In the email Barbara sent me that altered the course of my life (see I’M 80, I GUESS I’M NOT SO OLD–PART I), she said, in part: “I know there is always a risk in writing one’s thoughts to another because they may be perceived differently than intended. I hope you know me well enough by now that you will know what I’m trying to say. The bottom line is that I fell in love with you when we were in our early teens and I have never stopped loving you. Love for another person involves caring, interest, trust, humor, patience; sincere friendship. It is not all about lust and sex, although at certain times during our long lives those characteristics are very strong and driving forces. I am quite sure we have moved on past that stage, but that is not to say the pilot light is totally extinguished.”
I read her email several times, poured myself a Jack Daniels on the rocks (in the middle of the day, not my normal drinking hour), polished it off, then went for a long walk.
After that, I sat down to respond to her email. I wrote, in part: “I’m humbled and buoyed by your expression of love. Most men my age and in my situation probably never receive a gift of that caliber. Although, I must admit, I’m a little terrified, too. Terrified that I won’t be able to live up to whatever image of me you’ve created. Like everyone else, I have my faults and shortcomings. On the other hand, I have no doubt, given your intelligence and insights, you already know that. So where do we go from here? I don’t know. But I think, as you said, we just let things play out. I don’t have any preconceived notions about what comes next . . . although I have thought about it.”
What came next was an increasing frequency of emails and lengthy phone conversations. I had committed earlier to visiting Barbara in Kennewick in September on my way to Portland to visit my brother. But as our attraction to each other became more intense, she finally told me, “I can’t wait until September. You need to get out here sooner.”
Which is how I ended up on the Delta flight to Pasco. And, yes, I’d fallen in love with Barbara by then. How strange that is, I often thought, falling in love with a woman you hadn’t seen in over half a century, hadn’t held in sixty-seven years. I guess what it says is that love is so much more than sex or lust. I’d fallen in love with Barbara, the woman, not her physical attractiveness. After all, how much of that can there be at eighty?
Plenty, as it turns out.
She’d sent me a memoir of her life she’d written for her children and grandchildren, so I knew from photographs included in that book that in her in her prime she’d been a beautiful woman. (How on earth had I missed that in high school?) She’d done some fashion modeling in the Bay area, and had once caught the eye of Joe DiMaggio—yes, that Joe DiMaggio—and gone on a dinner date with him. But that’s another story.
Contemporary pictures she shared with me showed she’s taken care of herself. So I wasn’t concerned I was going to meet a pig-in-a-poke when I stepped off the airplane at the Tri-Cities airport.
With only minimal apprehension, I deplaned and I spotted a woman in tight jeans and a pale yellow blouse. We embraced. And I felt—we felt—totally at ease with each other. Once we got out of the terminal and could remove our COVID masks, we kissed.
But how well would we tolerate one another for an entire week? Let me put it this way. Our next reunion is already planned. It will be for longer than a week. Barbara is not an eighty-year-old. Nor, for that matter, is she fifty. Both of us are well beyond than milestone. But I’ll bet I could pass her off as a healthy woman who’d only recently become eligible for Medicare.
All that aside, we’re in love. Deeply. There is no question about that. But we truly don’t know what happens next. We are separated by a continent and by deep roots and responsibilities in our respective communities. She has lived in Kennewick longer than I’ve lived in the Atlanta area, well over thirty years. Her children and grandchildren live in Washington state. She’s got friendships there that date back over a half century.
I’ve got a special needs grandson and a stepdaughter in Atlanta, not to mention a sprawling network of good writer friends and old Weather Channel buddies. For either Barbara or me to pull up roots and leave where we now live would be traumatic . . . and frankly, just not practical.
So maybe, as long as our health and finances allow, we become frequent flyers and long-distance lovers. At our ages (chronological ages), we realize time is not in our favor. But we have each other and have agreed to press on and “just let it happen.”
You can’t out-finagle life. But I must say, life has delivered some amazing rewards to both Barbara and me over the past several months.
I consider myself an exceptionally lucky and very blessed man. I think of Barbara as my angel, one who flew me out of “old man purgatory.”