Tonight I came home from work, and the ninety year old man I live with, Robert Boyer, was standing in the kitchen, slowly scraping the frosting off his much diminished birthday cake. My friend David asked me for a ride, since it's been raining for most of the week and I was happy to oblige (he doesn't drive a car.)
When I returned, since I knew that Robert had watched Tiger Woods play golf in Round Two of something or other (I date and label the VCR tapes he records of these things, and usually I just ask, "What round?") I asked Robert, "How was the game?"
Robert sighed, and said, "It was awful."
"But it was at least worth watching, I mean...." I said, trailing into something like a moralistic suggestion that he keep things in perspective, but then thinking better of it.
"No!" Robert nearly yelled, "it was awful."
"So," I asked, clearly lacking any awareness of Roberts pain, "even if it was a fair game, it was awful?"
Robert doesn't generally lie, or criticize. If I make a seriously dirty joke in extremely bad taste, he simply remains silent, realizing his reaction sounds like the inside of a Cathedral. Not in a religious sense. In an aural sense. The air hangs when you joke about sex with Robert. These days.
Years ago I would kid Robert about his sex life (or rather, his dream of a sex life with Jean.) He'd tell me that he hoped this would turn into something. And who knows, even Bingo is a gamble, right?
After Robert's wife died, I think he accidentally leaned a little more heavily on one of her friends, in a weak moment of no doubt, both lust and grief. His wife's friends have certainly managed to hold that against him. And he, no doubt, is a bit strange. That's why I love him.
What I have noticed lately, now that he is clearly, without a doubt, limiting himself to the role of the dying, and completely aware of his beginning and endings. As I've said before, like the Cyclops, he knows a bit too much. Your not really supposed to know your going to die. I doubt he will see much more than possibly a soft green glow of spring. I doubt he will be upright. And since he coughs fairly frequently, due to a swallowing problem, I'm guessing Pneumonia is in the offing if he doesn't stay upright. Obviously he could be kept alive. But not at home. And not commiserating with me about Tiger Woods. I'm guessing Robert will have little reason to continue living beyond eight or ten months from now. I'm guessing he will die. In case you are wondering: if you don't leave your home, but two or three times in a month. And your old. Your mortality can be graphed with startling precision.
Well, I love that old man. And after I asked him if it was a "fair" game, even though he hated the game, I realized that he was simply confessing the disappointment he had in Tiger. And now I had the bright idea of pushing in his face the notion that the best "man" won.
Some people are good at reading feelings and erring on the side of the feelings of their friends. I'd like to investigate such behavior more.... in the future. Currently I am having trouble even approximating such thoughtfulness. Empathy.
So I accused Robert of being fickle in his preferences: he wanted a man to win, not the BEST man. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. That's not right!
Robert looked at me, his full ninety years pulling the lids of his eyes just a bit further from their milky orbs than you'd think was their job, and said, "I'll have to think about that." He was disappointed. Sports are a tribal activity, and don't bear well up to scrutiny by twerps like me.
He looked as if I'd told him to go outside and play.
Later, I was trying to put a new tape in the VCR, so he'd have it for round three, tomorrow. Robert got excited trying to explain something, and found himself at a loss for words. Not completely, but to a certain degree, he was stumbling badly, searching... I looked back at him from my crouch at that godless machine, and given my earlier stupidity felt a love nearly as pure as what my poor Mom and Dad must have sustained so as to make it to the promised land (Andy giving a shit. What amounts to the promised land for a parent. Man.) I stood up and just walked over and put my arms around him. "I'm gonna miss you one day, old man."
It's awkward hugging someone in their chair, with three remote controls on a small TV table in front of them, a cane jauntily flexing your ribs, and a stack of opened mail about ready to fall over at your elbow. There's also the problem that your body is blocking the women's golf tournament from Robert's view. Which when your ninety, is pretty annoying.
But he likes being hugged. And there's no one else (since he's persona non grata for hitting on his wife's friends) to do it.
Far as I'm concerned, I needed the hug as much as he needed the goddamn TV. So, sort of, we're even.