Biff America: Walking alone |

Biff America: Walking alone

Admittedly, I have an overactive imagination. Parents, teachers and old girlfriends sometimes mistakenly called it lying.

When one of your senses is diminished, some others can step up and fill the void. For instance, as my facial recognition skills lessen, I seem to have cultivated a gift of being able to recognize someone, not by their face, but rather by their posture. The guy walking down the recpath looked familiar but something was off. 

As our small town has grown over the years, those of us who have been around for a while have accumulated an inventory of names, faces and histories that is often more than our brains can contain. Someone can come up to me in the post office to say hello. I know that I know them, but I can’t recall where, how, if we once dated, or their name. They will then walk away, and it will come back to me in a flash. I seem to have a photographic memory for butts.

The guy I came upon from behind carried himself a lot like my friend Dan, but he was listing seriously to one side. It almost appeared one leg was shorter than the other. I was riding my bike into town, so someone else would have a place to park. Due the narrowing of the streets from snow buildup, when no pedestrians are present, I sometimes ride on the sidewalks on busy streets. 

Assuming I was approaching a stranger, I went back on the  road. As I passed, I heard my name called. It was Dan. He had a new way of walking.

I stopped and we talked. There was no need to mention his posture because the cause dawned on me.

One of Dan’s legs was not shorter. He was missing two of them.

For the many years, I’ve seen him walking on that very same street always accompanied by Barb his wife of three decades, who had recently passed. Barb gave Dan ballast.

Some guy said, “I would be less concerned about aging if I didn’t know that it leads to death.”

As I write this, my bride and I look out the window and see the countless cars parked around the hood attending the Irish Wake. Another much-loved couple was fractured by circumstance. Shawn and Jen were partners, parents and soulmates. They were generous with their time, love and efforts towards the community, friends, family and each other. After decades of careers, parenting and public service, they had reached a place in time when they could finally bask in their love and free time. Both were relatively young and healthy. Shawn died suddenly a few weeks ago.    

Ellie and I sat in front of the window watching many we know approach the home. We both felt a mix of grief, fear and frustration — grief for Jen and family, fear from being reminded that, “until death do us part” is literal, and frustration that our recent COVID-19 tests required we stay away.

If you live long enough, you will lose friends and family. My dad used to go through the obituaries and cross names out of the phone book. Every time I would go home to visit, there would be more names with a line through them. I am just the opposite. I see the names and numbers of those who passed in my cell phone contacts, and it both reminds me of them and suggests that a speck of them are still with me. Though, I would freak out if their name came up on caller ID.

My dad was very philosophical towards the names he was crossing off and the obit he was reading until one obituary carried the name of his wife of 60 years.

“If we were vampires and life was a joke, we’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke and laugh about all the lovers and their plans. I would not feel the need to hold your hand. Maybe time running out is a gift. I’ll work hard till the end of my shift and give you every second I can find and hoping it isn’t me who’s left behind,”  —”If we were vampires” by Jason Isabel.

For those of us with partners, spouses and soul mates, as we age, the certainty of one being left behind is inevitable and terrifying. “Grief is the price we pay for love.” But no one I know would have it otherwise.

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