Letter to My Best Friend in the Eighth Grade

July 12, 2017

Hello, Mary!

Your letter arrived a day ago and I have read it with both a sad kind of recognition of old age we each are living in, and a firm sense of the joy of friendship, which we still enjoy.

I’m reading about Karl and the cords of his oxygen machine winding through the rooms and feeling sympathy for what you both are experiencing. And a new kind of sisterhood with you, Mary. Don and I don’t have tubes stretching through the house, but we do have a device that Don hates, which apparently, if he decides to use it, will allow him to sleep soundly (even though it rattles all night. ) Ear plugs for me.

Unlike you two, we haven’t lost weight, but we do not travel well anymore. Don still drives, but unhappily, and we both inch our ways out of car doors and wonder why we decided to go to where ever we are. I have been in a very bad-walking period in the past few months, lower back pain, dragging heels, and one day I looked at myself as I shuffled my way past a reflecting window and thought, “My god, that’s an old lady.” Don gets dizzy and needs to lean against passing buildings. Sometimes my back hurts so much I want to sit down on the next curb. We hold hands to support each other, not to indicate our close relationship, and we meander along the sidewalk in such a way that people approaching us step aside to get out of our way.

We just had a small argument over whether I should defrost the pork chops in the freezer or whether he should walk down to Safeway and buy new ones since he’s discovered we still have fuel in the barbecue and he’d like to cook at least once this summer.

“They’ll defrost fine,” I reassure him.

“You always move in on what I’m doing,” he answered.

I acknowledged a need to control our meals, remembering on past experience. “And besides, it’s a beautiful day.” We could sit on the terrace, relax while the meat softened.

“No.” He will walk to Safeway.

“You always buy five times what we need, and impulse-buy in every aisle,“ I answered, remembering a recent blackening container of hummus. “You always…”

“You always say that,“ he murmured, going back to his New York Times.

At 82, I’m too old to keep the you always argument going. I remember Mom and Dad using that phrase. I recall the chapter on family counseling in my professional life that warned against it. I wonder if our grave stone will read, “You Always.” I need to do something.

I just did it. “Do whatever, honey. I’ll be happy to eat whatever you bring home.” I smiled. He smiled. We’re at peace, sort of. The sun’s still glowing on the terrace.

I’ll work on the phrasing of my next accusation about the socks left like mating varmints under the bed, discovered this morning by the rug-cleaner who almost sucked them up into his machine.

Living this long with another person is difficult, especially when you have forgotten who, if anyone, is in charge. Tonight, he’s cooking. Tonight, I’m having a glass of white wine. In the end, it all works out, they say.

Mary, call me. Even though we haven’t seen each other in years, we’ve gotten to this place together. We need to talk, like we did when we were thirteen. Jo