At almost exactly the moment I was emailing Wendy that last update recounting my thoughts and feelings about the recent deaths in our extended family, Gary’s older brother Lenny, aged 67, was dying.
We aren’t even sure, right now, of what, though I surmise it was his heart. He brought his mother, Diane, some soup and left the room to take a nap. Shortly thereafter, when she went to find him, he was already gone.
Lenny and Gary have never been close, so this was not the emotional blow it might have been in another family. Lenny was always a sad case, for reasons I can only surmise. He may or may not have been smart; he didn’t share enough or do enough for us to know. He’s someone who never really succeeded at anything: not work, marriage, parenting or friendship. His insecurities kept him well defended and almost pathologically secretive. So, suspecting there wasn’t much there to know, we didn’t try very hard.
Which is not to say he was a bad person. To the contrary – I never heard him say a nasty thing about anyone. He was devoted to his mother, spoke with her every morning, though he remained tone-deaf to her advice. He ignored all her instructions on how to make his life work and how to rekindle the ashes of the anemic Consulting- Engineer career he’d years ago managed to engineer himself right out out of.
Two years ago when he sold his Connecticut house two years ago, he officially retired from his last retirement – an event that took place, some 20 years ago. He then relocated to Florida, moved in with Diane, while ostensibly “looking for the right deal or a hot business opportunity.” Diane was convinced that at long last she’d be able to whip him into shape. He’d soon be shuffling off to a corner office high above Miami and taking martini lunches with the city’s “big players,” those potential partners she’d lined up for him to make deals with.
The arrangement didn’t quite work as planned, but it did, in fact, serve everyone well and this past year and a half, we actually found a real – if entirely selfish --reason to appreciate him. Maybe Lenny had his meetings with the big fish and failed, characteristically, to bite at the apartment building or strip-shopping center projects they dangled before him. Or he may have stalled or wriggled out of the meetings entirely, but, in the meanwhile, Diane’s always prodigious physical stamina began to fail her, while, at the same time, her back and knees were increasingly debilitated by arthritis.
Lenny slipped into the role of chauffer and companion, making sure she got to the spa, to the movies and concerts and plays and lectures and card games and parties that are the lifelines of this woman who is passionately attached to friends, making people laugh and enjoying life. Here was a task he was up for and could succeed at.
He squired her to restaurants, brought her plates of food at parties and replenished her drinks. He also became the willing swain of all the “girls” in the building. He was truly useful, not only to Diane but to a whole gaggle of appreciative biddies. He was, you see, for them the handsome, young bachelor. Finally, he’d gotten one last chance at a real calling and he didn’t blow it. We are sure he died a happier man than if he’d remained in Connecticut or become a pinky-ringed Miami landlord.
He leaves a big hole in many lives -- surprise, surprise, including ours.
Meanwhile, this death even closer to home highlighted further my ongoing worries about Gary. I wish I could say my husband’s instant reaction was, “I’ve got to mend my ways.” It surely was mine -- and our son-in-law Tony’s, who said, “I guess there’ll be a lot more Chicken Caesar Salads in Gary’s future.”
Quite the contrary. Gary’s response was, again, “When your time’s up, it’s up.” Gary, who doesn’t subscribe to the healthy-diet-and-modicum-of-exercise point of view has another theory, which is utterly true for him: “The people who live the longest are those who have joy in their lives,” he insists. “Optimists, people who are fulfilled, who are satisfied with how they’ve lived their lives, who don’t worry all night about every dire possibility they can dream up and who don’t sound off over every bad thing that happens to them.”
I do agree with him, having myself long believed in the yet-unproven though now increasingly accepted mind/body connection. So who am I to say that personal contentment and self-acceptance can’t prolong life?
In that event, Gary – who is proud to consider himself the laziest person alive (“If someone else says she can do the job, just let her!) should live forever.
Still I can’t help frowning on a decision that lifting a Snickers bar, a scoop of Cherry Garcia or a hamburger (obviously, the heftier the better) to his mouth is enough daily exercise. Just like things go better with Coke, a Chicken Caesar Salad a day may keep the undertaker away – or at least at bay.
The two approaches are hardly incompatible, I point out. “Enjoy life, be positive, just eat better.”
“Yeah, right, and whether or not it prolongs your life, it’ll certainly feel longer,” is his response.
To Gary it remains mere unproven conjecture that high-fat diets and lack of exercise are what’s contributing to heart disease. “I could just as easily theorize hanging by my thumbs can prolong my life,” he maintains.
I knew he’d never embrace this hypothesis -- hanging from his thumbs would surely interfere with his chosen exercise program. Instead he’s propounding a causal relationship that really appeals to him: namely, staying out of the Stale Sperm Club prolongs life and if I want to take a more pro-active active role in lengthening his life, I can do my part to keep him out of it. In this Strutin-alone interpretation of the heart-disease statistics, men who keep to a regimen of sex every two or three days live a great deal longer than once-a-weekers, or that most truly sex-deprived of categories: Jewish husbands. (Q: Know how to stop a Jewish woman from having sex? A: Marry her.)
All jokes aside, for at least a moment or two, I must report that for whatever reason, over the past three days, Gary has been hamburger-free. Nor have I come upon him hanging from his thumbs.
That means, I think, that my ass is -- literally – on the line…
Moreover, being that I have always been suspicious of napping (Energizer Bunnies don’t slow down long enough to nap, Gary points out.) and now that I’ve learned they can be lethal and, further, since he’s concocted this SSC theory, I have even less excuse for escaping these new wifely duties with convenient siestas.
So, all I’ve got left to fall back on are headaches. Or Gary.