Author's Note:

In the fall of 2008, while I was recuperating from surgery, I was sent to a rehab facility in Bad Homburg, Germany, where meals were taken in a very nice, open dining room with wonderful views of the park-like setting surrounding the center.

It was during lunch one day, that I saw a face that stopped me in my tracks, for I had not seen such a sense of loss at any time in my life that equalled what I saw in this man's countenance. I was compelled to run (on crutches) to my room, where I spent forty minutes furiously typing out the story below.

It is an emotional tale, and not necessarily a happy one. It is just about time and truth from another perspective. Feedback is always welcome.


The Promise

KJ © 2008

     I sense that it is almost over, now. As I look out the window at the rain-soaked sidewalk below, I see my mirror: a bent and dying twig among the puce and amber leaves that serve as its bed. The twig seeks not a method of escape, nor does it attempt to alter its circumstance in the least – just as I sit here and wait for ‘my time.’ The grayness outside well-matches the tone and hue of my heart, in stark contrast to how I have lived these seventy-odd years.
     I was told by my parents, teachers and employers that this period of my life would be my Golden Years, where I would spend my time traveling and enjoying time with friends. Years of hard work would pay off, they promised, and I would then be able to enjoy my life and the fruits of my labors. Liars all they were, the bastards. I was too gullible to see their promise for what it was: they just wanted my nose to the grindstone for as long as I was of use to them, and when my age and experience spelled higher salary and benefits, they gave me a gold watch, a plaque and a Cole-Haan encased toe to my posterior.
     "You’re sixty-five now, and it’s our mandatory retirement age," the young pup had said, when he announced the end of my career. "Think of all fun you’ll have sending those postcards from Tahiti."
     It did not seem to matter to him that I was the one who had just brought in the biggest account our company had ever experienced. It was, however, a good opportunity to avoid paying out the higher commission to the ‘old guy,’ and then split the account between two younger pups that had the combined experience of a mailroom intern. Forgotten, too, was the fact that the account took five years to bring to the table and it was the building of a relationship that did this, not just a physical presence. My forecast that the pups would lose the account within three months was wrong, however. It took the little bastards less than seven weeks to flush five years of hard work down the drain. That’s when the call came in with the offer for a ‘consulting’ position within the company, to help them bring the account back on board. Being in possession of enough common sense to know that they would dump me as soon as I had the account back on track, was enough for me to do something I had never done before: tell an employer to go screw himself. It felt so damn good, telling that little yuppie prick to stick his offer into the same orifice in which I believed he had his head firmly imbedded. After I hung up, I wondered if he ever got his voice back.
     Forcing me to retire wasn’t all his fault, of course, and he was too young to know that going to Tahiti was not fun when your friends were all too infirm, out of touch or had passed on, and you had to go alone. There was no joy to be had in an experience that could not be shared with a friend and loved one.
     Most of my friends had predeceased me, due to their belief in the ‘system’ and the imminent arrival of our Golden Years. Work was their murderer, as surely as the sun shines. Many never even experienced one year of this supposed bounty we were promised. From the womb to the work to the tomb, they went.
     My partner passed away a year before I was ‘retired’ and all of our dogs, except Frisbee, had long before passed on. Malcolm and our Labs would have loved the Tahitian beaches. Frisbee would have loved them, too, but they would not let me have him, in this place they call a ‘senior center.’ It is supposed to be designed for those of us living out our last years in need of some assistance, and although my body is failing me my mind needs nothing that a dog cannot adequately provide. They do know how to love unconditionally, which is all I truly need, at this point in my life. He was the one love I had left, but he has a new home now, and they have moved on, so weekend visits are no more. I miss him so.
