The bumpy road from here to there
They were four aging explorers……testing the waters, struggling to find their footing in a landscape of welcoming possibilities and unexpected pitfalls….......and learning that late-life relationships require attention to detail.
Getting themselves on the same page will take some doing…..…staying there will require an sizable investment in time and determination …….spiced with an occasional dose of humble pie.
Who knew that it would take such adaptability to stay on the path from here to there?
Today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 15 of Second Chances, continues our excursion into the sometimes daunting world of Geriatric Adolescence.
Clint Harris looked up from his dinner to see Gary pulling up in front of the garage. He glanced at his watch, noting the subtle warning that captured his thoughts. It was only five-thirty. What could have gone wrong? Why would his brother be home so soon? A moment later, to his surprise Gary came through the back door---stepping sprightly and wearing a wide grin.
“You’re home early,” Clint said. “Is that a good sign?”
“Claudia had something doing with the family tonight.” Gary drained the last of the coffee into his cup and sat down across from his brother. “But don’t worry. Our afternoon together was definitely quality time.”
“So where are the flea market treasures? You didn’t come back empty handed, did you?”
Gary pulled his coat from the back of the chair and fished through the pockets. Drawing out the cap-gun, he held it up briefly for Clint to see then returned it to the pocket.
“What have you got there?” Clint said, holding out his hand.
Reluctantly, Gary retrieved the toy and passed it across the table.
“I thought it might be something from the old days.” Clint said, giving it a quick once over. “But this can’t be more than a few years old. Hell, it was made in Taiwan. You spent what, maybe five bucks, for a cap-gun made in Taiwan. What’s that about?”
“It’s a long story.” Gary took the gun, slipped it back in his coat pocket, then stood and walked to the refrigerator to take a TV dinner from the freezer compartment.
“Sorry I didn’t put another pork chop on,” Clint said. “I had no idea you’d be home so early.”
“Hey, that’s okay. This sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? You can’t go wrong with Salisbury Steak.”
Clint watched with bemused interest as Gary bounced from the refrigerator to the counter to the microwave, all the while humming some indefinable tune. Finally his curiosity would not be denied. “What am I missing here, brother? I haven’t seen you this upbeat in ages.”
“Are you saying I’m not always upbeat?”
“Come on. The last time you went to Lawrence, you weren’t even sure Claudia would talk to you. This time you come home grinning like the cat that caught the mouse. Something’s going on.”
“You’re a fine one to talk. The last time I heard you mention Elly’s name, it sounded like you were contemplating permanent bachelorhood.”
“Don’t change the subject. We’re talking about you and what has you so pumped.”
“Okay. Here’s the deal.” By then Gary was wondering if he could explain his new insight in a way that made sense to brother Clint.
“You could probably tell that Claudia and I have been on a real roller coaster. Lots of ups and downs. It was that way fifty years ago, and it seems like we picked up right where we’d left off. I never could understood why we couldn’t get on the same page.”
“And now you know why. Is that what you’re saying? Is there some secret that explains everything? Have you found the path to ‘happily ever after’?”
Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, Gary nodded. “I have a clue. That’s all. I’m not sure if it leads to ‘happily ever after,’ but it feels like a place to start. I found out today that right from the beginning Claudia and I have wanted different things. From day one we were going in opposite directions. It’s no wonder our train kept running off the tracks.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever noticed,” Gary said, reverting to his most sarcastic tone. “There are times it seems like I’m pushing people away, raising a fuss to let them know I’d rather do things my own way---that I need to be who I am, not who they want me to be. Have you ever noticed that?”
“Now that you mention it,” Clint replied in mock surprise. “I can remember a time or two when you fought the system. Seems like ‘bullheaded’ and ‘stubborn’ would cover that.”
“It probably wasn’t as bad as you make it sound. But I know there were times when it felt that way.”
“So, how does knowing that change anything?”
“By itself it doesn’t.” Gary had spent his hour-long drive from Lawrence trying to make sense of it. Now he paused to remember how he had explained it to himself. “The thing is, back in school I made a big deal of being my own man---someone who didn’t have to think or act like everyone else.”
“I think that pretty well described the ‘you’ I remember.”
“But at the same time Claudia was doing everything she could to let her friends know that she wanted to be just like them---not someone different. The whole time she and I were looking at the world from totally opposite perspectives. Doesn’t that sound like it could cause problems?”
“Is that a question or an answer?”
“So far it’s just a question. That’s how it was back then. And still is---in a more adult way. So how can we ever be on the same page when we want such different outcomes? It’s enough to make you wonder, isn’t it?”
“Maybe so. But you still don’t have an answer. Right?”
“Not yet,” Gary deposited his plastic plate in the trash can. “It just felt so damn good to have a clue. I haven’t had time to work on the answer.”
While Clint loaded his dishes in the dishwasher, Gary went out to the garage to look for something. A minute later he returned to find Clint staring blankly out the window into the back yard.
“You look like your mind’s a million miles away.”
“Just thinking about what you said.” His gaze remained locked on something beyond the window. “Sounds to me like we’re both headed down the same path. Except that what you think leads to something hopeful, looks like a dead end to me.”
“What does that mean?”
“Have I told you that Elly and I don’t have a lot in common? That we’re definitely not on the same page.”
“I believe I’ve heard you make that point. I’m not sure you were right, but I’ve heard you mention that---more than once.”
“Isn’t that another way of saying what you just said?”
It was exactly the same, Clint told himself. Except that Gary read those conflicting desires as an important clue. “Elly and I do things for different reasons. We want different things, just like you two.”
“So why does knowing that make you feel so damn good? For me it only complicates things.”
“So we should both settle for being hermits. Is that is?” Gary was grinning as he shook his head. “Sorry, but I’m not ready to get in that line.”
