Annie, get your gun.

I came home a little early today, because it’s the longest Annie’s been on her own—about 7 hours—and I wanted to make sure neither she nor the house were in turmoil. Except for another visit from the Shoe Fairy, all was in order, and we immediately went for a nice walk/jog in the humid 86 degree afternoon. She heeled SO well—she’s at like 90%, just a little rocky when we start, and when there are other dogs around—and when we got back she got a treat and plenty of praise. I felt so proud of her, so impressed by her sweetness, her intelligence and adaptability. What a good damn dog.

I went upstairs to change out of my sweat-sticky clothes, my motley shadow loping along behind me. A Star Wars sneaker—one of the ones I illustrated myself wearing for this website’s header—was still lying in the hall, and Annie sort of feinted at it; I told her, sternly, “No,” and she moved off.

“Okay,” I said, “listen. We need to have a talk about the shoes.”

I reached down, held up the sneaker. Just held it and stood up.

Annie’s playful mood evaporated. She flattened her ears, shied back, and turned for the stairs, tail between her legs.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Inexplicably, an image flashed through my head: a dirt track, a too-short length of chain.

“Oh my god,” I said. “Annie, hey.” She stopped on the second stair from the landing, peered warily around one leg. “Annie. Did someone used to throw shoes at you?”

I talk to my dog in complete sentences. I know it sounds insane. I know dogs comprehend neither grammar nor syntax. But they perceive the overtones of stress or pleasure, sadness or elation. They read human faces differently than they do the faces of any other animal; they are sensitive to expressions of anger or approval. My dog doesn’t understand the words I’m using, but in the aggregate, she always knows what I mean.

I went into my room and put the shoe down. Annie stood in the hallway, watching from a safe distance.

“Hey. Come here,” I said, keeping my voice warm and calm. She trotted in slowly, sat in front of me. I crouched down, and she put a paw on my arm, head lowered, tail still. I ran my hands over her neck and muzzle as I explained that sometimes she’d do things to make me mad, but that I would never throw things at her, never yell at her, never, ever hit her.

“Now, come on,” I said, standing. It’s her tenth day post-op, the first day she has permission to frolic and zoom and travel. “Maybe later we’ll go get some ice cream.” She thumped her tail, licked my hands, the incident already forgotten, and we headed back downstairs.

Chuck Wendig wrote a scene in Atlanta Burns that really upset me. I mean, it’s a whole book of upsetting scenes, but there is one in particular, about two-thirds of the way through the story, a story in which a pit-style dog features prominently. Without being too spoilery: nothing gets me like bad shit happening to animals in stories. Murder, rape, infanticide; all that, I can handle. But animals—those scenes are nearly impossible to read.

So I was pretty pissed off at Chuck—pissed enough that I threw my Kindle across the room, just-read-the-Red-Wedding style, and blasted out my feelings in a slew of disgusted obscenity. I felt like it was a cheap shot at my emotions, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. I did, of course, and was grudgingly relieved by a satisfying resolution. (All is forgiven, Chuck.) Nothing gets me like bad shit happening to animals—but nothing satisfies like bad shit happening to people who do bad shit to animals, amirite?

In my head I hear something Dustin said to me last week, when I reported on Annie’s rapid progress: “I’m going to find her previous owners and conduct a grisly Japanese mob-style vendetta on their shit.” In my head I see Atlanta, all taut fury and stormy-hearted vengeance, the gray-green wrath that leads a squall line. She does not look up as she loads the shotgun, snaps it shut.

“Not good enough,” she says. “I got the gun. You get the chain, and the shoe.”

Lost and found

“You can love someone very much, and have them not be the right person for you.”

Hard words to say.

Impossible words to hear. Killing words. Words from my nightmares’ nightmares.

But I heard them, in January, nonetheless, not long after I posted part seven of “A year ago,” and when I faced my gutted house in March, I felt too confused, too ashamed, too nostalgic, to know whether I should go back and delete those entries. Entries he encouraged me to write, even though he knew, must have known, by then, what he needed to do to preserve himself. Maybe he hoped they would make him feel something he couldn’t, didn’t, never really had.

There are no take-backsies on the internet, of course. If I “deleted” them, would they really be gone?

Even if yes: writers face the truth. The ugly truths most of all.

I meant those words when I wrote them. I stand by them. Keeping them is painful; humiliating, actually, because I feel foolish to have been so publicly naïve. But deleting them is worse. Deleting them gives power to this new and unfathomable reality in which I now exist. One in which I had unknowingly existed for—how many months? How long did he know?

