Last week, as I was walking to the gym, I greeted one of my old-timey jovial neighbors. Her stone-faced boyfriend was standing nearby. Without warning, she hurriedly came up to me, pinched my arm, and whispered “It’s all politics.” What a cryptic left-field comment from someone who I had always thought was apolitical: ramble on about her vegetable garden, yes; relate mundane tidbits about her recently married daughter, sure; but refer to politics, never.
Since then, I have said hello to her in passing. And occasionally we would lament the fact that so many apparently vigorous elderly men who once lived on our street have died within recent years, including her husband. For some reason, I have not asked her to elaborate on her puzzling out-of character remark to me that she didn’t want her boyfriend to overhear. She evidently doesn’t feel that it is necessary to revisit that moment, and I’m happy to accommodate her. I think I’ll defer to the mantra of my youngest granddaughter: It’s a mystery, she would gravely intone, a mystery that doesn’t need to be solved, just relished.
Last week, I had an eerie encounter with a fairly young neighbor who a year ago had lost his super physically fit wife to a brain aneurysm. Every other time when I had seen him since then, he had frankly revealed how despondent he was since his wife’s sudden death at the gym. Getting through the day was pointless. Life was heartless and bleak. He sobbed a lot. I felt tremendous empathy for him, and we frequently hugged.
Last week, however, he was much more upbeat. His daughter had just found out that she was pregnant, and he was gearing up to visit her soon. Perhaps he had turned the corner of his embittered grief.
But when I saw him later that day in the empty gym locker room, he looked wasted and forlorn. I asked him what was wrong. Instead of confiding in me as he usually did, he secretively murmured that he would talk to me at another time. He knew that I was leaving in a couple of weeks for Hawaii, so I figured he’d want to contact me soon. Instead of making arrangements, he just vacantly stared at me. I asked him to give me his cell number so we could have our tete a tete. He blurted out “no, no” and then shuffled away. I was stupefied. His behavior was unnerving, even surreal.
I want to see my friend again, to find out why he so intently wanted to get together with me; but for over a week, his car hasn’t been in the carport as it normally is, and his driveway is unusually cluttered with fallen branches. His newly acquired zombie-like demeanor and his contradictory attitude towards me comprise one mystery that I hope to untangle before the end of the month: my apologies to my granddaughter.