Karl works at the same chain I do. He’s a cranky mess of a smart guy, trying to figure out how to live a real life, hold his health together and maintain a relationship with his son as the world gets older.
Karl calls me every couple of days to complain about sales (nobody in retail is doing great business these days), to rank on the Mets (I’m a Mets fan, pity me) and complain about the Jets, Rangers and even the Yankees, in season. He listens to WFAN and takes it all seriously. He doesn’t listen to the news because WFAN is the level of engagement with the world that he can handle. When I hear him, I expect complaints.
He called me a day or two ago and said he’d started seeing someone. Kind of a long-distance thing, he said, though not as long-distance as my last one. Which was Ireland, so it was real long-distance. How far? I asked. Just upstate, about twenty miles. That’s great, I told him. That’s not that far.
Yeah, but she doesn’t really know me, he said. We knew each other a long time ago and I’m not the same anymore. Then he proceeds to tell me they saw each other at a family gathering recently and spent an hour talking. So she knows who you are, I said.
Yeah but I’m working all the time and I don’t know if I want to start driving back and forth, do I want to do that? And she’s 46, how’s that going to work? I have enough trouble with my son these days, do I need more?
And somehow along the way, I got the message, figured out what he wasn’t saying: What’s she want to do with me?
Men put up a good strong front. We do it persistently enough that we often have a hard time letting down in public and – especially if we’ve lived alone awhile – sometimes even in private, inside our own four walls. Women take the front seriously far more often than I expect them to. But men do talk, intimately – in a man’s way, a little more cloaked, a bit in code – and moreso as we get older and more fragile and things get closer to the bone.
So I told Karl: I can tell you my opinion, but it’s not like I know anything –
No no, he said, that’s what I want. I know you’re seeing somebody now.
Women see things in us we don’t, I told him. They help us get in touch with parts of ourselves we don’t contact on our own. Our world gets bigger and we get bigger in response. Which hurts sometimes – and is scary often – because we’re stretching muscles we haven’t used in a while.
I was able to say that last line without irony, ladies.
He thanked me for the encouragement. He thanked me, without saying so, for telling him he deserved to have a woman want him. That he was still a man and a good one.
Probably a better one, for having someone want him, even if it isn’t forever. ‘Someone’ is a big position in anyone’s life. It’s that bigger world we all deserve to live in.