I’m currently re-reading Sedaris’s Naked — remember him? I lent you Me Talk Pretty One Day first and then mailed you all the rest — and he’s currently discussing hitchhiking, and how his dad wouldn’t pick up anyone who wasn’t young.
Last year, when I was living at home, there were several mornings when I was running late for work, driving out our street, and an elderly man, younger than you, smiled broadly and tried to wave me down for a ride. I ignored him each time — probably about 4. I am an asshole! I still regret that crap.
My excuse to myself was that I was already late for work, and what if he wanted a ride somewhere random? I was in enough trouble already. But let’s be honest, here; an 80-something man, at that intersection? He probably wanted to go to Safeway or BART or something. Naw, I’m just a dick.
(Parenthetical note one: one of my New Year’s resolutions is to try to avoid gendered insults, and if you were alive and this were actually a discussion I probably wouldn’t have said “dick” anyway, but hey, at least I can hold my own in a galley, right?)
In general, I deal with the elderly a lot less well than I used to. A few years ago, when my friends would say, “Aww, that old person’s so cute,” or, conversely, “Ugh, I can’t stand old people, they gross me out,” I’d kinda understand both sides, but not really feel that way. After all, how could I stereotype “old people” like that, when my oldest friend and the person I loved most was definitely in that 99th age percentile? (Maybe you weren’t, but I think you were damn close. But we know Parkses don’t take nothin’ but that high-scorin’ shit.) Old people were just people like my dad, but younger.
Now that you’re gone I can’t face the elderly at all. I see them at church, when I go. At work, we have a proctor who just turned 80(?) — I think one time I saw him at Costco and he recognized me and I didn’t immediately recognize him, so I didn’t say hi, and I feel guilty still, of course. Nevermind the fact that I’ve seen him numerous times since then and been perfectly nice. Anyway, I digress.
I now have a hard time with old people. I don’t know how to describe it — it’s not like I’m mean, or shun church to avoid them, or look down on them, or view them, at least in theory, any less well than I view other age groups. (They definitely still beat out babies — those things make too much damn noise.) Nor do they frighten me by reminding me of my own mortality; growing up with you has made me quite cognizant of that reality all of my life.
But now, every time I see an old person, especially one who has that distinct look of being not-well-enough-cared-for, I want to cry. Every time I hear some asshole whine about social security, or about the elderly, or about rights they want to take away, I want to punch them in the face. I thank God (by the way, does He exist? I guess you’d know now if he does?) that you turned out lucky enough, in the end, to have people who loved you and were good enough to not let you fall through the cracks. I like to think that that’s how everyone is — that that’s the bare minimum of human decency — but judging from the neglected elderly we see every day, either people have prematurely lost a shitload of children, or the world’s full of assholes.
The thing that makes me the saddest about seeing old people is that it makes me miss you consciously instead of trying to keep you in the back of my mind. About once a month I’ll see someone who looks like you and just about start crying. You obviously led a long, and hopefully happy-ish, at least for the last couple of decades, life, but I miss you anyway.
My boyfriend is named Nick, and I first started seeing him the last weekend that I saw you. My regret at not just having sucked it up and asked him to come meet you, and to tell you about him, of course bugs me still, and will until I die, or until we break up, but that’s a guilt trip for another day. In the theme of this letter, though, is the fact that his dad actually reminds me of you in a couple of ways. Of course, he’s a brain, and is a neuroscience professor. The first time I was alone with him I asked him what his research was and his answer was full of words I didn’t understand and ideas that I could just barely grasp on to — just like when you tried to teach me about density and flotation for the first time! He also does that thing you did, where he’ll cross one leg over the other and support himself by pulling his knee in towards himself, often when he’s discussing something that interests him. Anyway, I just think it’s funny he does those things like you did, and maybe you’ll find it interesting.
The older I’ve gotten, the shorter my paragraphs have become. When I used to help you edit your letters and stories, I found your short paragraphs choppy, but I’m starting to understand that they’re just easier and clearer sometimes, especially when you have a whole lot of information to sort through. I wonder where Mom put that book you were working on. I don’t want it to get lost, like so many other of your creations and possessions seem to.
I miss you so much, every day, but I am trying to be a woman you’d be proud of. Who am I kidding? You think the sun shines out my ass. I know you’re pretty proud of almost everything I do. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try hard anyway.