I don’t know. But I assert my reality. The little scrap of it I can cling to. A crepuscular memory, golden and fading.

So the words will stay, but I may never read them again.

I will strive to move on:

A little black and white pit bull, three days mine, snoozes at my knees, a sodden purple dinosaur plushie tucked under her arm. I named her Annie. Annie McCaffrey, Annie Oakley, Annie Jump Cannon, Annie Get Your Gun. Little Orphan Annie.

They estimate she’s about 4 years old. No one knows where she came from; she wasn’t surrendered to the shelter, but found and brought in, over 40 days ago now.

There is a thin, horizontal scar along the base of her throat, and several worn spots along the top of her neck. Her two rows of teats are still swollen, as from a recent whelping; she likes to have her tummy rubbed, and I think this, too, must elicit memories that make no sense to her now. Little piping cries. Little paws, little bodies.

Someone chained her up, and bred her, and left her to fend for herself.

She doesn’t hold it against me or, it seems, the world—that is the miracle of dogs.

Friday morning, the shelter’s veterinarian cut her uterus and ovaries from her body. Friday evening, she asked only to ride shotgun with me on the way home, so she could put her paws on my legs, and her head on her paws, and feel the sun on her face.

In my lap the whole ride home. #LittleOrphanAnnie

A photo posted by Charlotte A. Cavatica (@cavatica) on

 

We slept on the couch. She couldn’t get comfortable; I remembered the day my right ovary, subsumed in a dermoid cyst, was excised from me, ten years ago this August. I wanted to give her a painkiller, but couldn’t until the morning. Once, in the wee hours, she put her chin on my neck, her warm body pressed against my side, her nose against my ear, and groaned softly. I wrapped my arms around her and said, I know, my girl, I know. I know.

There is so much she has never seen before. She is riveted by the television. She could not comprehend, at first, what to do with the Kong I lined with peanut butter. She watched me take every cup, bowl, and fork out of my dishwasher. She checked behind my propped-up full-length mirror for the whereabouts of the other black and white dog. Last night, in bed, she tackled my feet, concealed beneath my quilt, as some sort of lumpy invader; only when I lifted the blanket, wiggled my legs under it, lowered the blanket, rinse, repeat, at least three times, did she skeptically ease away.

Today she was enthralled by a fat bumblebee in the wilting pink azaleas.

Whoever taught her “sit” did it as a lark; she is having to learn it reliably, properly, for the first time. So we sit before we go out. We sit before we come inside. We sit to receive treats. We sit to meet new friends. We sit to watch the wary chickens through the sliding back door. We sit to learn to receive the world on its terms, in its time, and not in an overeager whirlwind of paws and tongue, which tends to put the world off.

She has nearly mastered “stay.” We have started on “relax,” and “heel,” and “leave it.” I think she’s starting to recognize her name. She is so smart, so eager to please, so snuggly and boisterous and loving. She has charmed all of her visitors.

It’s an old cliché, by now, to say that we are rescued by our rescues. But true is true. What some monster discarded, you could not take from me at the point of a gun.

And that is all to say:

I am okay; and:

You should probably unfollow me on Instagram.

You're safe now, baby girl. #LittleOrphanAnnie #nofilter #pibblelife #biggirlbed

A photo posted by Charlotte A. Cavatica (@cavatica) on

A year ago. 7/7.

Saturday.

It has been a day of disregarding rules.

The no-cuddling rule. This most worthless, most arbitrary of edicts, we cast aside at once.

The no-breakfast rule. He makes it for us: eggs from his own chickens, and toast, and coffee—pressed in the French style—as Ezra Koenig’s eccentric warble fills the house. Brutus, finishing his own breakfast, shoves his head under the table and whuffles cheerfully at my knees. If he’s not sure why I’m still here, he doesn’t ask questions. Dogs rarely do.

The no-staying rule. I am ready, after breakfast, to deliver my prepared remarks: This was fun, let’s do it again some time, I’ll get out of your way. Unexpectedly, Dustin says, “Do you want to hang out? We could get some lunch later.” Obviously, he is not much for scripts.

Lunch is a few hours off, but we find ways to pass the time.

He takes me to Merritt’s Store & Grill, where they do not fuck around with their BLTs. It’s December 21, the first day of winter, and 73 degrees, and though this makes No Goddamn Sense and all of us are clearly screwed, it feels irresponsible to squander an opportunity to eat outside. We find a picnic table tucked behind a curtain of bamboo, and set to our sandwiches with a will. The warm air coaxes us to linger; so, sated, we lie back on our respective benches, gleaning sky in companionable silence.

