The Back Up Team

by whatsthatyousaymrsrobinson

So I spent some time this week thinking about the phone number of the man with the ancient African name. Or at least the time when I wasn’t thinking about lawyers and settlement agreements and no fault divorce.

Specifically, what was I going to do about it?

The Normandy landings were planned with less attention to detail.

As I have already mentioned, my first and strongest instinct was to push the delete button and remove all temptation. Clear the road ahead of any uncertainty and continue on my solitary path. Safe. Easy. Sure.

But as I consulted my friends their reactions were variations on, “Are you crazy? Why would you do that? A cute guy gave you his number! Pick up the freaking phone. Call him. Say you enjoyed meeting him and ask him out for dinner.”

Dinner seemed like a bit of a commitment. Not quite ready to go there yet. Could the invitation perhaps be for a drink?

Yes, yes it could, they said. Yes. Dial the damn phone and ask him for a drink.

So I thought about it some more. And realized I completely lacked the courage to do that. What if he picked up? And we had to have a conversation? What if, for some awful reason, he couldn’t remember me?

I trawled through all the most horrifying ways this scenario could play out and came up with a respectable number of entries.

I bored everybody I know on the subject. Comprehensively.

The Grenadian took me in hand and patiently explained the timetable. For someone who hasn’t dated for five years, he has the politics down cold. On no account seem too eager to call. Do nothing the next day. (That was not likely to be a danger. The courage mustering business is a time-consuming one.) Keep it simple, he said. Oh, and don’t do it drunk! I told him the contingency of leaving so delicate a task to a tipsy me was remote. Still, the Grenadian likes to cover his bases.

In the end it was some younger female friends who solved the problem. And the reason I didn’t think of it before is an indication of both my age and lack of knowledge of technology.

We were eating lunch and they were introducing me to the horrors of internet dating.

“It’s like you’re not real,” my friend said. “They pick you up and drop you with such ease it’s like you’re only an avatar.”

So I told them about my off-line dilemma. “Text him,” they both said promptly, and agreed that the notion of essentially cold-calling someone is about as desirable as antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis.

Why had this not occurred to me? Then I remembered why. I had seen his phone. It wasn’t a smart phone so I had automatically assumed he couldn’t text.

“Everybody texts,” my friends said, barely able to contain their amusement.  It was as if I’d asked whether internal combustion was going to become a thing.

So to prepare myself, I did some unpleasant and tedious paperwork related to my divorce. It was a palate cleanser. Compared to divorce paperwork, the Spanish Inquisition is a daiquiri on a tropical beach.

Then I texted him. Simple. Hi, remember me, it was nice to meet you and your gay uncle, kind of thing. And I thought, “That’s it, I’ll never hear from him. Fine.” There are no preferred outcomes. Only reality.

An hour or so later, I get a reply. “Wow,” it read. “I’m really flattered you wrote me.”

“Holy crap,” I thought. “I’m really flattered that you’re really flattered.”

We tossed the conversational ball around for a bit. Showed off our clever feathers. Or at least I showed off my clever feathers. Words are my thing. What?

The next day we texted some more and then he called me. And we had a chat.

He talked a mile a minute, the way that lonely people do.

We are exactly the same age. We were married for the same amount of time. We got divorced for the same reason.

Oh, joy. I have found the black male me.

In the entire city of New York—all eight-odd million of us—I have somehow managed to stumble upon the one person who is worse emotional shape than I am, and in eerily similar circumstances.

Next stop: Kingdom of the blind.

What are the odds? The odds, they are long. We met in a restaurant late on a Sunday afternoon. He seldom gets Sundays off work and never goes to that restaurant anyway. I go to that restaurant all the time on a Sunday, but usually at lunchtime right after the gym, never at the time I was there when I met him. We got caught in a vortex of coincidence.

I can tell he’s in worse shape than me because of the things he said, and the pain in his voice. He’s sick of all of it; the heartache, and the loneliness, and the no sex. He wants to have sex and he wants that to lead somewhere meaningful.

“If you’re not into straight Nubian men then let’s not waste each other’s time,” he said.

(And yes, I am fully cognizant that I may never hear that sentence spoken, ever again.)

He drinks late at night. I know that too. Because of the things he texted me at three am when I was fast asleep. Inappropriate things. Only a drunk person does that.

Three months ago, I would maybe have thought it was a jolly idea. When I was thrashing around more than I am now, I most likely would have seized the opportunity to bolster my shredded ego with a good looking guy, hang the consequences.

But I can’t do that now. And especially not with him.

I can’t sleep with him because I can’t have a relationship with him. And that’s what he wants, ultimately. It’s a laudable aim. And I’m glad he frontloaded it. But for me having dinner with a man would be a bold step. I recognize the word relationship when I see it in a sentence, but I have absolutely no idea what it means.

I can tell from the things that he said how very, very broken he is. And how easy it would be, in his fragile state, to hurt him. 

After all that I’ve been through, I simply cannot do that to another human being.