It was mid-November. He gazed out the window of his hilltop, third-floor room. It was his office, but he sometimes called it his crow’s nest because of the long view it provided him. He saw a dark bank of clouds approaching from the northwest. He knew that snow was in the forecast.
“Better get out and get some groceries” the old man said to himself. Then he added, “Maybe walk up to the Asian market and buy a big piece of barbequed pork. You’ll get exercise in the process, then later on, you’ll be able to make that bean casserole with pork that you like so much.” He always loved doing things that way. One activity, two purposes. A bit obsessive but who really cared?
No one cared.
That was part of the old man’s problem. No one seemed to care whether he lived or died. He cared. He still took some joy in living. He was someone who cared whether he lived or died. He’d learned to say in an affirming way, “I am enough!” That phrase was well known to every person suffering through loneliness at the time. “I am enough!”
But though he tried to gain affirmation by repeating the phrase to himself, he knew that he wasn’t enough by himself. You can talk to yourself but it isn’t satisfying. Without another, you can’t receive a meaningful touch. He missed having the frequent embrace of a woman. Affirmations kept him going but cuddling and kissing a woman had kept him feeling worthwhile.
He bundled up and began his huff and puff, exer-walk to the supermarket in advance of the impending storm. He made sure he had his cell phone with him in case he might have another heart attack and need to call for help, then off he went to the store, with spirit in his step.
The usual things coursed through his mind. He tried to choose a fairly clear path through the messy sheddings from the crabapple trees that dotted his course. He watched the cloud formations move and change. Then he saw something that made him smile.
He walked past a house that had once been identified for him by a former handyman who often did work for him. What was the handyman’s name? Bill something, he thought. The house had been proudly identified by Bill as the house his girlfriend lived in. Bill seemed proud to have a girlfriend because Bill was no spring chicken, as is often said about older people. But Bill was a very confident fellow who had tragically died in a boating accident on Lake Erie. After Bill died, the house itself seemed to lose a bit of lustre as the old man had walked past it, trying to spy the mythical girlfriend inside.
Today however, the driveway was sporting a big, black, pickup truck with a big, black, covered utility trailer behind it. The old man couldn’t help but smile to himself about the old gal going for another handyman, but he didn’t know for sure. Maybe the old gal died or at least sold and moved away and the truck was that of the new owner rather than the new, resident boyfriend. The old man preferred to think that she had decided to make a new acquaintance and make a new love. That story offered more hope to him because like the new boyfriend, he was still living. He was still interested in loving and in being loved.
He trudged on, smiled at the service fellow who cut the piece of pork for him at the market, showed drivers of cars that he was aware of them and their motoring needs by pausing to look for turning vehicles and letting them pass before he crossed. He was a really good guy. It seemed to the old man that he had always been a good guy. He had ended his multi-career working life as a high school teacher. He was well-liked by his students. He’d been professional but caring, patient, encouraging and supportive.
On his way back from the market he took a different route. He walked past the home of a former student he’d taught about 16 years earlier. How old would she be now? Thirty-two? “About that,” he thought. There were several cars in the driveway of her parents’ house. “Visitors,” he thought. Then his former student stepped out of the house onto her parents’ porch, saying good-bye to her parents who remained inside.
He was on the other side of the street. When she began to make her way down the few concrete steps he shouted to her and waved. “Hi Stephanie,” he called to her, “Good to see you again!” She looked up, but didn’t wave. She looked slightly fearful, he thought. After a small delay, she half raised her hand, tentatively waving a few fingers. He wondered if he should tell her who he was because it was evident that she did not recognize him as an old man. But there seemed to be no point in doing so. It didn’t really matter after all. Even if he did tell her, then he’d be greeted by another look he’d rather not receive, the “Oh my God, that’s what you look like now?” look. He knew he was getting older. No one had to rub that in.
Coming home, his old cat greeted him at the door with a series of plaintiff meows about not having been fed on time. He pulled off his outer clothes, hung them on hooks by the entry door, fed the cat and plopped his chunk of pork in the fridge. Then he went upstairs to look out the crow’s nest window to watch and to await the coming snow.