In the late afternoon, it is agreed that the drive is long, and the night comes early, and perhaps it would be better for all parties if I just stayed another night. Somewhere, a two-bit dating advice columnist howls and claws her eyes.

We take a field trip to the co-op for dinner supplies; he wants to make me Thai curry. We fill our basket with lemongrass and coconut milk and fat shrimp, and pointing out that this is a couple’s errand feels as superfluous as pointing out the moon’s effect on the tides.

After dinner, he fills the fireplace with wood he chopped himself—because he does everything himself, and there is little he cannot do—and sets it alight. We arrange ourselves in a pile on the couch, and put in The Fifth Element, and don’t really watch it. I contemplate the fire, and this inexplicable thing that is happening to me.

His fingers in my hair, over my face, feel like a lullaby.

And I wonder, drowsing, cocooned in glow, how many days I can hold out before I break the last rule.

A year ago. 6/7.

Friday.

He’s invited me to a heathenistic, nondenominational solstice party with friends, but has also presented some harmless convenience store larceny as a tongue-in-cheek alternative. Basically, he’s up for whatever, and so am I. I spend at least two hours getting ready, curling my hair and cramming myself into my brand-new pair of tailored jeans, lip syncing to a motivational soundtrack headlined by Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

At the last minute, we decide to eschew the party and meet up for drinks in Durham, more or less halfway between our houses. The place isn’t far from where I did a contract stint at Blue Cross earlier in the year, but it’s off an access road I can’t for the life of me find actual access to. I’m about five minutes late when I finally pull into the gravel parking lot in front of the bar, frazzled and abashed and fully aware that I am not off to a great start. His truck is nowhere in sight. Am I in the wrong place?

I’m perched on a curb, frantically texting him for answers, when I hear footfall. As I turn, he steps from the shadowed side lot into a wan amber column of street light, his stride easy and confident, his hands in his pockets. He is smiling beautifully, mocking me.

The moment takes me by the shoulders and rattles me where I stand. A year later, ten years later, I couldn’t hope to tell you why.

***

This place is a weirdly charming little warren—a small bar and then, out a back door and down a flight of stairs, through a bamboo-lined path, a conglomeration of wood-paneled rooms full of hodge-podge furniture. We nurse a couple of Duck Rabbit Milk Stouts as we search for a modicum of privacy, settling at last on a wobbly two-person table adjacent to some sort of bridal shower.

(“I think they’re a bunch of nurses,” Dustin later confides. “And all they’ve been talking about is weed—no, don’t look.“)

We talk for two hours, a natural continuation of the previous night’s whiplash syllabus. It’s a little forced at first, as one might expect—general pleasantries and the standard questions about work and so forth. But, maybe with a little help from the Milk Stouts, it doesn’t take long to lighten the fuck up. Conversation flows. He is well-read but not pretentious, witty but not condescending. He is curious about the world.

And funny as shit.

And damn good-looking.

The beer is good, but this place doesn’t have any food. I feel free to chow down on the granola bar I had the unusual presence of mind to put in my purse, and Dustin feels free to tease me about it. But after hours of talking and nothing in my stomach but a few brews, I’m legit hungry and options are limited.

Following Google Map’s somewhat dubious directions, we hoof it across the street to a strip mall Chinese place. I order General Tso’s chicken and ask Dustin if he’d like anything; he politely declines. It’s late, and the restaurant is closing soon, so we take my food out to the parking lot and perch on a cinderblock retaining wall. Conversation flows out of us, even as the restaurant lights cascade, one by one, into darkness, and the proprietors pitch the garbage, and lock the door, and drive away.

Around 11 o’clock, perilously full of beer and passable Chinese food, I close up my take-out foam clamshell and lean back on the grassy bank. “So like, I know it’s late,” I venture, “and you have the dog and stuff.”

“Yeah,” he says, pretending not to know where this is going. “Gotta get back to him pretty soon.”

“But I’m, you know, I’m really enjoying this. I’m not really ready to call it a night.”

He peers at me sideways, smiling indulgently. “What would you like to do?”

HEY. HEART. KEEP IT DOWN IN THERE. “Well,” I say, idly scratching doodles into the box lid, “is your place very far?”

***

I follow his beloved ’91 F-150 down dark roads, and then darker roads, skirting Chapel Hill, plunging us into some ante-Carrbororan semi-wilderness. My sense of recklessness ricochets off every surface; my nervous yammering yo-yos between incredulity and self-affirmation. I inflect “What am I DOING?” six different ways. I text my sister the address of my destination. “OMG,” she texts back, “I looked it up on trulia and it’s just darkness.”

