I was 67 and waiting for the judge to decree the end of my 35-year marriage. To the world, by which I mean the world of women, it seemed that the intervening decades had made me all but invisible. In my mind, women did not merely walk past me but through me, as if I were a ghost.
I was struggling to reconcile my expectations with my age. Getting lucky, I’d been told, now meant finding companionship — a lukewarm version of what had once been. I should count myself fortunate, I told myself, to find anyone who would have me.
I had chronic this, chronic that, and a chronic lack of confidence. Even in my prime, I’d been hopeless at chatting up women in bars or at parties. And I would sooner die than hit on some divorcée or widow in a supermarket or subway.
Then came that Wednesday last winter when I had three hours to kill before my flight to London and found myself at the counter of Legal Sea Foods in the international terminal of Boston’s Logan Airport. I had ordered a cup of chowder that was hot and creamy, thick with potatoes and clams.
To my right, at the corner of the counter, I sensed the presence of a woman. I stole a glance and nearly fell off my stool. She was luminous in a white turtleneck, her blond hair falling in perfect bangs above her eyes.
“Silly me,” I chided myself. She was nearly young enough to be my daughter. If I looked again, I feared I might not be able to look away.
So I stared into my chowder. The thought of actually speaking to her did not cross my mind. And then she asked me how my chowder was. I was sure her interests were purely in the chowder.
Seven months later, we are living together — Diana and her two daughters — in a Civil War-era house on Main Street in a tiny village in upstate New York. Instead of writing leaden columns on America’s imperiled democracy, I can be found occasionally delivering flowers for her flower shop, driving to remote country hollows, dodging chickens in the driveway and using my body to shield delicate petals from angry winds (recently I got a $15 tip). In a place where pickup trucks abound, I am an alien whose spaceship bears Massachusetts plates.
One of our first evenings out took us to a distant funeral home on a curvy mountain road. We dropped off arrangements for the next morning’s service. There have been an equal number of callings to chapels, churches and special venues where young brides and grooms (some about to deploy) readied themselves for their vows, surrounded by the exquisite arrangements, candles and festoons we had ferried to the occasion.
She and I, fittingly, stand at the junction between betrothed and bereft, beginnings and endings, reference points in a most unlikely of romances. The day she was born I was already a young man living overseas.
Match.com and eHarmony never would have paired us. My grandmother was president of the temple, her grandmother, a devout Mormon. I get queasy on ladders and can barely change a light bulb. She is handy with a drill and comfortable crawling out the window to rake leaves off the roof. I evaded the draft during Vietnam; she is ex-Army, a volunteer, deployed in Somalia, a crack shot. And yet.
Now I am one of some 1,700 souls in the village, living equidistant from the green-and-gazebo and the county fairgrounds.
Early on in our romance, I was slated to sleep on the couch of a neighbor, Jean. That morning, in the local coffee shop, a perfect stranger asked me if I was that out-of-town fellow who was going to be sleeping on Jean’s couch that evening.
“Why?” I asked, stunned and not much amused.
“Well,” he said. “I was hoping for some juicy details.”
“Not likely,” I said.
I barely know anyone here but everyone seems to know me. Strangers ask the most personal questions. They also ask if I like our new rug and when I’m leaving for England. At this point, it seems a little late to ask their names when they already know so much about me.
Not long ago I was sitting at my desk, feeling both enamored and bewildered. I was looking out onto our cranberry-colored barn filled with the belongings of the man I used to be — sober, pensive, self-absorbed — the space brimming with cartons of dusty documents, ancient awards and photographs of a life that had run its course, a curated and backward-looking collection mired in nostalgia. I was readying an epilogue, never guessing a prologue would be in order.
Now, below me, stretch gardens (ravaged by frost and snow, but gardens still), a volleyball net, a zip line, a tire swing and a wintry sky that from our bedroom tracks the stars and swiftly moving clouds. A bright moon hangs above the towering Siberian spruce. (Diana, a horticulturalist, knows the Latin and common names of nearly everything that grows around us and constantly raids it for sprigs and sprays sacrificed to her floral arrangements.)
I fear I may have left something out between the airport chowder and the house on Main Street. It doesn’t help that I too am at a loss to explain just how I got here. I feel like one of those cartoon figures — Wile E. Coyote perhaps — who sees the bridge he’s crossing being erased behind him.
There is no going back, nothing but the thinnest of air behind me. I tell you, honestly, that I was not seeking a younger woman. On a dating website reserved for the mature, I had set the minimum age at 60. I had no wish to be a doddering cliché. I knew the old saw: No fool like an old fool.
I had earnestly (well, not that earnestly) tried to persuade her that the years were not our ally, that today she was 47 and I was 67, that though our birthdays were but one day apart — mine Sept. 14, hers the 15th — the 20 years would only widen over time. What would she do with the 77-year-old I would become? Time in the gym might delay, but not forestall, what was coming. “It’s folly,” I said, all the while mesmerized and hoping my words were having no effect.
Once, very early on, I attempted to draw away, thinking there was no future to this. I needed to show maturity and restraint, so I called off an already-planned visit. It hurt her and afterward I felt like a jerk. Resistance then was futile. There would be no more me telling her how others out there would be a wiser choice.
Besides, I have seen the tricks that time can play. My father, who often mused how he might spend his aging father-in-law’s fortune, died at 50, well before the old man. I had a son die at 21. The actuarial tables were not always to be trusted and, even if the math were to be borne out, I would not trade away a single one of these days. An illusion? Perhaps. But what isn’t in the end?
Diana, for her part, deftly deflects my concerns. Passing a retirement home, I ask if I should make an early reservation. On our way to a party, she suggests we may dance — but only a slow dance. When heavy objects need moving, she brushes me out of the way and puts her own back into it.
I do not object.
No, I will not be coloring my thinning hair, altering my fusty wardrobe (heavy on Harris Tweeds and button-downs), pretending that Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye were not the last word in music, or wearing a watch without an hour, minute and second hand. The sweep of each now bears witness to the passing of time spent with someone I never imagined and now cannot imagine being without.
Ted Gup is writer-in-residence at Durham University in England and the author of several nonfiction books.
Attention College Students
The New York Times is inviting college students nationwide to open their hearts and laptops and write an essay that tells the plain truth about what love and relationships are like for them today. In previous contests, which attracted thousands of entries from students at hundreds of colleges and universities, the winning essays explored ambivalence about hooking up, how technology is changing the ways we find, keep and lose love, how an aversion to labels can impact relationships, and the challenges of navigating one’s gender identity.
The winning essay will be published in a special Modern Love column in early May, and its author will receive $1,000. Finalists’ essays may also be published. The deadline for submissions is March 24, 2019, at 11:59 p.m. EST.
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Published at Fri, 15 Feb 2019 06:48:41 +0000