I took Rob’s hand in his late life. At seventy he cries when friends die. I can’t know what that’s like for him when I’m only forty. I do understand that he’s crying for himself as much as he’s crying for the death of friends. Each day for him is like someone’s clamped an hourglass down on the table. I can hold him when he’s overwhelmed by quickly slipping sand, but I can’t really claim a perspective.
Rob has white hair with a masculine man’s receding hairline. He has squinting, richly deep blue eyes that are sharp and close. He still has the musculature of a young man from years of swimming, healthy living, and an extreme disdain for any weight at all after having grown up the fat kid. I don’t know of a time when he’s taken his clothes off that I haven’t watched. I’ve never said no to him when he’s climbed on top of me. His voice is the voice that’s crept inside of me to stay, because it hits the right timbre.
I’m a pretty little orphan with long dark hair. I have wide dancing brown eyes when I’m not hiding in some corner taking cover. Rob was bar mitzvahed. That means he’s Jewish, something he points out from time to time. But basically all I can read from this is that Rob has bonds with life that I don’t know how to have with a father unknown and a Native American mother who disappeared before I could walk straight. Rob will truly be sorry to leave this life. I guess I will be sorry too, but I still wake up each day surprised that I get to live at all, when no one wanted me to be in the world in the first place.
Both Rob and I are writers and professors. We have a cozy little home in California. I watch Rob while he sits out on our back deck under low dipping magnolias, writing, mostly in long hand on white legal paper. He’s oblivious to the way I watch him as he moves his hands roughly across the page, or into the air, motioning with the movement of his mouth when he pauses to think about dialogue. Robs hands are like medium sized baseball mitts. They’re pale white. A little pasty without lotion. I’ve witnessed age spots. I’m comforted running my fingers over them. And, he doesn’t use his fingers right. It’s a motor skill issue his mother should have caught in his early years. He doesn’t type with any real precision. He tears bags instead of trying to pry them open gently on the perforated line. Candy wrappers are frustrating, nearly impossible to open.
There’s a lot of stories to tell when you’re seventy. Rob tells stories that take me back through time. I’m elated when he begins telling me about his childhood in Brooklyn, or what it felt like when he first stepped out onto the green of Ebbets field. I find myself wanting to soak Rob in. The kid in me wants to believe that if I hear a story enough times or if I listen to a story hard enough, I can become a part of the life he lived before me. My secret is that I’ve always been afraid of the fact that I wasn’t a part of Rob’s history. That I wasn’t even born yet for most of it, because by the time he’s done telling me something about his youth, his laughter fades. We shuffle around a room uncomfortably. I worry that he wishes to be on the phone with someone his own age. A life raft I’m not invited to hold on to, where one person at a time lets go when you’re seventy.
I tell my Indian orphan stories too. I tell Rob about the abusive life I’ve lived. How I pulled myself out of a shithole trailer park. How I fought off men the best I could. How I’d stolen books from the local library at nine, because I’d never known what it was like to own one. But my stories don’t ring deep enough to be something we cradle against the big picture of our lives, because they’re not his stories, aged and seasoned with louder beats through history and time.
I see our lives together as a story too. Rob's a black mini cooper in the fast lane. He’s Bob Dylan before the motor cycle accident, before Nashville Skyline. Even if we don’t partake much, there’s always plenty of wine and pot at our place. When we go out, he encourages me to order dessert first. He’s dinner at eight, eating life up by the spoonful, but I got the morning paper today before Rob did. I’ve already read ahead of him that an icon of his youth has died. I’ll be there when he realizes what’s happened, but I won’t be able to permeate his rocks and recesses to do any good because I’m not seventy.
I’m this hanger on, to the idea that I might have really been on to something. Picking moments to live, good ones, but never quite feeling a foundation I can actually have that is mine. I’d not been raised to believe in any of that stuff anyway. I tell Rob that when he can no longer take showers, I’ll bath him. I tell him that if he’s ever bed ridden, I’ll climb in bed with him so he won’t be alone. And, the truth is, he could out-live me. His mother made it well into her feisty nineties.
Sometimes I can’t find a place to stand, between my thoughts and actually living. I’ve never had the luxury of gaining my footing in a world that only makes its music heard for the wanted. Sometimes my loneliness is so thick I could shake hands with it. I do know though that it’s been a pleasure to be a lover, a companion, a friend. And, most importantly, a witness. And I don’t know what this will all mean to me someday when I’m seventy, playing it all back, but I threw the newspaper with the newly dead icon in the trash in a hurry, covering the paper with left over salad debris. Not capable of, or maybe even refusing, to claim a perspective.