Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Worst Part About Getting Old

After the, um, you know. The thing. Not working. That.

The worst part about getting old is that things change in ways that you wish they hadn't. Two things have reinforced this for me recently, both of which will demonstrate my point.

First was a trip out to my alma mater, University of Portland. I've been out there on and off since I graduated, both with my bachelor's in 1986 and my masters in 1997, so that really isn't that different. Even when I went back for my masters it was clear that I was not 20 years old anymore. So I was a bit surprised when I was there a couple of days ago to help with auditions for a choir I sing with that it occurred to me that I really *couldn't* go home again. The place is still largely the same, with the improvments you'd expect and hope for, but more than 25 years after I first set foot on campus I got a sense of what people my age have been realizing for eons - my youth is gone and all of the perceived freedom and potential with it.

Second was seeing an old friend going to his mailbox as I was driving. I guess that shouldn't be a terribly odd thing to experience, but the strange thing is that I've watched this person (we'll call him Leo, not his name or the name of anyone I know) *change* over the years since we were undergrads together, then co-workers. We did all sorts of spur-of-the-moment things in college, like driving to Astoria on the Oregon Coast in the dead of night to his parents house because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

After graduation, all of Leo's good qualities started to fade and his bad ones took over. I remember at one point he was complaining about his job at a major chip manufacturer in the area, and I asked him if he didn't have enough in his stock portfolio to simply quit and live off of that for a few years, and he replied that he liked yelling at his reports too much. Really. On another occasion, he took great pleasure in repeatedly frightening one of my dogs at a group function, an act that freaked out the group of college friends that were there.

I guess he had a lot of things going on under the hood, because he left his wife a few years ago, and he's never contacted me since. To be fair, I wasn't really interested in contacting him either, even to let him know about my biological daughter's return to my life. At this point I think of him as a failed person, someone who was looking for how to sleep well at night and who just couldn't seem to figure out the right path to get there. We've stayed friends with his wife (they have yet to divorce, even though they've been separated longer than they were married. I won't go into the particulars of how they met and married, but it's a story all on it's own), so I guess my views are colored a bit by her (generous) accounting of events, but since Leo doesn't seem to want to present his case to me I guess I have to take hers as what happened.

A common friend who feels more or less as I do told me that Leo was living in this particular part of town, not far from where my wife works, and when I drove out there today to drop something off for her I thought I'd see if I couldn't find the house with six Saabs and two International Scouts in the driveway (Leo always had car parts under his bed, rumor was enough to make an entire Camaro). I didn't see the cars, but I did see Leo. I considered stopping and saying hello for about five seconds, then decided that that was about as much contact as I really needed and everything else would just end up with both of us being uncomfortable. I know that he frequents a couple of restaurants in our area, so I suppose we'll run into each other at some point, but for now I've decided just to let things take their own course.

So institutions change and sometimes they change for the better but you get left behind. People change, and turn to what those of us who knew Leo 25 years ago call the Dark Side, but what happened was that he just got mean. That may be the saddest part of life, is seeing those people who you once cared about floundering, and knowing that it will take calamity for them to understand what is important - those whom you call friends and family, but in the end, what people will say about you when you are gone. Sometimes, being gone doesn't involve dying, and that's where Leo went. He's right there, and yet he's gone.

I am going to be the crankiest old man ever.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Dude, buy a Mustang convertible. It helps.

(OK, it doesn't. But it's still fun to drive.)