Cheerfully, I tell Siri to tell Fletcher to avenge me in death.

Finally, a gravel driveway ends at the foot of a rustic split-level, ensconced in friendly, deciduous sprawl. I hop out of my car, breath misting.

“I’ve seen this movie,” I quip. “This ends in axe murder.”

Obviously,” he rejoins, rattling his keys in the front door. “But first, you get to meet the Brutus.”

Brutus, with or without the definite article, greets us just inside the door, a solid wall of affable. Though I have no fear of pit bulls, and have received every assurance of Brutus’ abiding pacifism, I am taken aback by his dramatic brindled coloration, his sheer density. I find myself hesitating to pet him.

“Is he…”

“He loves everyone. You’re fine. Seriously.”

As if to make the point, Brutus drives his formidable snout into my knees, whuffing and snorting enthusiastically, tail whipping into the walls. If not for the closed door behind me, I’d go sprawling. I am smitten, and feel as though I have passed an important first test.

Before me are two sets of stairs, one descending and one ascending. Dustin has already disappeared downstairs, and as I follow he calls from the kitchen, “Can I get you a drink? I usually have beer, but right now all I have is wine.”

“Wine is great.” Brutus trots after me, gamely accepting these odd new circumstances. Dustin emerges from the kitchen with two glasses of red. “This place is great,” I say, truthfully. “Give me the tour.”

“Okay. Though… I probably shouldn’t show you my skulls.”

I stare at him. “Uh, you completely should show me your skulls. Have you met me?”

I follow him up the front landing, and then up the second flight of stairs, to a small brown study full of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. I make a show of perusing his books, hmmming and nodding approvingly for each one I also own. There are many of those, but also many I don’t, covering areas of interest in which I am woefully deficient. Ancient Egypt, biochemistry, foraging, botany, fungus. Tons of books on fungus. “I love fungi,” he gushes, pronouncing a soft “g.” “I’ve got a whole photo album of pictures I’ve taken of all kinds of mushrooms.” Here he seems embarrassed, an emotion I can tell he doesn’t wear often. “I won’t bore you with that.”

“Stop apologizing for awesome shit. I totally want to see your mushroom pictures. But first, skulls.”

One shelf has been set aside for a row of toothy animal skulls—mostly found in the woods, he says, though he’s been given a few. A cat, a raccoon, a fox, a dog, a peccary, a deer. A few others. I ask about where and how he found them, and we speculate about how they died, and look at pictures of wild mushrooms, and recommend books, and our glasses contain less and less wine.

Eventually, we drift back downstairs. The living room is edged by floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, with one side opening onto the deck Dustin is about 90% finished building. A fireplace, a proper wood fireplace, is built into the wall adjacent to the stairs; I envy it as I drop onto a well-worn corduroy couch. Dustin takes a seat next to me, at a respectful distance, and after a few minutes our companionable banter trails off into loaded silence.

“So,” I say, lamely, “what do you want to do?”

“Well, we could watch a movie or something. Or”—and he looks me straight in the eye—”I could pounce on you like a puma.”

I could pounce on you like a puma.

I could pounce. On you. Like a puma.

A. PUMA.

WHO EVEN SAYS “PUMA.”

For the barest instant, I am stunned. Everything was going so well. This can’t be right. He can’t be this incompetent. What the hell do I do?

And yet, it’s a line delivered so effortlessly, so shamelessly, with so little regard for its undeniable terribleness, that somewhere behind my shock I register that he is deliberately attempting to awful me into bed.

That’s some next-level shit right there.

I admire his strategy, his pure fucking gumption. Despite myself, I burst out laughing, and am rewarded to see his fabricated earnestness resolve into a classic shit-eating grin.

I return it, and set my empty wine glass on the table.

A year ago. 5/7.

Thursday.

I disabled OKC’s chat function not long after joining. For years, one of my biggest peeves has been people sending me “hey” or “hi” or “sup” with nothing of substance to follow—they initiate a conversation, but then expect me to carry it. Bad enough when it’s someone you know and love, but immeasurably worse when I also have to navigate some horny stranger’s subtext. My inbox is already packed to the brim with ovary-shriveling a-romantic desiccant. Let’s not add 27 consecutive minutes of phatic banality to this godforsaken ritual.

But at 7:30 p.m., MTB_Dustin is online. Jessica and her sugar gliders have long since departed for the Palmetto State, so it’s just me and the couch and all the hours standing between me and Friday. We’ve exchanged a couple messages about Invader Zim and Jhonen Vasquez and if that’s not a sign to lower my guard, then what is.

