The Passing of Time
By Taffy Brodesser-Akner Illustration by Angie Wang
It’s time to go meet Charlotte.
The cab had three rows of seats: I sat up front in the passenger seat, which is on the left side, with the driver. Anthony and his sister Sarah sat in the row behind me. The backseat was empty. Anthony wore a suit with a hoodie over it, and in my memory Sarah never stopped talking once, not from the concierge to the car, to the moments when gazing out the window at all the sheep in the countryside would have been so very delightful. She yammered on and on about the celebrities Wales was known to have produced, and it was an impressive list that didn’t just include Catherine Zeta-Jones but also Tom Jones and Charlotte Church and Bonnie Tyler and Roald Dahl.
Anthony’s parents had given him a new phone that morning for Christmas, finally, and he put earbuds in and only two hours into the drive wondered aloud if anyone knew which airline Charlotte was flying, or what time she was getting in. I borrowed his phone to find my own email and figured it out. Oh, and Michael Sheen from Twilight is from Wales, too.
I spotted Charlotte before Anthony did. She wore yoga pants and her glasses and she was radiant. She recognized me, and then looked around, knowing he must be close by. He stood still while she ran toward him, a tackle more than a hug, her shoulder slamming into his torso like she was trying to knock him down. Charlotte’s mother went to get food for Charlotte, and Sarah and I made polite conversation while Charlotte kept retreating and then slamming Anthony. They didn’t kiss. They didn’t look at each other; it was far more intense than that. Instead they tried to just slam the awkward out of themselves.
They have a joke about how short she is, but she’s not short, and he’s not that tall. The inches/cm thing can really get you, I guess. Finally they found a place behind a column where they were only partially hidden and they began to kiss, still not looking at each other. I watched from a distance, confirming Anthony’s parents’ fears about me that I was a disgusting pedophile. But I couldn’t look away. Two people, already in love, meeting now. Their bodies caught up to their hearts at a rate you can’t imagine, and yet was excruciatingly slow to watch.
Charlotte’s mother, Sarah, and I stood around, pretending that this all wasn’t happening. Later on the interminable car ride back, as Anthony’s sister recited again, in almost the same order, every famous person who had been born in Wales, this time for the benefit of Charlotte’s mother, Charlotte’s mother sat straight up staring straight ahead, steely resolve, unflinching at every slurp and sigh that came from that seat. She had her eye on the ball, Charlotte’s mother did: The more she kissed this boy, the more she wouldn’t want to kiss a girl, and had I seen any of the castles yet?
I turned around to answer Charlotte’s mother, but really I did it to continue sneaking looks at Charlotte and Anthony, so hungry and desperate about their kissing. Later I sat in the common area of the hotel Charlotte and her mother were staying at while Charlotte’s mother avoided the topic of the fact that Charlotte and Anthony were definitely upstairs, definitely in the hotel room together. They had emerged from the car with red faces, looking like the light was a bother. Anthony had big red hickeys that matched his acne.
I would probably never have a hickey again, is what I thought, and the proof was all around me. While I was in Wales, Laura changed her Facebook status to engaged, even though her divorce from Lloyd was still being negotiated. She had moved to Atlanta, just like Lloyd kept saying, where the old new boyfriend lived, and she’d taken the kids. I ran out of Custom Repair serum that week and I didn’t replace it. My nostalgia would be sequestered inside Springsteen songs, and I’d live like a 60-year-old man who had a rough-and-tumble upbringing, finding familiarity in the lines between the lines. I’d never understand Homestuck, that fucking comic, and I’d realize my life was too short to even try. And within a week of that day at the airport, my father-in-law would be dead, me never having said my goodbye, even into his mostly gone state, because I couldn’t get a line out of Wales. I’d learn of his death picking my kids up from rock-climbing winter camp, while they put on their coats, and I was knocked off my feet onto a waiting-room couch with the very much expected news. “Oh, Claude,” I said into the phone to my husband. “Oh, Claude.” At home my sons cried while my husband and I hovered around them, trying to hug them in their stooped positions. My husband remained what in his family they call strong and he mashed his lips together and nodded that he was okay, but he was not, and he is not. In our mourning I felt the tragedy of the fires being gone, of all this love and all this stability, of all of it going this way no matter how hard you make out in the backseat, no matter how much you mash your lips together and make a noise designed to keep death away. Sometimes I was just a brain and sometimes I was just a heart, but I was never ever just a body anymore. But the fire isn’t about sex, or even desire. It’s about promise and fulfillment. And what if you are fulfilled, and all your promises have been kept. You have so much longer to live in this state.
But Charlotte and Anthony, God Charlotte and Anthony, with their slurping sounds from the backseat, would stay in that car forever, first as something that was finally happening, then as something that was a recent memory, and somehow they will wake up in many years and they will look back on it as a tragedy. She will stir a pot of sauce one day, her husband or wife standing in the background, and the memory will come back to her. He will be in Australia and tell his own teenage son about the American girl he once made out with in front of her mother. I would arrive home and my heart would still patter to know I was going to see my husband, but the patter was something different now, and it offended me to know there were still people making out in the backseats of cars.
But Charlotte and Anthony, God Charlotte and Anthony, with their slurping sounds from the back of the car, would stay together, their arousal fueled by optimism. In the years ahead they would grow and their fires would dampen and there was nothing to stop them from becoming what I had become. There was not even a way to explain to them what I was, except this: The passing of time is a fucking tragedy, even when everything works your way, even when it works out for everyone.