GERIATRIC ADOLESCENCE ...........REALLY?
(Originally Posted 2/2016)
When I revised my blog heading a few months ago I was not ready to delete the tagline …. “A Writer’s Blog.” You see, I call myself a writer because I write….in the same way you may call yourself a golfer because you play golf, or a painter because you paint. It’s what I do.
Of course, being a golfer doesn’t necessarily mean you play like Tiger. (Though that seems to be easier than it once was.) Being a painter doesn’t mean you paint like Michelangelo or Rockwell.
And being a storyteller, the label I prefer for myself, doesn’t mean I have to write great literature. It means that I tell the stories I want to tell because that’s what I like to do. And as much as possible I’ve decided to spend my late-life doing the things I like to do.
So I’m a writer, and from the beginning, ten years ago, I have viewed these blog ramblings as a means to explore and explain some of the storylines I have woven into my Tanner Chronicles narratives. And since I tell the stories I want to tell, this blog has become a very personal thing.
Of course, I understand that my stories and the ground they cover are not everyone’s cup of tea. So don’t feel like you’re the only one shaking your head.
Truth is, the most fortunate October/November folks remain in satisfying, time-tested relationships. For sixty-three years I was blessed to be one of those, and very glad of it. I hope that you too are one of those lucky ones. Yet we both know that too many of our senior contemporaries, are not that fortunate. They are alone, and too often lonely.
Before you start throwing things at me, let me be the first to admit that a great many, perhaps most, of those folks who are “alone,” are exactly where they choose to be. They have no need for, and no interest in, a new relationship. What they had, and have taken from that time, will carry them through just fine. They too are among the blessed, and I respect their feelings.
But for others, the ones I depict in the Tanner Chronicles, the notion of facing their remaining years alone is not an attractive option. They want, even need, the affirmation and companionship of a new life partner. It is those “wanting” ones who are candidates for my stories.
As you might imagine, late-life relationships…. the ones I write about….are something different than the March and April connections we once pursued so eagerly. If you’re an “October or November” type you don’t need me to tell you that.
To begin with, there is an obvious difference in hormonal levels….nature’s sneaky and very effective way of continuing the species. In addition there are new and different priorities at work the second (or third) time around….other considerations that have become primary.
At first glance it may appear that those “seekers” are replaying earlier experiences….ones they first encountered as teenagers. Yet the reality of their latest wanting, what I half-jokingly refer to as their geriatric adolescence, is not at all like that first time.
In most every way what they are seeking and the way they measure a prospective partner has changed. Appearance, status, income, even sex appeal, carry less weight this time around.
It is the understanding and support of a caring companion that has become all important….the promise of undisguised affirmation….of someone who accepts them as the “special” person they are….who shows a willingness to help them face the uncertain future that awaits each of us. Chances are those ethereal elements will outweigh everything else.
A case in point. Johnny Blanton is one of my very favorite Tanner seniors. Fact is, he reminds me of someone I once knew rather well. True, some folks will find his laissez-faire life view a bit off-putting. Yet, given the person he is and the future he faces, his attitude strikes me as spot on. I suppose I even envy his willingness to accept the unvarnished truth of his sad situation.
In the following excerpt from Best Friends and Promises Johnny has left the hospital after his latest heart attack to move in with Jan Pierce, a lonely and very caring librarian. Truth to tell, Jan hardly qualifies as an old friend. The two of them first met less than twenty-four hours before Johnny’s latest heart scare. Yet, for reasons she scarcely understands herself, she has invited him to spend his recuperation with her.
By then Jan Pierce was struggling to make sense of the sudden and dramatic changes in her normally pedestrian life. At sixty-four, she had always thought of herself as stable, to the point of boring….given to cautious deliberation, cautious expectations, and cautious actions. An impulsive one-night affair was not her style, any more than inviting a man she scarcely knew to share her apartment. Why then was she feeling so comfortable, so committed to her unlikely choice?
Truth to tell, Jan was not accustomed to having a man in her life. She had not been a cute baby, and had never grown into that condition. From her perspective the only constant in her life had been weight, too much of it.
