All My Friends But One Have Died

It’s something one is unlikely to think about until one is very old. The people and pets that have occupied your life begin to die off. Several pets pass during our lives because their life span is about 15 to 25 years. Cats, dogs, horses, fish and birds live a full life in fewer years than do us primates. I admit that I enjoy being older than most people, and I love the phrase I stole from Gloria Steinem: “Most people my age are dead.”

I suppose my condition will decline before I pass away, but for now, on the cusp of 80, I’m okay. I walk, I drive, I played with my Doberman until last week, when she died of old age, at twelve. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones who inherited good genes. It’s true that I take 16 pills a day, but in my defence, I never felt the need. Each medication came into my routine when doctors had me tested during annual examinations. One of Canada’s true blessings is the health care system. They apparently realize it will cost a lot less to strengthen the age-weakened than to let them fall apart and then have expensive care to keep them going.

So Joey died first, leaving a troubled wife with three young children. He was extremely, morbidly obese, and it killed him. I believe his food addiction was because he was only about 5 feet 4 inches tall, and might have led him to take on size in the wrong direction. We’d sometimes meet for lunch in a favourite deli. My bill would come to six or seven dollars – his bill would be about ten or twelve dollars. He once told me that when he had business lunch appointments, he’d go early, eat first, then eat again when the associates arrived. That’s not all. After the lunch meetings broke up, he’d stay and eat again, alone. He was a witty, humorous friend, and I did my best to get him to control his diet, but it was impossible, and he died at 44.

Mitch died next, at seventy. He had lived a tough guy life, had been convicted and jailed when a young man, for robbery and again for marijuana marketing. He was a wonderful, colourful guy whom I completely trusted. He had much higher moral standards than do many police personnel. His wife had died from cancer decades before. One of his sons turned out to be gay, and voluntarily disappeared from Mitch’s life. Very sad. His other son, however, is a fine, handsome man, married with children that thankfully Mitch got to know before he died. The son is a successful television writer and producer.

Dave died most recently. He was never quite right, emotionally. Although very intelligent, remarkably articulate and good-looking, he could never have a typical relationship with a girl. He liked girls, and they certainly liked him, but somehow, he couldn’t ‘feel’ the mutual emotion. Frankly, he enjoyed prostitutes, and felt friendly toward them. Obviously, they represented sex without emotional stress. He declined as he aged, as I heard when I lived in a distant city. He spent 10 years like a vegetable on his aged mother’s sofa. He had been a late life child. His two older brothers and one older sister didn’t sympathize with him, which is something I never understood.

The oldest brother took over the family business, a successful retail store in a priceless location. Jack Nicholson once shopped there for things to wear in “The Last Detail.” The eldest was really just golfing while letting the business die.

The second brother was a successful pharmacist with a thriving store. Both brothers were, bright, humorous storytellers, as was Dave. The sister was just cold. She had married a foreign hustler, lived with him in Rome, in luxurious accommodations while driving around the ancient city in a Lincoln Continental convertible. The hustler husband eventually got nailed and was jailed. His wife, the sister, came back to Canada and existed as an obese welfare recipient.

I had a hobby farm in the mountains when in my sixties. I kept horses there. Dave had always been a riding fan, and had even owned a horse and beautiful tack, saddle and all. I heard he was living on his mother’s sofa, so I got in touch with him and brought him out to the farm. I gave him simple chores in horse care, in which he’d been educated, and set out to restore him to normalcy. I kept him there for six years, paid him, housed him, got him his drivers’ license back, paid income taxes to gain him pensions.

Dave declined even at the farm, doing the work he dreamed of. Finally, I gave up and took him back to his oldest brother. I drove away and have no idea what happened after that. Somebody sent me an obituary on Dave. I’d never seen one like it. There was a big photo of him, smiling, in a suit jacket and shirt and tie. I’d never seen Dave dressed like that in thirty years. I’m baffled by where the photo came from, and why. Why was he dressed like that, and why had an emotionally challenged failure gained this final notoriety? I’ll never know, and I’ll always regret that I was unable to re-light his life.

My dearest friend is still very much alive. We live about 350 miles apart, and speak on the phone two or three times a day, sometimes for more than an hour. He’s 8 years younger than I am, at 72, and we share a tenuous connection that stretches back fifty years. He and I are the survivors. I will likely go before he does. Although my mother lived to 94, his grandfather lived to 109. He’s also very active. He plays tennis almost daily, and in winter, is a successful competitive snowboarder.

I’m much more sedate. In our day, we were both amateur race car drivers, and I’ve done a lot of wilderness camping. I even lived in a wilderness cabin for four years, lacking telephone lines, cell towers or Internet. It’s a pleasurable, all day job just to survive out there. Now, in my home in this small farm village, I just draw pictures, sculpt clay, paint canvas, and most of all, write stuff like this to relax.

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