Old Age

Fred was eager to see Jill again.   It was all he could think of after so many years.  He wondered if he could even hold his own in a conversation with her anymore.  Ever the consummate romantic, Fred had enshrined Jill in his memory as a symbol of his youth or at least his earlier years before life became a dull futile exercise burdened with age and unrelenting routine.  Such great expectations were bound to result in utter disappointment, but Fred refused to allow the reality of his predicament to enter his mind.  After so many years, he was just happy that Jill agreed to see him again, not that there was ever any real reason for their estrangement other than the typical “life getting in the way” and “we all must move on” platitudes we tell ourselves in these kinds of situations. There had been no big argument or confrontation to split them apart before.  It was like two rivers drifting apart for a time only now to merge once again further downstream. Fred tended to think of things in a slightly poetic way although some might call it melodrama. In retirement, he found himself writing short stores to pass the time. He had always loved books and reading and it was a passion he knew Jill shared as well.  Although he humbly refused to entertain any sort of delusion pertaining to his creativity and talent, he was still proud of his writing and hoped to one day have a kind small circle of readers inclined to forgive him his inadequacies as a writer.

It was a quiet morning except for the occasional chirping of birds.  Fred woke up from his bed, dressed, and made sure to put on matching socks.  He took hold of his cane, and went for a walk in the park heading straight for the pond although he must have checked his appearance in the mirror several times prior to that. On the last occasion he stared at the old man before him and told him, “Don’t mess this up now, you old fool.” He’d brought some bread for the pigeons and thought about what Jill might look like when she’d approach to meet him. His wrinkly hands felt like an aberration and he suddenly began feeling self-conscious.

Attempting to shrug off the oncoming negativity, he imagined how Jill would make him feel young again. Would she be the same woman she was all those years ago?  He recalled the warmth of her embrace and the touch of her chest as it met his.  He thought about how strange a thing like memory could be. That brief hug the last time he saw her felt as if it had lasted a good deal longer than it actually was, and the moment when their arms wrapped around each other felt as if two hearts had become one.  For the life of him, he couldn’t recall why he’d ever allow the distance between them to grow after that moment, but that’s just how life was.  There were always obstacles.  One might argue that life itself was merely one elaborate obstacle course where only those with the wisdom of many years know exactly which finish line is worth the struggle, which victory is worth claiming, and what -or more importantly who- would be waiting on the other side. In the time when their paths had once met, Fred had been a young man confused and torn between certain obligations and responsibilities.  The path he took may not have been the path of his ultimate destiny, but it was a path he had to take nonetheless. Now, things were different, and finally after years of toil and struggle he found the peace he had desired all his life only now there was no one to share it with.

Jill had agreed to meet him in the park. He promised himself that this time would be different.  This time, he’d tell her everything that was in his heart.  He’d tell her of all the nights he’d spent thinking about her and how he wished she had shared his life with him during all these years they had been apart.  He would admit to her that just about every story and poem he’d written since retiring had been about her.  In his mind, she would listen to everything he’d bottled up in his heart after so many years.   It would come flooding out of him like a dam that had been destined to burst under the right conditions.

Fred sat and watched the birds thinking to himself. That cliché about youth being wasted on the young shouldn’t be considered a cliché at all. It should just be considered an undisputable fact. I’d actually change the expression to LIFE IS WASTED ON THE YOUTH. His thoughts lingered for a while as he reflected on them in the same way he reflected on most of the deeper thoughts of his life.  It all came down to the fact that for Fred the vitality he longed for had been so intimately bonded to the concept of youth to such a degree that ‘youth’ and ‘life’ were no longer mutually exclusive. In order to be alive, one had to be young, and those who are young are the only ones who are truly alive. Of course, Fred allowed for such platitudes as “you are only as young as you feel” to enter into his basic philosophy, but how does one go about ‘feeling’ young exactly?  In his mind’s eye, Fred hadn’t aged a day over 35, yet when he looked in the mirror he saw a feeble old fool in front of him riddled wrinkles, bald patches, and moldy skin. Was there a portrait of Dorian Gray beyond that looking glass that mocked him somewhere in an alternate unobtainable reality?

Across the other side of the pond, Fred saw an old man playing with some children, probably their grandfather. They threw pebbles into the pond and Fred would watch the ripples in the water along with them each and every time.  He laughed to himself thinking that if there had only been more time he might be on this side of the pond doing exactly the same thing. Both he and the elderly man across along with the boys would perhaps become mirror images of each other in such a scenario and there would be symmetry.  It’s what the universe likes while at the same time despising those of us who counteract and undercut that symmetry.  Fred imagined the vengeful universe exacting its revenge by allowing him to feel envy and loss for those things which he never had.

It was getting closer to the time when Jill had agreed to meet him. Fred looked up at the sky and pleaded the universe for one final act of undeserved kindness.   He had try to dream of what she’d look like only to find himself unable to satisfy his own curiosity despite his blessed gift of imagination.  In his mind, she stayed the same.  He couldn’t bring himself to sully her memory by aging her face or adding a few more inches to her waste.  The way Fred remembered her was the way she remained after all these years.  She was highly intelligent with a brilliant personality and a healthy sense of humor.  She was voluptuous with curves that would inspire him indefinitely if he had only been a painter.  Her hair was dark and beautiful and he’d lose himself in it when he imagined it down.  She’d been a good listener and full of fascinating stories of her own.  She had the most beautiful laugh he’d ever heard on a woman, and her smile could brighten any room.  Fred closed his eyes and imagined her the way she had been for the last time before preparing to meet the woman who would meet him now.

He then felt a hand on his shoulder so he opened his eyes and looked up.  It was Jill.  As she stood before him, time seemed to shift and they were both young and the days that had past shed between them like unseemly skin. It was then that Fred realized what he should have known all along. He stood up from his bench with renewed fleet of foot resolute in the certainty that he’d never see an old man in the mirror again. Jill hadn’t aged a day and now that he found her, neither did he.

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