If you would like to catch up you can find the first installment here.
When I sat down in the makeshift circle of lawn chairs at the BBQ the first person I recognized was Mark’s sister Susan. I saw her with her dog Brady (who I knew from FB) and we exchanged pleasantries. I haven’t seen her in over 30 years. I used to have the hot patooties for her. She looked great. Next, I saw Mark’s mother and father. They are really nice people. They needed a refresher on who I was, I haven’t seen them in forever. I watched a million football games at their house but I’m not sure they knew about it. After some small talk, Scott and I settled in to catch up over a cold beer.
We talked about the kids for a while. He knows about the divorce and the rest of my “situation” but wanted to know what they were up to. I was proud to tell him how great they are. His kids are college-age and doing great. Knowing he and Dana I wasn’t surprised. Then the conversation turned to my health. Scott is like me in one respect, he would rather ask than not and come across as not caring. I told him the truth, that there is very little good news. He absorbed it and we left it at that. He knows I would rather give him better news if I could.
At one point, Susan leaned in and asked what was up with my kidneys, she said she saw something on FB. I gave her the lowdown, carefully phrasing my words to not elicit a sympathetic response. This was the part I was dreading, although I did appreciate her asking.
At one point, Mark’s father, who is a little hard of hearing, started down the line asking all of us what we’ve been up to. I was 6th in line so I agonizingly waited for my turn. Sure enough, my turn came and I decided to be funny. He asked “What have you been up to Bill?”
“Well, Mr. Riley, I’m officially a burden to society.” Everyone laughed, he asked me to elaborate. Before I could Mark saved the day and said “Bill has been fighting some health issues, Dad. He lives up here now.” I sighed with relief, it sounded so much better than, Well, I’m on the verge of Dialysis, I’m out of work and broke, I live with my mother and I’m not supporting my family. Did I mention that I have one nut and haven’t been laid in about 8 years? Either way, it was over with. The conversation shifted away and I shrunk back into relative obscurity.
Scott, Mark and I talked for a while. I was starting to relax a bit. We talked politics, current events, rehashed some fun times at the market, talked about cars and of course our families. I made a few off-color but witty (not my words) cracks that gave them a good laugh. At one point, Scott remarked that it was refreshing that some things don’t change. He meant me of course, I was well-known in the day to do anything for a laugh. I appreciated the comment despite the feeling that nothing about me, with the exception of my warped humor, was the same.
At 7:30, I decided that it was time to leave. I was starting to get tired and my mind was racing. I was getting into one of those thinking zones that never ends well. I get quiet, morose and I am generally not good company. I made it a point to give Scott and Dana a proper goodbye, sought out the people that I knew and made sure I said goodbye to them as well. I ended by finding Mark and his wife to thank them. By the time I got to my truck my mind was in full-blown thinking mode and it wasn’t happy thoughts. I was bombarded by some harsh realizations that I came to that day and they needed to be processed. I was about to, in the words of Jim Carrey in Liar Liar “kick my own ass.”
I drove home without the radio on, all I had was the hum of my tires on the winding back roads to keep me company. I was in a mood. I tried to summarize what I was feeling, to break it down into manageable parts. In short, what’s my fucking problem?
That would prove to be a question not easily answered. I had a lot of problems.
My first problem was that I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast in situations between Mark, Scott and myself. Disclaimer…I am NOT speaking out of jealousy. I am VERY happy for them. They made good choices and decisions and worked hard and they deserve everything they have. Mark is a brilliant mechanic and owns his own business. He works 6 sometimes 7 days a week. His amazing house is a monument to his work ethic. Scott works for a major investment company and has for 22 years. His wife has a great job as well and he is at a place now where he can pay for his kids college without loans, have a real nice car and look for a summer home. Not that is was ever equal when we were younger, they were doing well then also, but the disparity now in our places in life is staggering.
It would be easy to blame it on illness; my disease did take me out of the working world. But it’s so much more than that. Even when I was working, despite the size of the checks I was pulling in I never managed to save anything. I often joked that my wife could spend money like a drunk sailor with a fist full of Viagra, and in reality I can point to several financial decisions that she took the lead on that felt wrong to me but I kept quiet in the interest of “happy wife, happy life” but it’s not all on her. We simply didn’t plan for the future and we made some poor decisions. To put a Seinfeldian spin on it, yadda yadda yadda we were foreclosed upon and were forced to declare bankruptcy. I never bounced back from that. A proud moment indeed.
OK, so they’re doing great and I have approximately enough money in my checking account to drive to the end of my driveway. Yes, that’s a problem. But as I continued to navigate the back roads of Maine, radio off and mind working overtime I realized that my checkered financial history was the least of what was bothering me.
The real problem was clear, I was disgusted that I had become such a stranger to a group of people that were once my world. Where did the time go?
To be continued…