Ryan had been impatiently waiting in the backset for what seemed like days and days on end. In reality it had been almost eight hours, but such a long drive is an eternity and a half for a six-year old. Clyde looked into the rear-view mirror at his son, and you couldn’t help but read exactly what the light in his eyes was saying. But why put it into words. Fatherly doting has such a warmer embrace if you just leave it at that. Ryan bolted from the car and so did Clyde, and one probably could not help but laugh at the sight of a father lifting his son into the salty air, proclaiming his perfection and candor to that coastal light. I couldn’t laugh, however. I was busy in the trunk fishing for Ryan’s allergy medication.
“Don’t let him step into the sand yet” - I called out to Clyde without looking up from the trunk. He didn’t hear me. He had taken his son’s hand and they had walked onto the beach. Ryan would in no time be sniffling. I just knew it. Clyde never listened to me.
I was still busy in the trunk. We would need chairs, towels, two beach umbrellas and that god-forsaken cooler Clyde had insisted on bringing. We didn’t need that huge thing, and I told him we could have done without it. But no, he once again had this vision we’d put out a spread on the sand.
Six Years Earlier
I’d gotten lost back there in those salty alleys, mere steps from a low embankment just on the other side of the sand. The street names were confusing, and really did not indicate streets, but quaint and narrow corridors that separated those small yet pricey beachfront properties. It was 2:11 PM, and we had agreed to meet at 2:00 PM. I’d boasted in earlier days of my obsession with promptness. First impressions be damned.
“Is this Miguel?”
“Haha, yeah, hey sorry I’m running a little late”
“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show up”
“Yeah! Sorry about that, the border crossing was crazy”
“Where are you?”
He talked me out of the alley maze. It turns out I was just around the corner from his mother’s house where he was staying. Clyde was in town because he had to pick up his son’s birth certificate. Clyde lived in Phoenix but Ryan had been born there in San Diego just 4 months prior. I hadn’t met Ryan yet. At that point I hadn’t met Clyde, either. We sat in that small but irrepressibly charming living room. The sun glared in through the window. The sun shines differently over the fancy part of the beach.
“So do you have a Visa to cross?”
“I’ve double citizenship.”
I needed to impress upon him I wasn’t a common breed. I needed him to believe this was one of those rare moments you discover something you shouldn’t think of as disposable. A miniature schnauzer came up to Clyde’s foot. Damned be these dogs, I thought, in some form or another they’d always managed to be around my life. “Lucy loves travelling around with me, don’t you girl?” He picked her up and put the dog on his lap. I reached over and petted the small animal, retracting my hand and then looking up at Clyde’s face. He beamed back at me. It was fatherly, and nauseating. We began our day as I stepped outside on the narrow alley while I waited for him to pull his car out. I winced when he pulled a black C 300 from his narrow garage. Oh irony of ironies. I got into that Mercedes. At least this one didn’t smell of smoke and perfume.
Whatever small talk we made during that drive was a low buzzing, a hum, and something that I cannot recall. I looked out the window the entire time. His mother’s house was just down the street from Belmont Park in Mission Bay. It had one of those classic wooden roller coasters, The Giant Dipper. When I was 7 I visited the park with my best friend, also named Miguel, and his dad. It was a fun memory, I think. Capsulated events during my college years also placed me there, sitting on the sand at night, sorting out fear and parsimony inside of me. For now we simply just drove by it, and there was nothing of much consequence to mark the event. Near downtown we arrived at the county courthouse where he had to pick up his son’s birth certificate. Ryan had been born via surrogate a few months before. The decision to have a son was something Clyde made with his then partner of 5 years. When the term of the pregnancy neared he left Clyde, and the baby was born to only one father. Ryan’s birth suffered complications, or so I remember Clyde telling me, but the baby pulled through with full health. Ryan Rousseau, the gleam in Clyde Rousseau’s eyes. Clyde helmed a luxury housing development company in Phoenix and was currently living in one of the finished properties he hadn’t been able to sell off in the crippled housing market. He had sent me images of the project, a stunning, sprawling structure perched on a hill in the scorching Arizona desert. I had brief instances where I imagined myself living in that beautiful home, chasing Ryan as he ran past narrow columns of glass while Clyde’s voice echoed somewhere in the levels above, no doubt making business calls that sounded like a garbled mess to my ears below. These were fleeting captions I ran in my mind as we drove off from the courthouse, document in hand. Still staring out the window we rounded the corner to face the bay, now shimmering weakly from the shifting sunlight. “I really like to eat here whenever I’m in town”. I just looked over at him and nodded.
The restaurant was on a second level and we were seated outside on the balcony to enjoy the view of the bay. The light bouncing off the water was stinging to my eyes, but it felt awkward to put my sunglasses on in that enclosed, glass-walled terrace. This was the first time I had been face to face with Clyde as we sat across from each other at the table. Clyde had just turned 50 the previous week. He was of average height and build, blonde and blue eyed with thinning hair. His skin showed some damage and he looked every one of his fifty years. He had a sweetness, but also a guile. I did not feel entirely safe with him. The appetizer arrived, an assortment of cured fish, capers, cheeses and hard bread. I buttered a bit of toast, and Clyde asked me the question that usually makes its way during these meals.
“So how many guys have you met off that site?”
“You’re the first one, but I’ve met others off other sites”
“Oh yeah? Were they good experiences?”
“Oh yes!” – I mechanically retorted. In truth there was no way to answer this question in a way that would cast me in the light I wanted. Obviously these past encounters hadn’t materialized into something long term or serious. Stating they had been positive experiences would only re-enforce I enjoyed them for what they were: ephemeral and ultimately transient episodes. His phone, seated next to the salad fork, beeped. Clyde looked over the text with a furrowed brow. “Oh no” – he simply said.
“It’s my friend Eileen. Her husband passed away”
“Oh”. My own brow furrowed in an even more mechanical way than I had answered his question. The news that Eileen’s husband had passed away – informed by way of text message, no less – caused me the greatest of indifference. It was annoying, in fact, that our first meal had been marred by this funerary e-missive. Clyde pored over his Blackberry for the next few minutes as he figured out what would be the most appropriate condolence text. And so that was our first meal. He spent the remainder of the course telling me about his older male friend who flew down to Tijuana to get a cheap butt lift in order to appear more sexually desirable. I feigned interest, and even honestly tried to figure out what hotel he spent his rehab days in from Clyde’s description of its balconies, all while earnestly enjoying my scallops over quinoa. As we left our table Clyde excused himself to use the rest room. He walked in through the door, and after a second of hesitation I realized I had to go as well. I walked into the bathroom, a moment of awkward timing clearly palpable. I approached the urinal next to Clyde’s. Urinal shyness. I couldn’t go. I simply stood there as Clyde urinated next to me. He finished and walked over to the sink as a handsome silver framed mirror over it reflected my motionless back to him. He washed his hands and stepped out. The two-minute event had been slightly traumatizing. I zipped my pants up after fruitless trying to coax my bladder into releasing and went over to the sink to wash my hands. I swished a bit of mouth wash and stepped out.