In the six months that I knew him before his diagnosis, my contact with him was mostly by phone. He flew up to Boston only about four or five times, and we'd get together for a movie or a trip to a museum. I would try to glean something of his inner world, his experiences, his relationship to his family. He'd say, "Nuh-uh-uh, you will never know the book of Gary." He'd follow that with a sarcastic remark about something in the news or make a joke. The specifics I got about, say, a family member would go no further than a "It's my brother's birthday tomorrow. I've got to mail him a book."
I gathered these tiny scraps of information and pasted them together to get only a slightly bigger picture of Gary's unpeopled life. This global traveler also was out of touch with certain aspects of the world, including popular culture and everyday life. I took his frequent calls as his unconscious yearning for connection. But he couldn't connect. During the course of his illness, he told me many more details of his life but I still found that an emptiness underlined every sentence he spoke.
As much as I enjoyed our banter, I did not consider him a dating prospect. One, I did not want yet another long-distance relationship. Two, he was 17 years older than I am. Three, at 54, he had never been married and told me he stopped dating several years ago. I had divorced two years before after an eleven-year marriage. At 37, I was back in the dating pool. "Back" is the wrong term. In college, I didn't even know how to swim in it. I had gone on, oh, maybe three dates. I was on dean's list, but I wasn't some nerd at the library studying all the time. I wasn't a party animal either. I had a circle of close friends, also good students, with whom I'd go to bars, movies, plays, museums, Cape Cod. My friendships with them continue to this day. I am not inclined toward superficial friendships.
As for dating now, I have gone on several dates in the last two years. I do want to remarry but am not on some "my biological clock is ticking" manhunt. Cramming my evenings and weekends with social activity is not for me. But I do keep myself busy, socializing with friends, fixing up my condo, traveling to the Southwest, reading and taking hiking and flat-water kayaking day-trips. Work life is going well, too. I got a master's in science journalism seven years ago to bolster my health writing credentials. I took a fulltime writing and editing job soon after my separation because I need some stability. My coworkers were great bunch. Up until two years ago, I was a freelance health writer.
For the first time in my life, I feel rooted. I love it. Except for holidays, I rarely feel lonely. Having grown up as an only child, I had learned to be on my own without anxiety. T My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, and I rarely saw my father while growing up. When my husband and I separated, I also separated from my mother.
While it sounds like an oxymoron, Gary is a friendly loner who enjoys conversation but would retreat into his Greenwich apartment and keep the world at a distance. That reminded me of how my marriage to a loner was burdensome. We socialized with my friends, who never became his—the person who is now my ex-husband. He would say that he had nothing to talk about with them. I got together regularly with friends, he stayed home at the computer. When we'd go to a family gathering, my ex would either be withdrawn and sullen or join in. Gary knew how to navigate through the superficialities of social protocol and charm people—male or female—with his wit. Like he did when we met him. His friends lived in all corners of the U.S. and the globe, and he kept in touch with the occasional phone call. In the tony town he had lived in for 10 years, he had made no friends. A friend who also was a pilot lived in a neighboring town. Gary saw John and his family once in awhile.
By September, three months after we had met, Gary was depressed. He'd call from the womb of his bed. I pictured him curled up in a fetal position. He slept all day. He had stopped paying attention to the stock market. "I can't follow the sentences in the latest issue of Scientific American." "My new computer is worthless. I can't make it work. I've gone back to my old one." I tried walking him through some of the programs by phone. He comprehended almost nothing I said about Windows. I heard a crash that sounded like the computer had fallen.
"Jesus fucking Christ!" he yelled into the phone.
"Gary? Gary? Are you OK? What was that noise?"
Silence. More silence.
"Listen, I can't talk right now." He hung up.
This episode reinforced my decision not to get tangled up with this man. I did not wish to go beyond friendship. And the void he carried along with other elements of his lifestyle told me that he was incapable of having a relationship. I learned the signs from past relationships. My ex-husband was depressed and suicidal and had a quick temper. A boyfriend who suddenly stopped calling me a few months before I had met Gary was mildly depressed and had a bit of a temper. His sister later told me that he feared commitment. I am no believer in astrology. I can do without predictions and all-knowing descriptions of who I was and what I would become. Despite my opinion about astrology, I wondered whether the fact that Gary's and my ex-husband's birthday are on the same day and the ex-boyfriend's three days before theirs had anything to do with their similar personalities. Nah. Coincidence, really. I reminded myself was that I had no room for depressed men in my life