This isn’t at all what was supposed to happen. When I began dating Jean, who was 41 to my 57, it wasn’t only because at 41 she was still a head-turner, but because, with a 16-year head start on her, and the natural aptitude of fellows to kick the bucket long before gals, I reckoned I was minimising the chances of being left alone in my golden (as in wee-stained) years. Well, the best-laid plans, right? I’ll turn 77 next week, and poor Jean’s seven months gone. Breast cancer.
I keep waiting for the loneliness to kill me, but it’s content to torture me. Which, I’ll grant you, isn’t exactly a new development. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t lonely, not as a child, certainly not as a teenager (I was the loneliest teenager in the solar system), and not as an adult. My first wife, Harriet, loved what she called socialising. I generally hate it. In a group of 10 people, there will rarely be more than one I genuinely enjoy talking to, and to find that one, I generally have to talk to six or seven others who seem to regard themselves as too fascinating to ever ask me anything at all about myself, and who leave it to me to keep the conversational ball in the air. Which is very much the case at the Senior Centre my GP pretty much insisted I visit once a week because otherwise I rarely spoke to another human being.
The problem is that, while the flesh is creased, liver-spotted, and slack, the spirit, at least in my case, remains 19. I have no interest whatever in a woman as creased and liver-spotted and slack as I myself am. I want Angelina Jolie. It isn’t as though I’m unaware that when I go to buy my groceries, or place an occasional bet, the young women who inspire me to think, “I wouldn’t mind a bit of that,” either don’t see me at all, or see some decrepit old embarrassment in an adult diaper that probably needs changing, and probably has needed changing for several hours.
I sort of fancy this woman at the Senior Centre, at least when she’s not being chatted up by that fellow Guy, who’s one big liver spot, but who seems to think he’s God’s gift to women. I’ve been dealing all my life with his sort — the sort who doesn’t seem to realise he isn’t nearly as fit and charming and witty as he imagines, but who seems to get on a treat with the ladies anyway. Maria’s 70 if she’s a day, but a couple of months ago, after her grandson scanned them and put them on her tablet, she showed me photographs of what she used to look like, when she was an actress, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel a little stirring…down there. She was stunning! She sags now like the rest of us, but she’s known what it’s like, I’ll bet, to enter a restaurant and make every conversation stop and every head turn her way. Her having that muscle memory makes her desirable to me.
Or maybe, since you’d need the jaws-of-life to separate her from Guy, I ought to sign up for one of those speed-dating things I saw a programme about on telly. Can’t you just picture that — me and a roomful of others no less decrepit hoping we don’t notice the discolouration of each other’s teeth, and the hair growing out of each other’s ears, and each other’s horrible breath? And every last one of us cursing our reading glasses for not being powerful enough, or for having allowed us to forget them at home.
In fairness, Jean and I didn’t have a storybook romance. After she had that little fling with the guy in her office six years into our relationship, I was never able to trust her fully again, and I’d had a bellyful of her begrudging me my cigars and brandy even before that, and you should have heard our rows when I’d forget to clean Alphonso’s litter box. A lot of the time, I couldn’t stand here, and there are no words to express how much I miss her. No words at all.