     Gone, too, are the days when I can leave my own dwelling, and perhaps meet azure gaze from across a crowded street and end up sipping espresso, alfresco, with an enchanting creature. The newness of meeting people has become as worn as have my body and spirit. Now, they greet me with a list of their illnesses and ailments, and the fresh-faced encounters of new loves and romances, exciting enough from their mere occurrence when one is young, are but memories. Those moments are to be savored, and when I was young I did not know this, and squandered many a memorable moment that could have been sipped, instead of gulped. The senses dull and so do the urges, but the memories of what was and will be no more are strong, and pull at me as determinedly as a dozer at a tree stump. Perhaps there is a blessing in Alzheimer’s disease, where the ‘theft’ is not so much one of memories, but the havoc they might wreak on one’s psyche, when viewed with some regret. Maybe this is God’s way of saving us from our thoughts, as we near the end of our time here.
     When once I reveled at my newly-learned ability to tie my own shoelaces, I am now relegated to watching someone else perform this task for me. Is it not a sin to let us learn how, and then later remove the ability? How just is this, in the cosmic scheme of things?
     The grotesquely tasteless combination of Orange Crush and jelly beans were at one time a succulent nectar, when tasted during a tongues-entwined kiss with a young boy in the back of his father’s garage. His startled look must have matched mine, after, but the slow smile that spread across his face alerted me to the possibility that I had just discovered a compatriot, and all things were now possible. Such beauty and excitement are no longer destined for my future, as I sit in this wheelchair and watch the leaves fall around my twig. It might surprise many to learn that I would willingly give up my remaining time to experience just that one kiss and all of its sweetness, again. It was with my Malcolm, after all.
     Years of Cub Scouts, baseball, school and other pursuits, where surprise encounters were in abundance, did nothing to quench our desire for each other, and only from the pressure applied by parents did I instead go to Princeton, instead of sharing that time with him at Harvard. Now, I know that missing each other was a huge part of our lives during those years, and we should never have allowed this. The strength to be true to ourselves had yet to settle upon our young hearts and minds, and the adults in our lives seemed to think our thoughts and desires were not substantive enough upon which to begin building a solid life.
     Irony seems an insufficient word to describe my life, now. Examples abound, but the most profound is how all of the special things, like antiques, artwork, rugs, the Cloissone jars and vases that Malcolm loved so much, are now someplace else and no longer surround me, nor provide me with a sense of his existence. I have that only in my heart, now, and the few personal items I was allowed to bring to this ‘home.’ Everything else was converted back to the currency with which it was purchased. Ashes to ashes, loved possessions to lucre - folding paper that has no emotional attachment, nor provides any memories of a life lived fully and shared with abundant love. It’s just money, which is all the proprietors of this establishment truly care about. If I have no money, I have no room here. It is a simple arrangement, and without the charade that any love is involved.
     It has been said by many great philosophers that love has to be given before it can be received, and with this premise I agree wholeheartedly. I would love to share my time and thoughts with younger people, to tell them about life’s mysteries, and how to solve some of the puzzles they will encounter. Most of all, I would like to break the cycle of lies that have been shared with each generation, including this new one, and tell them all to do what is in their hearts – at the very moment they receive the inspiration. They must not wait for a promised time, for there is no one who will, or can, guarantee that that time will ever come. It is a mirage, and the only time one has is this second, and this second only.
     But, the young don’t want to be with an old man in a wheelchair, whose lush, brown hair is a thing of the past, and is now just a thin, white hairline that is closer to the back of his head, than the front. They are afraid, and I know what scares them most: I am their mirror, fifty or sixty years from now, and they do not want to look into it. To them it is a horror, and being in this state now, I can hardly refute their fear. They want to believe that their smooth, toned and tan bodies, vibrant blond hair and pearly-white teeth will be their image for eternity, and I am a contradiction to this ideal. I am reality.
     When I was their age, it was my horror as well, although I did not mind aging with Malcolm. In fact, I loved every wrinkle in his wonderful face, and his incredible wit, which age could not diminish. Nothing, except death itself could extinguish the beauty and substance of a life such as his. But, I do not have my beautiful Malcolm anymore and I sit alone, looking into my mirror, waiting...