(7:30:11pmCavatica83: I am temporarily lowering my IM filter rating thingie.

(7:30:35pmCavatica83: Trying to keep out the riff-raff. You understand.

(7:48:53pm) MTB_Dustin: Was afk. She’s lowered her shields! Hit her with spam messages!

The conversation yo-yos between Nickelodeon and our professional lives and where we’re from.

(8:05:29pm) MTB_Dustin: Born in Utah. OhbythewayI’mamormon.

(8:05:39pm) MTB_Dustin: Just kidding. No crazy here.

(8:05:41pmCavatica83: You are not!

(8:06:19pm) MTB_Dustin: No, but I’d love to see The Book of Mormon.

(8:06:26pmCavatica83: Well, yes.

(8:06:36pmCavatica83: And throw things at Orson Scott Card’s house.

(8:06:42pm) MTB_Dustin: Can we!?

(8:06:46pmCavatica83: WE SURE CAN!

(8:06:49pmCavatica83: He lives in Greensboro!

(8:06:56pm) MTB_Dustin: Perfect date!

This is the first time anyone’s dropped the d-word, even as a joke. My heart notices and I’m like, hey. Settle down in there. BE COOL.

The conversation wanders comfortably, in a bantering rhythm we both implicitly understand. There are some bizarre commonalities, too. My birthday is July 3; his is July 4, which makes him “a megapatriot.”

(8:17:42pmCavatica83: DUDE. BEST BIRTHDAY. Fireworks and shit, amirite?

(8:17:51pm) MTB_Dustin: Exacto.

(8:18:10pmCavatica83: The world makes sense again.

(8:18:28pm) MTB_Dustin: Every birthday. Adults get drunk and give you small explosive devices. What?

(8:18:41pmCavatica83: Truly, a magical time.

And it’s not long after this revelation that I, in a graceful segue, get us down to brass tacks.

(8:23:19pmCavatica83: Okay, so, confession time: I honestly have no idea what the fuck I am doing with this website. I ended a long-term relationship just under a month ago and now I’m here for…? A sociological experiment? Science. Basically I’m here for science.

(8:23:28pmCavatica83: FOR SCIENCE.

(8:23:47pm) MTB_Dustin: Hey me too! Eh, and science…

(8:23:53pmCavatica83: THAT said, there is this dude trying to get me to go to a thing on Friday and ehhhh.

(8:24:14pm) MTB_Dustin: How about a party?

(8:24:20pm) MTB_Dustin: I have one of those.

(8:24:21pmCavatica83: …what SORT of party?

(8:24:38pm) MTB_Dustin: A {ahem} Solstice party.

(8:24:42pmCavatica83: PAGAN.

(8:24:45pm) MTB_Dustin: Should be…rockin.

(8:24:54pmCavatica83: Describe the nature of this party.

(8:25:36pm) MTB_Dustin: A friend and his lady are hosting it. There will be homebrew cider, homebrew beer….probably homebrew meade… and a bunch of shoe-staring nerds. Probably.

(8:25:59pmCavatica83: Is there any part of this party where I get roofied?

(8:26:17pm) MTB_Dustin: If that didn’t catch you hook line and sinker, I don’t know what will!!

(8:26:52pm) MTB_Dustin: There may be some homebrew roofies. ROOFIES!

(8:26:56pmCavatica83: NO.

(8:27:10pm) MTB_Dustin: Only if you’re bringing them.

(8:27:22pmCavatica83: Everyone always makes ME bring the roofies.

Roofies or no roofies, it’s a date. I struggle to recall if I’ve ever been on a date with someone I wasn’t already dating.

He doesn’t like to be called Dusty; I propose Kansas, for “Dust In the Wind.” Social media details are exchanged, and subsequent photo stalking and commentary. We agree about cats (they suck) and tiny dogs (also suck). He has seven chickens. I have full-color photos of my innards, gamely autographed by Rebecca Skloot, which takes us back to his work, and HeLa cells. Insectia, sci-fi, books, books, books, bourbon, Dragon Con, we can’t get it all out fast enough. How did this happen? Didn’t I just come here to get laid? To wade into the stink of desperation with a perfumed handkerchief held to my upturned nose?

Finally, at 10 p.m., he’s ready to hit the hay, because he’s an 80-year-old man. We agree to meet around 8ish tomorrow, with the understanding that I will probably be late because I’m usually late to things.

(10:02:33pmCavatica83: I’m going to be reaaaally pissed if I get murdered.

