I see him at least six days a week. He walks into the door and makes a pit stop by my table for two minutes of small talk. He thinks I’m a hard worker because that’s what it appears I’m doing whenever he comes in, but most of the time I’m staring at the screen thinking about what mediocre baked good snack I’m going to buy when I get hungry.
He gets the exact same thing every time. A cup of coffee and lemon pound cake. Sometimes twice a day. One time I joked that I just got the last piece of lemon pound cake and added how delicious it was. You should have seen the look on his face—it’s like his heart stopped! I never joked about that again.
His legs are thin like my wrist, but he never uses a cane. He walks slowly, his arms halfway outstretched to maintain his balance. Those steep curbs get him. He needs to hold on to someone’s forearm to lift his foot six inches off the ground. I told him I see men much younger than him using canes, and he smiled and said he doesn’t need one. Once you hold a cane, you hold it until you die.
He still drives, he brags, and I’ve seen him drive. With my teeth clenched I could barely watch him reverse out of a parking space and almost jump over the curb. It’s a miracle his car doesn’t have a scratch. Next week he’s going to Florida for a little vacation on his own. He will travel alone because he is alone. I told him that’s the only way to travel.
I looked him in the eyes one day and said, “When I become old I hope I become you.” And I meant it. And he laughed. I hope to be his age and independent, to be spared the brutal effects of aging that appear more cruel than death itself. To have every system of your body shut down unmercifully, to decompose before your last breath. I fear aging more than death, for in death there is no mirror to see how wholly unhuman I have become. I can only wait and see what nature has in store for me, but I hope that when my time is up, and I have lived my life to the best of my being and I’m nothing but an mere container, that I look at death right in the eyes, and beg it to take me. And it does.
My friend was born in 1917. He still has a long way to go.