She had never married. As far as she knew, no man had ever considered proposing. Over the years there had been a few casual liaisons, including one that lasted for several months, largely because she had been willing to settle for the minimal affirmation it offered.
Then, just days before, in the course of a single night, a worn-out Johnny Blanton had accepted her caring as something special. Later, during his days in the ICU, as she waited to learn whether he would live or die, she had felt that caring grow.
Now, back in her apartment, Johnny was seated at the end of the sofa when Jan returned from work. He patted the cushion beside him and nodded for her to join him.
“You know,” he said. “I really appreciate this….letting me stay here. I’m not sure what I can do to make all the trouble I’m causing worthwhile.”
“Just be yourself. That’s all,” Jan answered. Resting her hand on his knee she leaned against his shoulder. “We’re much too old to be playing silly games. I want you here. That’s enough reason for me. After all, it’s not like I’ve ever had men chasing after me.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“You should,” she nodded. “The thing is, from the first time we talked….about my scotch-on-the-rocks of all things….it was like I was visiting with an old friend. It just felt right. And too, I like being able to help. It’s been a long time since anyone needed my help.”
“You’d better believe I need you and your help. And not just because I’m feeling so puny.”
Looking up into Johnny’s weary, deep-set eyes, Jan asked, “So tell me, Mr. Blanton. Why does this work for you?”
“Well," he said. "To begin with I’ve never been very good at being alone.” How blunt should he be? It seemed she deserved the truth. “But, at the same time, I’m not everyone’s idea of good company.”
“Why would that be?” she wondered out loud. “What’s not to appreciate? Is there something I should know about?”
“Oh my. How can I describe it?” Was there a polite way to explain, in words that would not be graphically offensive?
“I’ve been called ‘undisciplined’ and a ‘free spirit.’ To some folks I’m a ‘loose cannon.’ And there have been other descriptions I don’t repeat in mixed company. Lots of that stuff is pretty negative, but I suppose it’s partly true. It's just that I’ve never cared much what people thought about me.
“But there’s another side to that,” Johnny continued, reaching for her hand. “The part I want you to know about. When I’m on your side I’m there one hundred percent, no matter what.
“That’s something you should know. I’ll be here for you in any way I can.” Pausing, there was a moment of quiet as he searched for a way to spell out his final point. “But there is something else.”
For the first time Jan was witnessing what seemed to be Johnny’s blushing embarrassment.
“You may have noticed,” he said. “After our one night together, that I am no longer the youthful love-machine my mind tells me I once was.” There, was that subtle enough? Had he made his point?
Stifling her laugh, she poked playfully at his ribs. “Do you recall hearing any complaints?”
“You were very kind not to bring that up. Actually, my situation has changed a bit since that first night. For the worse, I’m afraid.”
“Well, after a heart attack, I should think so.”
“When we were kids,” he continued. “We used to joke about wanting to die while we were making love. If we had to go, that sounded like the best time. Just so you know, that’s no longer my goal.”
Squeezing her hand, he let her soft laughter wash over him, sensing that it was exactly the tonic he needed. “I just don’t want to misrepresent my reasons for moving in.”
With that Jan straighten up to wrap her fragile old man in a most affectionate hug. “Don’t you ever worry about that,” she whispered. “I want you here with me. You want to be here. What other reasons do we need?”
Johnny Blanton was weak and tired….there was no doubting that. Yet in the midst of his weariness he settled back in the sofa, soaking up the pleasant realization that he was wanted. That must surely mean he was exactly where he belonged.
And that, my friend, is precisely what each of us wants, isn’t it? Even this late in the game, in spite of the baggage we bring with us, we keep ploughing ahead in the face of existential quicksand that keeps getting deeper and hills that grow steeper. Yet all the while we want to believe that we are heading to a place “Where we belong.”
Chances are that place where we belong will look and feel different than any place we’ve ever been before. It may even include a new “someone.” In that case we will probably have to set aside our outdated “April” qualifiers and focus instead on the more-relevant “October and November” attributes that mark our path toward a different sort of experience.
By then our situation may even call for a modest dose of geriatric adolescence. In that case, I believe we could do worse than seek someone like a Jan Pierce or Johnny Blanton with whom to share our remaining years.