(10:02:41pm) MTB_Dustin: If it’s terrible we can go gorge on wafflehouse and rob a convenience store.

(10:02:46pmCavatica83: THERE we go.

(10:03:03pmCavatica83: Okay. Go. Sleep. Dog cuddle.

(10:03:15pm) MTB_Dustin: Yop. Have a great night.

(10:03:28pmCavatica83: You too.

(10:03:30pm) MTB_Dustin: Had fun talking with you.

(10:03:39pmCavatica83: Yeah. Winning all around.

(10:03:42pmCavatica83: Strong start.

(10:04:01pm) MTB_Dustin: G’night

(10:04:04pmCavatica83: G’night.

I stare at the screen for a long moment after, struggling to master my giddiness. Don’t get your hopes up, Moore. There’s still every reason to believe this will be a disaster.

But my own words seem to know better.

Strong start.

To what?

A year ago. 4/7.

Wednesday.

I’ve started wearing a necklace my parents gave me for my 30th birthday, months before—a small, simple round diamond in a small, simple round gold setting. I’m not religious or even superstitious, but treating it as a benevolent, protective charm seems sufficient to make it so. Like, hey. A little autopsychosomatic trickery never hurt anyone.

My high school BFF Jessica is overnighting on her way to South Carolina. She’s got her two sugar gliders with her, and because sugar gliders are among the cutest creatures ever devised by nature, I am easily persuaded to let her pitch a tent—an actual tent, which she finds is a portable yet spacious way to give her darlings real estate on the road—in my tiny guest room/craft room. We have enough time to get them situated before climbing into my decrepit-yet-loyal Focus for a midweek, hour-long jaunt to Greensboro; the Mythbusters are doing their live show there. I’ve seen it once before, in Raleigh, but Jess never has, and she’s pretty amped for some live-action, family-friendly pop science pyrotechnics.

I don’t see Jessica very often, since we graduated military school a thousand years ago. Adults are poorly equipped to fend off the crippling pathogens of schedule and responsibility, and we are no different—but we’re lucky in that each meeting feels like a continuation of the last. No matter how long it’s been since we’ve actually seen or even spoken to one another, it always feels like the last time was yesterday.

So I tell her everything. About my recent breakup, barely a month old, still cooling on the windowsill; about the ill-advised streetside shenanigans; about OkCupid, and this one guy who seems pretty cool. In the car, I pass her my phone and let her scroll through the app, and my inbox. Our gleeful ridicule buffs the edges off my disposition.

Dustin and I have been corresponding throughout the day; I brought myself to write to him in the middle of the afternoon. Still book talk, mostly. He makes soap for funsies. My brain goes straight to Fight Club and I say so.

At 6:50 p.m., he writes:

That’s it! A competitive boring-off!

I knit chainmail and enjoy board games. I don’t think I have an alter ego spawned by insomnia. If I do he’d better be half as awesome as Tyler and have at least a quarter of the looks.

As I’m sitting in a packed Greensboro auditorium, it’s intermission before I get a minute and the wherewithal to reply:

I cosplay, and enjoy board games as well!

I’m no Marla Singer, thank fuck.

I barely know what that last part means, and I’m not completely sure it’s true.

When Jessica and I, thoroughly enscienced, get home, we sit in the tent and talk and make baby voices at the sugar gliders, and for a blessed few hours my life regains the familiar, rightful dimensions of a Virginia high school dorm room.

A year ago. 3/7.

Tuesday.

I spend most of the day refreshing OKC, in my browser and on my phone, and while I have a few potentially promising leads, Dustin’s gone silent.

In the evening, everyone at my company gets their Christmas present—a tailored pair of hand-made jeans from a reputable local shop. We tour the factory, an enormous workroom filled with stolid, motley machinery from older, more reliable decades. I resist the urge to run my fingers over the meticulously cataloged patterns, measured and cut and organized, we are told, by an exacting octogenarian who once designed for Levi’s.

I use a portion of my Christmas bonus to buy a woven artisanal necklace for my dear friend Sarah Cadence. A member of the staff wraps it carefully and lovingly and puts it in a brown paper bag.

But for all my efforts, I find myself dogged by Sunday, and fighting a rising swell of despair for which I can hardly account. As soon as is socially permissible, I make my goodbyes and slip out into the stark December night. There was beer at the event, and I’m a little buzzed, a little damaged. The walk back to the office, where I’m parked, where I left my stuff, lasts too long. When I arrive, I find three of my coworkers, all women, have beaten me to it—they’re back at their desks, but too engrossed in tying up the day’s loose ends to notice me as I gather my things and leave.

