Robert at 80
by Robert Roth
I think of my young, beautiful downstairs Zimbabwean neighbor. For the first time age really comes in on me. I think of myself at 80. That is just 15 years away. Though 50 was a while ago. And what does she need with that? And how then can this intimacy be expressed without committing her to the possibility of tending to an old man. Obviously anything can happen to anyone at anytime. But here there is an almost certain future if I live that long. A commitment to each other would take that into account. Eighty though is still potentially very vibrant and very sexual. With some real fluidity between us whatever sexual connection we had would not limit her to it. Me neither I guess. But in this case it would be her I would be most concerned about. Why am I obsessing and fretting about something that is very unlikely to happen? I guess because it’s fun to do.
Months later. We speak about one weekend before we became good friends, when she was still living downstairs, when she cut herself off from everyone and everything. No e-mail. No phone. A four day urban retreat, looking deep into herself, trying to find a “purpose,” a direction, a deeper meaning, a deeper pursuit. I tell her about a small cottage on the top of a hill somewhere in Zimbabwe where I imagine living when I’m 80. In my fantasy Aziza has created some space for me on a large plot of land that is dedicated to some very significant pursuit. Maybe a place for children. Maybe something entirely different.
“What will you do there?” she asks. “Well, I’m there. That should be enough,” I answer. “You have to do some work,” she laughs.”You can’t just live there.” “I’ll be a presence. What more do I have to do?” “A presence is more than enough,” she answers, yielding to the power of my argument. And so there it is. My future. A cottage on a hill in Zimbabwe. The destination a certainty. The route getting there very much a mystery.
Walking toward the East Side I come to Greenwich and 10th where there is a fork in the road. Totally forgot where I am going, who I am visiting. A total absolute blank. This has happened a few other times recently. Two times at that very spot. Scary feeling. Tried to relax. The destination returned and I continued. At 80. Hot muggy Zimbabwe summer. Wild committed energy everywhere. Up and down the hill. Not knowing where I am. Which direction I am going. Maybe this is something that will happen from time to time. Hopefully no more than that.
The total blank was very scary. Maybe try to surrender to it next time.
My father at 76 had sold his business, but still tried making deals, still overflowing with energy. “You’re still wheeling and dealing,” I said. “I’m doing more wheeling than dealing,” he replied.