The reminders come. You only have so long.
This morning I’m online checking in for a flight. Asked for my date of birth I enter 10/29. Then comes the year. I have to select my birth year from a pull-down menu.
When I pull it down, I scroll and scroll, watching the birth years fly by, then scroll some more, and then more again, surprised by just how far down I have to go to get to 1952. For some reason I’m shocked. In the digital age, this menu reminds me that I’m ancient history.
I will be traveling alone, for the first time in years. All week Tizi and I have been saying to each other: Be careful.
I’m going to Italy to sit on the beach with my daughter, her husband and two boys. It will be hot. The July Adriatic will be cool. Mornings we will frolic in the water, then have long lunches, pasta and clams, then more clams, and white pizza with cheese and arugula, and fizzy white wine and fizzy water. Then back to the beach.
To get ready for this trip, I’ve been shopping online for a week or so, looking for short sleeve shirts. It will be sweaty over there. We’ll probably be at the beach 5-6 hours a day. I’ll need a bunch of shirts.
Feeling optimistic about my physique, I decide I am no longer a Medium and order two Small gray and two Small white pocket and plain t-shirts. On the order form, for a few of them, I confidently indicate snug fit.
When the shirts are delivered and I try them on, one after another I pull them on, look in the mirror, and discover, to my surprise, I have assertive nipples, old guy pointy nipples that press against the fabric and make themselves known. This visibility thing seems new, a presentation that was less an issue, or no issue at all, when I wore Medium. And, possibly, when I was young.
One of my grandsons, the four year old, has noticed them. When we’re playing super hero in the basement, he points to my chest and asks me if I can move my boobies. He says his father can move his. Well, I tell him, his father is a talented guy. He wonders: Can I at least try? I tell him I’ll work on it.
Here in Michigan the warm weather has arrived. I see men of a certain age, some of them with a little supplemental weight, who jog on warm days in no shirt, their pectorals bouncing. I don’t know if mine would bounce. Maybe a small, snugger-fitting shirt would minimize, or simply advertise, my bounce. I do know that I do not have my son-in-law’s pectoral dexterity.
Be careful, Tizi tells me.
Don’t lose my wallet.
Don’t leave my credit card somewhere.
Don’t leave anything on the plane.
I tell Tizi don’t walk upstairs at night in the dark. Turn on a light.
In the morning don’t come downstairs in dark.
Watch the gas gauge in the car. Don’t run out of gas.
More and more, we hear breaking stories these days. Not breaking stories on the news. News of our friends, their relatives and their friends, falling, breaking, breaking bad.
This week we’ve swapped email with a friend of ours who fell in the shower. It’s been a few days. In her email, which comes from the airbnb where she’s staying in San Luis Obispo, with the slippery stone floor in the shower, she describes her injury: “Acute superior endplate compression fracture of up to 35% height loss of the L1 vertebral body with trace retropulsion.” I hate the sound of all of that, especially trace retropulsion. (Though surely trace is preferable to gross retropulsion.) She’s in pain. She’s in for weeks of mending .
This week one of my high school classmates died. More than high school. As far back as I can remember public school, I remember Eddie Maurer. The last time I saw him was at his wife’s funeral. That was 5-10 years ago. I saw him, we spoke briefly, in the men’s room, about the fact that there were no towels to dry your hands on. I thought I would get back to him at the luncheon. I didn’t. He was seventy.
The phone rang one afternoon. It was almost the dinner hour.
“Rick?” A female voice I did not recognize.
“Rick, this is Deb. Debbie Davis.”
For a few moments I drew a blank. Debbie Davis.
“What?” I said.
“From Freeland. Debbie Davis from Freeland.”
I babbled something, scrolling the years on the pull-down menu.
“How did you find me?” I said.
“How are you?”
Still flummoxed, I said, “How did you find me?”
“Don’t you want to talk to me?” she said.
“Yes, but…” I babbled something else.
“Okay,” she said. “Then I guess I’d better go.”
I did want to talk to her. I was just surprised, speechless. I looked her up on Facebook. There she was, just as I remembered her, a mass of curly black hair, dark eyes, a tentative look. She was wearing a ball cap. I clicked around looking for information. Did she marry? Did she have children? A lot must have happened in 45 years. Facebook told me nothing, except that she lived in Phoenix.
A few months after that, in a couple sentences, a Facebook friend said she had died of Covid. It was during the worst days of the pandemic, the days when there were refrigerated truck morgues parked outside the hospital.
Why didn’t I call her back?
I try to remember: to be careful. And to be present. Here. Awake. Mindful.
When my parents were roughly the age Tizi and I are now, my dad worked Habitat for Humanity. He was a good man with a hammer in his hand.
One morning he was carrying an armful of shingles up a ladder and passed out.
When my phone rang, he was in the hospital.
“He’s okay,” my mom said. “Tests.”
“But what is it?” I asked.
I went to see him. He looked like himself. She sat on the bed. They talked. Together, they looked worried. You could see what they were thinking: Someday, one of us will be alone.
I was there when the test results came back. He would need a pacemaker. It would be a perfunctory correction. He was okay, but cool it on the shingle carrying.
They rejoiced. There’s no other word for it. For a few seconds, I wasn’t even there as their relief, their happiness, their sense that their time together, whatever it was, remained in tact, washed over them. They were like school kids, laughing, holding hands. The rest of their lives was ahead of them.
When I’m in Italy I’ll think about all this, and more. For Tizi, I’ll be careful. For me I’ll be careful. I’ll pull on a t-shirt, point my nipples in the direction of the beach, and think, This is now. Be here.