MAY 10, 2016
I am watching CNN’s perpetually “Breaking News” while lunching on shrimp salad from a Fresh Market container. Donald Trump has insulted and bullied his way into being the Republican nominee for the 2016 presidential race, which most voters believe he can’t possibly win. I am one of them. The idea of Donald Trump as U.S. president is like a terrible joke or nightmare. I hear him say to a crowd of his admirers, “If Putin likes me, then I like Putin”. In my mind, I sing mockingly, “Narcissistic”.
The phone rings. Richard is calling to ask if I want to visit John in Rose Court assisted living facility today. I say yes though I had planned to cross “clear desk” off my to-do list this afternoon. We both know that “visiting John” is actually an excuse for us to get in the car together and drive around drinking Frostys. At age eighty-seven, Richard is one year older than I am, and John, who we will visit, is ninety-one. John is the widower of my best friend, Sunny Bynum, who died unexpectedly last July. The four of us used to do things together.
I drop what I am doing and get showered, shampooed, and dressed for our afternoon “date”. Richard arrives on schedule and walks in, knowing the door will be unlocked for him. He sits on the bed beside me while I finish putting on my socks and shoes. He notices I don’t have my front door key in hand yet so, walking gingerly using his two new knees, he goes and gets the key from the familiar glass in the kitchen cupboard. We exit my front door, Richard locking the door behind us using the inside lower knob. I always lock the top lock from the outside using the key but am letting him handle it. The minute the car starts, Rush Limbaugh’s voice is heard on the car radio. Richard quickly turns it off, wishing I hadn’t noticed.
He drives us to the Rose Court assisted living facility on the Village Retirement Center’s gated campus. Holding onto Richard for stability as we walk across the parking lot, I notice the worsening tremor in his hand. We walk through the front door smiling and saying hello to all the gray-haired, well-heeled, white residents staring blankly at us from their wheel chairs and to all their friendly black caretakers. We walk down the hall to room #6 and go in. As expected, John is asleep. I knock loudly on the closet door and say “John, you have company” and the visit begins.
Richard moves some things around in the crowded room so I can sit on a chair next to John, who is flat on his back in a recliner, belly protruding upward. Richard sits on the bed. We ask the usual questions. Sometimes if we wait long enough, John will answer in a sharp and witty way just like old times. I get him thinking about some story he told me years ago. He remembers it and tries to talk but dozes off, eyes half closed. He may be heavily drugged. After fifteen or twenty minutes of attempted conversation, we say our goodbyes when an attendant arrives to wheel John to the dining room. John manages to say he appreciates our stopping by, and we like to think he really does.
Richard and I walk back along the hallway and exit through the living area, once again speaking cheerily to all the bored-looking, white residents in wheel chairs and to all their up-beat black caretakers. We escape into fresh air. We feel good that we have visited John. Like always, I wonder if I will someday be a Rose Court resident sitting there staring blankly from a wheel chair.
Now we want our Frostys. Richard aims the car toward the nearest Wendy’s Drive-Thru. I offer to pay, and like always Richard ignores me. Two small chocolate Frostys cost two dollars and ten cents.
Touring neighborhoods comes next. I have lived in Gainesville thirty-one years, but Richard is much more of an old-timer. He takes me into parts of town I never knew existed, telling me stories about each area. I rubberneck and eat my Frosty with the provided plastic spoon. Richard manages the steering wheel with his left hand while his right hand never lets go his Frosty, which he sucks through a straw. He recalls the old days when cars had necking knobs on the steering wheels. Guys could handle the steering wheel with their left hand firmly on the necking knob while the right arm was around their girlfriend. I have heard him tell it many times, plus I am old enough to remember necking knobs, but it is okay that he tells it again. It is what we do.
Richard and I have known each other for several years. We know each other’s children. We know each other’s grandchildren. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We’ve discussed our religious beliefs and our opposing political persuasions. I am a progressive Democrat and back-slidden Methodist. Richard has the Republican dislike for government and what he calls “socialism”, i.e., free handouts to people that don’t work. We had one major falling out over politics when he told me Trump would be “better than Hillary”. He says I threw him out of the house. I say he dumped me. Assuming he really meant it when he said he wouldn’t be coming back, I set about finding other ways to entertain myself and to fill the void. I made the adjustment and was just fine without him for several months, but, because we are neighbors and both walk, we kept seeing and speaking to each other out on the street. Now, here we are back together, riding around in his old 1997 Lincoln Town Car, sipping Frostys, and both loving it.
We drive as long as our Frostys last, which allows time to cover several neighborhoods and for getting lost once or twice. At long last, we pull up in my driveway. I dig in my purse for the front door key and, out of habit, turn it in the top lock that Richard didn’t lock. I unlock the lower lock that Richard did lock, but now the top lock is locked because I just locked it. In mock helplessness, I hand the key to Richard. He looks smug and pleased, and I don’t care because I am happy and full of Wendy’s Frosty. We each head to a bathroom before having a goodbye hug.
Standing near the undiminished pile of clutter on my desk, our hug is familiar and wonderful. I can’t believe I am feeling so caressed and cared for in the arms of a Baptist, Republican, Obama hater, who doesn’t always remember to wear his front tooth partial. This elderly romance defies understanding, but I plan to keep participating as long as there is a half-way suitable partner, even one whose car radio is always tuned to Rush Limbaugh. I like having a man in my life, especially one who lives a perfect two and a half blocks away from me. It will have to be enough that we agree on afternoon drives and Frostys.