Saturday afternoon. Clint let the phone ring an extra time or two while he watched a replay of the game-ending home run. By the time he finally answered Elly was about to hang up.
“You’re there,” she exclaimed.
“I must be. You’re talking to me.”
“Look, I know this is probably not a good time. But it’s about my walking stick. I left it in your truck, behind the seat.”
Clint's exasperation was audible. “For crying out loud. Why didn’t you take it with you the other day?”
Elly knew at once her half-muffled laughter was not what he wanted to hear. But his gruff impatience struck her as funny.
“If you‘ll recall, I left in a bit of a hurry. I simply forgot all about the walking stick.”
“So now I’m supposed to pack it across town to your place. Is that the plan?”
“Don’t sound so victimized,” she laughed. “I’m at the mall right now. I’ll come by in a few minutes and save you the trip. Would that be okay?” Before Clint could respond the line was dead.
By the time Elly’s Lexus pulled into the driveway Clint was standing beside his pickup, walking stick in hand. She had scarcely closed the car door behind her when he thrust the stick at her and without a word started back to the house,
“Just one minute, Clint Harris.” Her shrill command had the ring of a drill sergeant. “You can’t just walk away like that.”
He stopped and turned to face her. “Why not?”
For long seconds they stood there looking at each other. When Elly finally replied the command inflection was gone. In fact he had never seen her so close to tears. “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered.
“What is there to say?”
“I’m not sure. But I don’t want you to walk away like this.”
“There’s no point in staying.”
She stepped toward him. “Haven’t you felt anything at all?” Her fingers pinched nervously at her lips. “Something good.”
Clint scratched his head. A moment later his unsmiling frown mirrored his words. “You know I have. But I can’t get past the fact that we’re so different, probably too different. I don’t see anything that looks like common ground.”
With that he nodded his good bye, then turned and walked to the house. Meanwhile Elly stood silently beside her car, half-leaning on her walking stick, until the door closed behind him.
After a quiet Saturday evening supper the Harris brothers finished their clean-up routine and went their separate ways. In his room Gary would likely sit through a couple of game shows before tuning in to his favored crime dramas. Meanwhile, Clint would be in the living room, stretched out in his recliner, using the remote to surf the country music channels. If those offerings failed to satisfy he would be looking for an old movie to watch.
An hour later Gary was in the kitchen rummaging through the cupboards, hoping to find where his brother had stashed the last of the Oreo cookies, when the phone rang.
“Hello,” he answered. Balancing the phone on his shoulder, he opened another drawer.
“This doesn’t sound like Clint,” the feminine voice replied. “Am I right?”
“You’ve got a good ear, Elly. But I’d know your voice any time. How are you?”
“Not too well at the moment. It feels like I’m caught up in a psychological stand-off with your brother. I had no idea he could be so stubborn.”
“Oh yeah. He can be hard as a rock.”
“Is he there now?”
“Yes he is. Though if he’s in the middle of some cowboy ballad it may take a while to get his attention.”
“You didn’t realize that Clint’s a country music guy?” Gary asked. “You need to know that. Sometimes it affects his brain. If some pretty young thing is singing her heart out on the tube, he can be hard to budge.....especially if he’s singing along.”
“Well, there is no accounting for taste.” She had turned serious when she asked, “Do you suppose he’ll talk to me?”
“Of course he will. Why wouldn’t he?”
“He’s been a little distant lately.” Her voice was low, as though she was sharing a secret. “He acts like he’d rather be somewhere else when I’m around.”
“I’ll tell you what. Just put on your kid gloves and humor him a little. He may not know it, but I’m sure he wants to talk to you.”
At least he would if he had any sense, Gary told himself as he walked to the front room and handed the phone to Clint.
Clint’s greeting was sparse and without feeling. “Hello.”
For a moment there was only silence as Elly waited for more. Finally she said, “You sure know how to put a lady in her place.”
“What are you talking about?” he protested. “I haven’t done anything. How can I be in trouble already.”
“I promised myself that I wouldn’t be the first to call……that you would have to call me.”
“But here you are,” Clint replied. “Why didn’t you wait?”
“Well, I got a little impatient.”
“So what happens if I don’t call you?”
“Then I’ll call you.”
“You’ve already done that.”
“I know.” Her sigh was heavy with exasperation. “It’s hard to be intimidating when I give in so easily.”
“Was that the idea? To be ‘intimidating’?”
“Not really. I just wanted to know if you were too upset to call me. It sounded that way when I came by for my walking stick.”
“So how will you know---if you don’t wait to see if I call?”
Elly’s laughter, warm and spontaneous, was apparently enough to melt his determined reserve. “You’re awfully cheeky,” she said, “For someone who’s supposed to be quiet and shy, you twist things around until they don’t say what I want them to say.”
“What did you want them to say?”
“I wanted them to say that I was calling with an invitation to my luncheon party, on Tuesday.”
“A luncheon party. That’s sounds kind of fancy for a country boy like me. Who will be there?”
“It will be very exclusive,” she said, pausing a bit for effect. “Just you and me.”
“Are you serious? Just the two of us?”
“Yes, I’m serious. So serious that I plan to keep you locked inside until you talk to me.” The line was quiet. She could hear his breathing as he waited for her to continue.
“Clint. I’m not sure I know what ‘common ground’ looks like. But I understand that you think it’s important. So I’d like us to go looking for some of that.....together.” She took a last deep breath. “I wanted you to know that before you said yes or no.”
“What time is it, this party of yours?” he asked, taking care to avoid any further debate.
“How about one-thirty.”
“Can I bring anything?”
What was that about, Clint was asking himself as he returned the phone to the kitchen. She wanted them to talk. But what more did they have to talk about?