The email came as a disappointment. My friend had come down with Covid. That meant a reading of his short stories, both a public and Zoom event, was canceled. For two decades, I’d encouraged his writing, so I was looking forward to the occasion.
Twelve years my junior, I knew my friend’s health would rebound and that the event would be rescheduled. I also consoled myself with the knowledge that he had many years ahead to add to his body of work. Since his recent retirement, he had already won a $1000t prize for one of his pieces.
If the event didn’t go forward, I could anticipate meeting him for a private session as we’d done in the past. The last time was at a coffee shop where he’d spun out an amusing story about a young protagonist who got his comeuppance at the hands of his wiley parents.
Zoom is no substitute for an up-close moment like that one–the kind where I could watch my friend’s lips form a bow as he anticipated his punchline. In that pre-Covid world, I had patted his arm to indicate I understood the joke and the touch provoked a fresh round of laughter.
Zoom doesn’t allow for serendipity, either—a chance to meet interesting strangers while taking in the sights. Years ago, I was strolling through a mall on a Saturday when my eyes fell upon a man notable for his thistle of grey hair. He was sitting alone at a table near the edge of the thoroughfare and must have been there for a while because the cream in his coffee floated like a greasy Lilly pad on the surface. He didn’t notice when I paused, curious about the frown line dividing his forehead. “Stuck?” I kibbitzed.
His chin raised a notch to acknowledge me. “No. Thinking,” he laughed.
We chatted long enough for me to learn he was a person of many talents. A prize-winning Science Fiction writer, he’d studied astrophysics in college before earning both a law degree and a Ph. D. in economics. At the time, he was working as a journalist. ”A keeper,” I thought. That’s why we exchanged email addresses before I allowed him to return to his thinking. Since then, he’s made several guest appearances on my YouTube book show, Just Read It.
Having touted the benefits of socializing, it may surprise some that I am a hermit by inclination. The Covid lockdown flew past me with none of the withdrawal pangs that affected those rich with family. Instead, I enjoyed having more time to write. Avvy Mar, the host of the radio talk show Between the Covers picked up on my solitary habits during our interview for my upcoming memoir, Getting Lost to Find Home. Well, why wouldn’t she see through me? She has a Ph.D. in psychology.
One of her questions left me aghast as if a gust had stripped away my fig leaves. She wanted to know if a loner was ever lonely. I assured her that like everyone else, I needed human contact. As proof, I went on to say that during the lockdown, I’d reached out to others with Zoom. For example, I’d contacted two prominent writers who’d agreed to be guests on Just Read It: Karl Marlantes, author of the two best sellers, Matterhorn and Deep River, and Brandon Slocum. The latter’s debut novel, The Violin Conspiracy, was making waves in all the right places. I also noted that my blog reached not only readers at home but many who lived in countries as far away as Singapore.
I knew what Mar meant, of course. The encounters I’d described were shallow. I wasn’t bearing my soul to a trusted friend. Yet the fault isn’t entirely mine. As I approach 87, many of my contacts have died. Even a loner recoils at so many wounds, the kind that never heals.
My friends on social media tend to be young. Many, as I’ve said, reside in faraway places like Kenya and India. Youth has muscular ambition. Inexperienced in life’s vagaries, they throw themselves into the oncoming tide, determined to achieve their dreams. Inexperience blinds them. Hard work may not be enough. Success is truest when it travels with luck, and luck answers to no dream. The long view of success is more sustainable. Take joy in the doing.
A friend of mine has run out of luck. Alzheimer’s is eating away at her memory. Yet even in darkness, there are pinpricks of light. How else could there be stars? At the time of her diagnosis, my friend’s caregiver said her patient dreaded visitors. She was embarrassed by her disease as if, somehow, she’d been careless. But as the months have fallen away, she no longer mourns her condition. She fails to realize she has one.
I’m making plans to pay her a visit. She won’t know me when I enter the room. Gone will be the memories of birthday celebrations or strolls through art galleries together. No longer will we talk about her latest design in molded glass. Safe to say, if I reminded her of one cherished gift that sits upon my coffee table—a blue-black bowl inscribed with Chinese symbols for the word friendship— she’d frown or ask If it was time for dinner.
“Hello, my dear,” I’ll say when I bend to her, anchoring my arms around her thin shoulders as if to prevent a breeze from carrying her off. My embrace will be a long one, I promise you, knowing it will have to last a lifetime…knowing as a hermit does that a hug can pierce the delirium of approaching death.
June will reveal the cover for Getting Lost to Find Home. Here’s a teaser.