In my car, I make it a block before I realize something inside me is badly, badly wrong.

Automatically, autonomically, my brain steers me back to my freshly vacated streetside parking spot, and then through the office door, and then to the back of the building, towards the bathroom. My half-formed plan is to hide in a stall, but the way is blocked by two of my coworkers; their faces tell me everything I need to know about mine.

Someone says, “Are you okay?” and I unravel.

Neither woman asks for an explanation, but offer instead their arms and shoulders and silence, which I fill with gutted, humiliated sobs.

Someday, I will try to explain to them the immensity of their goodness.

When I get home, there’s a message from Dustin—polite, interested questions about Neil Gaiman and reading and Raleigh, but I’m too exhausted to answer.

A year ago. 2/7.

Monday.

Less than 24 hours in. Mixed results, which I can sum up in 15 seconds of wobbly song and a series of swings and misses:


From trying too hard…

 


…to not trying at all.


Bro have you even seen my eyebrows, they’re a disaster.

But one message, from MTB_Dustin, seems promising.

It’s short, confident but polite, and demonstrates an overlap in our interests.

Click.

Oh. He’s cute. Clean-cut, trim, an inch taller and two years older than me, if his vitals are to be believed. It’s hard to tell, but I think he has blue eyes.

He does science of some sort. Same music, and—critically—same books. Lots of overlap on our answers, like, oooh, he knows the Sun is bigger than the Earth, for Pete’s sake. Set that bar high, OKC. Set it on the Moon.

In one photo, he sports a host of facial appliances—ear gauges, labret and septum piercings. In another, he stands in front of a short hill, a backpack hefted over his plaid-flanneled shoulders.

Still another captures the spacious quarters of an aging truck, a blur of green filling the view from the driver’s side window. In the middle ground, he looks straight ahead, at the road. In the foreground, a stocky brindled pit bull lays his chin on the back of the bench seat, sampling the wind through the small rear window. Their companionableness is palpable and appealing.

The OKC algorithm matches us up somewhere in the mid-70th percentile. Not great. But I’ll take my chances.

I return to my inbox and pull up the thread.

Deep breath. Be cool, Moore. Be cool.

Ahem.

“Oh. Why, hello, Dustin. I’m Charlotte.”

A year ago. 1/7.

Sunday.

I’ve been waiting by the phone for two days. Yesterday was detox day, spent in bed with ginger ale and crackers, alternately reliving and doubting Friday night’s grossly intoxicated PG-13 misadventure against a storefront on Hargett St.

I’ve never had a guy not call. I thought that only happens (or doesn’t happen) in flimsy movies written by and for cartoons. But I’m not thinking about it. I am consumed by not thinking about it.

I run out and buy a bunch of books I’ve been meaning to read, and then don’t read them. I don’t have the attention span. I’m too busy not thinking about Friday night and my gallingly silent cell phone.

…which does ring, finally, late, and on the other end he sounds threadbare and abashed. I’m thrown. Why is he sorry? We’re both adults, and that was very hot. I try every persuasive tactic I know: logos, pathos, humor, reassurance, deflection, self-deprecation, charm, emotional brute force. He’s not having it. He’s not interested, not in that way. What can I do? Consent is a 1 or a 0.

So I relent as gracefully as I can and hang up, knuckling away embarrassed tears. I stare at the quiet phone’s blank face.

Fuck you. Fuck this.

Somewhere around midnight, I crawl back into bed with my laptop and, after a moment’s guilty hesitation, point my browser to OkCupid.

“I’m not an executive, just a writer.”

Kids get into fights about their dads. “My dad could beat up your dad!” “My dad’s smarter than your dad!” “Oh yeah, well, MY dad says…”

Kids are dumb. And wrong. Because the combined dadness of all their dads could not out-dad my dad’s very daddish dadness.

My dad was flying planes before most kids learn how to drive a car. He plays the guitar and the drums. He sings. He draws and paints. He can ride horses. He’s photographed presidents, senators, royalty, rock stars, actors. His articles have appeared in nearly every major U.S. publication worth its salt. He wrote a biology textbook. He’s worked in government as a civilian and as a presidential political appointee. He’s dined at the White House. For several years, he co-owned his own speechwriting firm, run in tandem with his daily job as an executive speechwriter to three successive secretaries of Veterans Affairs. He’s “retired,” but he still narrates books from his at-home podcasting studio, records the Washington Post for the blind, occasionally writes for The Huffington Post, and takes beautiful photos of birds, barns, bees, blossoms. He recently traveled to London to photograph the Invictus Games. He cooks. He knows the names of the stars. He reads a book a day, in any genre—his favorites, I think, are history and science. He is relentless.

