Yesterday, in a day that was focused and busy and didn’t offer a lot of room for blogging, I ran across my friend Paul, whose birthday happened last week without acknowledgement from me. Until yesterday — better late than never, I hope.
It took a minute to recognize him, because he wasn’t wearing glasses, which apparently have been part of his face since he was six or so. But he’s in the aftermath of cataract surgery, which I’m sure is in my future, and he said it’s like learning to see all over again. And the glasses will be back, but he has to wait for some indeterminate time period before getting an entirely new prescription.
He also had a complaint about a bum knee he’d been nursing along until snow wrenched it and made it worse. His health concerns sound like my future, because I have a knee that some days doesn’t really want to support my weight as I stand up.
But there was one area of aging in which I’m ahead of Paul, who is eight years older than me. At least, I’m assuming it’s aging that’s responsible for our new homebody approach to life.
I first met Paul in Boulder. I was an undergraduate majoring in English but spending so much time in the theatre building that everyone assumed that was my major. Paul was in the theatre building because he was working on his doctorate. Our paths crossed during some play — maybe it was Chekov, but I can’t really remember.
I was building the set, maybe crewing the show, and Paul was acting in it. He completely endeared himself to me the day I was carting one end of some very heavy scene-shop-constructed couch and someone was asking — as nearly everyone did for many, many years — what the “TL” stood for. Paul, heading toward the stage as we were coming off it, breezed past and answered for me: “I imagine if he wanted you to know, he wouldn’t go by his initials.”
It was such an eminently sensible, and correct, response that I have no idea why I’d never come up with it myself. And it stamped Paul far more firmly on my brain than anyone else who was involved in whatever show I can’t remember.
Our paths uncrossed for awhile after that play. I finished up my bachelor’s degree and ended up back in Gunnison, working at the newspaper as the sports editor and school reporter. And I also reviewed all the plays, which I had a lot more experience in and knowledge of than sports.
So when Western hired a new faculty member for the theatre department, I went to interview him — and it turned out to be Paul. That must mean we’ve been friends for 35-ish years.
And it means that for the better part of these decades we’ve run into one another while out and about in the evenings, attending plays, concerts and lectures. We didn’t always go to the same events, but chances are good that on any seven nights, the two of us were out of the house on at least five of them, if not all seven.
Paul’s wife Julia, who was my first tap teacher, also had a busy schedule, and she once had a funny story about Paul, who one day passed through their house, front to back, and on his way through gave her the news: “You’re pregnant and I’m having an affair.” Neither of those were true, but that’s what the rumor mill had churned up.
Several years ago my social schedule started drying up. Not really so much by choice as it got really hard for me to go to anything that has me out at 8 p.m., the hour at which I’m most worn out.
I stopped going to meetings altogether, and quit going to plays when all I did was fall asleep during the performance. I sometimes make it to music concerts, but I really have to talk myself into going. I still sign up for a class here and there, like tap and my woodshop, and I do fine once I’m there (although I come home wiped out and thrown off-schedule), but not nearly as many as I used to take. And while the library sends me weekly e-mails with an enticing list of activities, I very rarely partake.
But when Julia called two weeks ago to say she and Paul were going to start playing the four — four — marimbas they purchased sometime back and did I want to join them, I said yes. Enthusiastically.
Except that I have yet to make it over there. In a span reminiscent of my past, I had legitimate excuses this week: book group Monday, woodshop Tuesday, dinner with Tia Wednesday, driving Lynn home from oral surgery Thursday (that wasn’t as fun as the other events, and it left her with a bruise that looks like she got socked in the jaw, which I guess is what happened, just from the inside). But the week before that, I had trouble summoning up the wherewithal to go over to their house after work, even though playing the marimba sounds like a lot of fun.
Yesterday I told Paul I was trying to get there, and he kind of surprised me. Left at home while Julia has gone to be with grandchildren (now just hours away in Pueblo rather than faraway Alaska), he was supposed to go over to another house on Thursday to play with a larger marimba group — and he didn’t go.
He said he is finding he would just rather stay at home in the evening, “and not even feeling guilty about it.” Even if he doesn’t feel guilty, and good for him, he still sounded surprised by this. That part I get: it’s a major change in his existence.
It’s clear this is still new to him, because the next thing he asked was if he would see me at the caucuses. [Answer: I just might go this year — I’m in a new-to-me precinct, so I will not have to deal with the person whose officiousness made me so mad I stopped going, some years back.]
It’s a process, one Paul will likely never be completely weaned off, but his not wanting to do everything all at once heartened me. Because there are still nights I feel — not guilty, but sad — that I’m not taking advantage of everything on offer, and it’s good to have company in this.