 when she was hired at the company, and I still remember the morning when the boss took her on a tour of the office, introducing her to everyone. There was an unexpected tap on my shoulder, and I turned and saw an extremely attractive blonde woman. That didn’t happen often at the office, but after that it happened every day.

"Call me Charlie," she said, and we all did. She was the youngest person in the office — everyone else was in their 40s at least, or older like me. At that point, the only 20-somethings I knew were in my family, and they’re all dolts, so by being undoltlike Charlie salvaged her whole generation in my eyes.

She learned our work quickly, always had good numbers, good accuracy, and she was smart, funny, and got along well with everyone. 

And she was beautiful. You never don’t notice that. Noticing was the end of it, though. I was married, well over twice her age, three times her weight, and I’d never cheat, never try to, and never say anything inappropriate. There weren’t even daydreams of “If I were 30 years younger,” because if I’d been 30 years younger, I still wouldn’t have made a move on Charlie. Even at the height of my so-called game, she would’ve been unattainable for a schlub like me.

How normal men handle working with a beautiful woman every day, I wouldn’t know. I have very limited knowledge of normal.

For me it’s only work-talk when I’m at work, no matter who I'm working with. The farther a conversation wanders from work, the quieter, gruffer, and more disinterested I become. Everyone at the office is a Lego character to me, and I treated Charlie the same as any of them.

For at least her first few years in the office, she probably thought I didn’t like her, and that’s OK. That’s how I want most people to react.

Eventually she figured out that I didn’t hate her, and in five years working together, she and I had three discussions that weren't work-related. Call me a perv, but I remember each of those conversations clearly.

The first was after a staff meeting, where for some reason everyone had been talking about the weirdest jobs they’d ever had. For Charlie this was her weirdest job — she was fresh out of college, and it was the first and only job she'd had.

For me, it was wearing women’s clothing in front of a drag shop in San Francisco’s Castro district, handing out flyers and trying to lure gents inside to buy wigs and heels and boobs and butt-padding. After the meeting, Charlie cornered me to say that she loved drag shows and drag queens, and we talked for twenty minutes about that year’s contestants on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

I told her I’d once briefly met Ru Paul, which is almost true. In the 1990s I’d worked at a sound equipment company in San Francisco, and helped set up speakers and microphones at various venues. A few hours before a Ru Paul performance one night, he was inspecting the premises and told me to move a speaker farther back on the stage, so there’d be more floor space. Actually, even “told me” is an exaggeration — he said, “The speakers should be farther back,” but he didn’t say it to me. I moved the speakers further back, which became “I met Ru Paul once,” but Charlie was impressed.

We worked until 5:00 Monday-Friday, but most of the building started emptying at 4:00. During that last hour almost every afternoon, Jason, a young stoner-lad who worked at the I.T. help desk, would find an excuse to come to our department and talk to Charlie. They’d babble about bands and drugs and whatever else people in their 20s talk about. I don’t speak that language, and didn’t, even in my 20s.

One afternoon, after Jason had hovered at her cubicle for half an hour, when he finally wandered back to the elevator and upward to where he was supposed to be, I heard Charlie sigh.

From three cubicles away, I said, “You know that boy’s in love with you.”

“Ah, jeez, is it obvious to everyone?” And we laughed.

“Is he becoming a bother?,” I asked.

“He’s usually not a bother,” she said. “It’s like having a puppy at work!” And we laughed again.

Our last conversation was via Skype, at the height of the pandemic. I was working from home, and she was on the skeleton crew, masked-up and still working in the office. She told me she’d given her two-weeks’ notice, and she was moving to California.

We typed at each other for an hour, about her worries over moving and finding a job during the pandemic, and about other surprisingly personal topics — her boyfriend, her family, my late wife, my family, drag queens, violence against women, and the essence of a good California burrito.

As we were winding down, I wished her well in Cali, and she typed, “It’s going to be hardest on Jason. You take care of him, OK?”

And I typed, “Yeah, I’ll slip back into my drag dress and wink at him, and he’ll forget all about you.” And we laughed again, or at least LOL’ed.

Two weeks later she Skyped goodbye, and she was gone. Never saw her again, and never will, but same as you don’t not notice a woman like Charlie, you also don’t forget her.

There was only one embarrassing moment, which makes me cringe again remembering it. At the elevators outside our office there’s a mirror that runs the length of the wall, and one morning when I stepped out of the elevator, Charlie was standing at the mirror with her arms up, adjusting her hair. I wasn’t expecting such a sight, and I froze like a Popsicle.

She’d worked there for a year or so, and usually wore dull clothes at the office, maybe to keep men from pestering her. Once in a while, though, if she had a date immediately after work, she dressed fancy, and on this day she was wearing a light blue formal dress that shouted, Look at me. I looked at her. In the mirror. For maybe five seconds. Probably with my mouth open. Before I noticed that she’d turned, and was looking at me.

“Um, that is a nice dress,” I said, and slipped into the office. 

In my defense, I will say again, that was a nice dress.

She's been gone for almost a year, but she keeps in touch, with occasional emails to the whole department. We've heard about her new job, her first earthquake, her 27th birthday party, and that she’s gained twenty pounds because in California there’s a fabulous taco stand on every corner.

Jason still works where I work, and I've told Charlie that her puppy is doing OK, but he no longer visits our department every afternoon. A week ago he fixed my monitor, though, and out of nowhere he said, “I miss Charlie.”

“Yeah, dude,” I said. “We all miss Charlie.”

 8/13/2021

itsdougholland.com 

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8 comments:

  1. It's OK if your jaw drops when you see a beautiful woman in a dress unless you're pervy about it, and this doesn't sound (too) pervy. A little bit maybe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really *am* quite lost at all things even slightly social, but I do my best not to be an ass.

      Delete
  2. I'm sure it's harmless but your fixation on this woman is intense and I do think Charlie would feel awkward reading this.

    ReplyDelete
  3. > You know that boy is in love with you.

    And you are too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nah, it was just me noticing she was noticeable. 'In love' is a romantic thing, or hopes and dreams and aspiration of a romantic thing. Nothing like that was ever going to happen.

      Delete
    2. You wouldn't have said no.

      Delete
    3. You wouldn't have said no either. The Pope wouldn't have said no.

      Point is, the question was never asked.

      Delete

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