He never even finished college. He just busted ass.

He makes me tired.

In the nonexistent but inevitable book I will someday write, no-really-I-swear, there is a chapter or two or five about my dad. For now, let it suffice to say that he is extraordinary, and I am proud of every photo, every column, every sketch, every dumb comic about moose, every piece of poetry he has ever composed. My dad, more than any other individual in my life, taught me to be curious and passionate and pliant and eager and fair.

2001, military school. In which we have a proud-off.


#FlashbackFriday to 2001, military school. In which we have a proud-off.

And also, to avoid adverbs. Sentence fragments, not as much.

Occasionally, on Twitter—which I joined because Dad joined and I didn’t want to be less cool than he is—and elsewhere, I’ve mentioned my dad’s grandfather, a man named Charles Brackett. I’m actually named for him; my full name is Charlotte Elizabeth Brackett Moore. (His youngest daughter, my grandmother, was named Elizabeth Fletcher Brackett. So my sister and I are both named for her, too.)

Mom. Dad. I know you meant well but THIS DOESN’T FIT ON FORMS.

You probably know Charlie’s work even if you don’t know his name—he won four Oscars, and one of them was for co-writing a small, cult indie film no one’s ever heard of called Sunset Blvd.

Two others were for writing The Lost Weekend and the 1953 film Titanic; the last was an Honorary Award in 1959 for outstanding service to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences*, for whom he served as president from 1949-1955.

Charlie’s hetero lifemate and frenemy was Billy Wilder, with whom he wrote and/or produced most of his films. As the more boisterous, mercurial, and provocative of the pair, Billy got the lion’s share of credit for their work. Everyone knows who Billy Wilder is. The mark of a real film nerd is someone who knows he was only the dynamic half of the Brackettandwilder duo.

For many reasons, Dad didn’t get to spend a lot of time with his grandfather, but he loved and admired him. Even from a distance, I think Charlie inspired and shaped him as profoundly as Dad shaped me.

Over the last few years, Dad’s been working with an archivist/editor/movie nerd named Anthony Slide, in an effort to collect, decipher, and contextualize Charles Brackett’s extensive and meticulous diaries. The fruit of their labor is called “It’s the Pictures That Got Small”: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood’s Golden Age. Tony is the official editor, but Dad contributed a wonderful and thoughtful forward.


Billy Wilder’s face = accurate representation of the writing process.

(My mother, apparently, also had a hand in deciphering Charlie’s often unintelligible scrawl. I don’t know how she achieved this because her vision is crap and she always uses $10 drugstore glasses, Mom seriously suck it up and see an ophthalmologist I am not kidding I know you are reading this somehow even though your eyes are godawful.)

When the ‘rents were visiting Raleigh for Thanksgiving, I asked Dad how he was feeling about the upcoming book release, and how well he thought it would do. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said, thumbing absently through the galley paperback he’d brought me. “I’ll feel pretty good if we sell 500 copies.”

Unlike his eldest daughter, my father is a nuanced writer with a knack for understatement.

You can’t buy the book online right now, because even though its official release isn’t until December 16, Amazon already sold out. It’s #4 in their Film Documentaries category. They’ve re-ordered from Columbia University Press three times already.

I. AM. SO. PROUD.

If you have a film nerd in your life, please try to get your hands on a copy for Christmas. If you ARE a film nerd, please ask for one. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I can tell you it’s about so much more than the mind of a man who, in whatever small way, helped shape our cultural lexicon—it’s a first-hand account of the world that shaped him, even when it didn’t always understand him (or vice-versa).

Dad and Tony will be plugging the book on Alicia Mayer’s podcast tomorrow. Give it a listen while you’re doing the dishes or whatever. I’m sure it’ll be great.

And check back in a year or two, when Dad’s official biography of his grandfather hits shelves.

If you forget, don’t worry—I’ll remind you.

I love you, Dad. Congratulations. You done good. <3

 

*I originally wrote, incorrectly, that Charlie received a “Lifetime Achievement Award,” which isn’t really a thing, by the MPAA, when it was in fact AMPAS. Apparently there are approximately 348 organizations using some permutation of the words “Motion,” “Picture,” “Arts,” and/or “America.” I was gently corrected by the infallible** Howard Prouty, family friend, Academy archivist, and invaluable resource. Thanks, Howard.

**Here I originally said “ineffable,” which is also true, but not AS true. Clearly, I am neither.

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