As my former research lab buddy Norman Lear wrote earlier this summer when he celebrated his 100th birthday, “Well, I made it”. I’m nowhere near Mr. Lear’s age today, but I’m closer than I was 24 hours ago.
Just to reassure you, I share the sentiment of the second line of his op-ed: “I wake up every morning grateful to be alive.” Considering where I was on Christmas 2019, the alternative, particularly in the physical shape I’m now in, is indeed a beautiful alternative. I’m at a lower weight now than when I was 10 years old, which I assure you wasn’t recently.
I’m certain a good deal of my social media contacts will be reaching out in the next several hours, offering thumbs up, comments on my timeline, many happy returns of the day, perhaps a bit more depth. Some will even privately text me–a couple from around the world that are already well into their day already have as I write this. Again, compared to the alternative, I am indeed appreciative.
My issue is that the alternative has defined way too many of the other 364 days of the year, particularly since the pandemic began. I spent way too much of the last trip around the sun eating alone, working from home alone, walking alone, working out alone, opening e-mails that “we’re not moving forward with your application” alone, going to ballgames, movies, concerts and comedy shows alone, traveling alone, going to conventions and meet-ups alone, even getting threatening phone calls and text messages alone.
I spend an overwhelming amount of time calling, text messaging, e-mailing, WhatsApping, Telegraming, voice-texting and even writing public comments on YouTube sites trying to connect with people I have known, I have just met, or people I wish to meet. I send out humbly worded requests for information that can help me actually earn a buck or two. I do my best to appear controlled, composed and mature.
But virtually NO ONE SEEMS TO HAVE THE TIME TO SIMPLY RETURN THEM. People can’t be THAT busy with their own complicated lives, families and precautions to be incapable of even a simple acknowledgment WITHIN A YEAR, can they?
Well, in my case, apparently, that’s the case. And I’M the selfish one.
With the world in physical lockdown, I had virtually no actual contact with anybody at all during the earliest days of the pandemic, save for That Person. Every possible alibi and excuse of personal safety concern was thrown in my face by my longtime friends. It was indeed a challenging time, but somehow I was reminded every day when I would walk alone, and worse still when I’d see That Person have friends and sometimes even lovers over to visit, that unlike my world despite all the insane fear and consternation people still found a way to physically and emotionally connect, and yep often a lot closer than six feet.
People continue to throw up their arms in despair about why I still waste so much emotion on That Person. For me, the isolation that my world was now crushingly and consistently inflicting on me was an exaggerated continuation of the isolated life I lead with my spouse, and indeed had started as an obese and bullied child. The fact that it took a virus for the rest of the world to catch up with me was tragically ironic. So when That Person, in what I am certain was a complete afterthought, gave me a painted rock with the Mets logo on it on my birthday two years ago, insignificant as it was, it was the ONLY tangible gift I got from ANYONE that year–and, frankly, one of the few I’ve gotten in decades. Usually, I was the one buying gifts. Meals are nice, but an occasional present opening is a joy that I somehow have always been on the outside looking in on–or at least that’s how I now remember it, since it’s been so damn long.
That Person won’t even acknowledge their impact on my life, and probably wishes they never were that nice to me in the first place. That Person may even wish I had not made it to this birthday–I KNOW my spouse was rooting in that direction.
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint both of them. That rock is a daily reminder of what is possible, and with the Mets doing so well it’s a further reinforcement that waking up is a far better decision that the one I frequently ideate about after yet another day of loneliness. So, dammit, That Person, you’re never going to escape the gratitude I will forever have for you. Because no matter how much heartbreak, frustration and trauma you and some of your friends inflicted upon me, were it not for you I would have not met a Far Better Person.
Far Better Person is simply the most incredible human being I’ve ever known. I met FBP for the first time a day after my birthday last year. We met close to where they lived, but understandably not at their home. We shared massages and an incredible night of food and clubbing. FBP had their car break down and two of their pets disappeared during our time together. Understandably, there’s a bittersweetness for FBP about that first meeting.
But FBP has been in my corner steadfastly, often the only actual person who calls or texts me during the day. Look at my I Phone over a 24-hour span. Spam Risk is the most frequent caller. Fake business accounts the most frequent texters. Other than FBP, many days are simply without any sort of connection at all.
Sure, I help out FBP when needed. FBP has some challenges of their own. But considering what they sacrifice for me, it’s a small price to pay. If I can help in any way to the extent FBP helps me, it’s not a foolish investment. Not at all.
We had discussed celebrating this year with a blowout weekend in Las Vegas, where I could meet some of her longtime friends and business colleagues. We discussed flying in the mutual friend who first connected us, that friend a bit closer to That Person than Far Better Person is these days. When the reality of timing and cost set in, it grudgingly fell apart.
And, frankly, FBP is still a bit hesitant to travel. On a follow-up visit one of their pets actually did pass away shortly afterwards. It seems I was a signpost of bad things. So, over my protests, FBP politely asked that I simply come to visit, and this time I can actually stay over. The pets have come to tolerate me after a few visits.
As you may know, Las Vegas has been inundated with floods lately. Last night another round flooded the very casino of the hotel we were going to stay in, the home to the convention. Who knows if the show will even go on?
Not only are FBP and her pets incredibly lovely, they are all remarkably precient. It’s a lot drier where they are.
So I’m getting on a plane yet again, and will hopefully be seeing FBP in person before my birthday ends. Their presence is far and away the best present I can think of.
And, to be sure, before I take off BFF will be treating me to a healthy meal. Sometimes, progress can be made even amidst a pandemic. So thank you, thank you.
My wish beyond today is that somehow anyone who actually reads this realizes that regardless of how difficult it is to conceive just please, please, PLEASE think of the feeling of This Person, isolated and lonely sometimes to the point of nonstop tears. The rock was the beginning–it can’t be the end. FBP is a wonderful reminder there is so much more. But it’s unfair to pin an entire social life on one person’s fragile shoulders.
Please call me back. Please return my e-mails. Please make plans to reconnect in person–I have four vaccines, and even the CDC is giving up their draconian recommendations for distancing. The world needs to get back to normal. It absolutely has to. And I really, REALLY, REALLY need work and connection. If for no other reason that I can be a far better friend to Far Better Person than I have been.
I’m willing to suspend my dour attitude long enough to believe in this sort of imagery. It’s a new year, and I have some shred of faith.
But it’s fleeting.
I’m gonna take a couple of days to spend some quality time with FBP and their world. I’ll probably still find some time to make a few observations, but don’t count on a daily dose. Heck, half of my podcast hosts are taking next week off, so I”m hardly alone in getting in a late summer sojourn.
Do think about what I’ve written. Yes, I do this for my health, but I also do it to find yet another way to reach people.
I’ve made my requests. The world is going to be normal again whether you want it be or not. I really, REALLY hope I can share a picture with you like this really soon.
May your birthday have the joy mine will today. Thanks, FBP and BFF. Thanks to those of you who will and do listen. And, screw it, thanks to you too, That Person. Wherever you are.
Until next time…