Second Chances and Snowballs in Hell
“There are no second acts In American lives.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
I met him a couple of years ago. He was in his early seventies; an obviously strong and self-sufficient man who had waited too long to have his arthritis treated. He had trouble getting up from a chair. It took two hours for his joints to loosen up in the morning, and he dreaded sitting down to watch TV because he’d have to deal with the stiffness all over again when he tried to stand.
It was an easy diagnosis to make. It was much more difficult to convince this proud man to accept that he had to take a number of pills every day.
“I don’t like to take medicine. I won’t do it.”
Your hands will be close to useless in six months. I’ll bet my house on this.
“It’s too many pills. I may not be able to afford them. Too many side effects.”
Better than forcing your children to put you in a nursing home.
His face changed colors. He bought the medicine. He took it. Never again did I hear a complaint.
I saw him recently. One of these people that brings a smile to your soul when you run into them. Lean; wiry strong; a perennial smile. Looks much younger than his age. I doubt that he’s ever met a stranger; he’s that comfortable in his body.
Talk to me.
“I feel great. I have no pain. No stiffness. I can do anything I want.”
I can tell. You’ve come a long way.
He smiles; no doubt remembering the vigorous resistance to treatment he had offered.
“I don’t know if I ever thanked you. I needed for you to talk to me like you did at first. And my wife. She had to drag me in here.”
I haven’t heard that story. Tell me about it.
I’m lucky it was not a busy day. I listened in fascination as he described what he had been through. An unhappy marriage to a needy and sickly woman. He worked nonstop at his job; when he got home it was to find his wife in bed, too sedated to care for the home or the kids but alert enough to complain about a new pain; a new symptom every day. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours spent in waiting rooms of hospitals and doctor’s offices.
So she convinced you to come to see me?
“No; she died a few years ago.”
What was the final event?
He paused for a while. He came close to biting his lower lip.
“Truthfully, doc? It was drugs. She was too fond of her Oxycontin, and her Vicodin, and all of the nerve pills and antidepressants that she took. She just could not live without them, and she never stopped asking for more.” A long pause. “This is why I never went to the doctor. I could not understand why they kept giving her all this stuff. No way in hell I would end up the same way.”
I hear you. So you’re married again?
A huge smile.
“A great woman. She’s always busy; helping other people. Full of life. Treats me well. Once I married her she convinced me to see a doctor; to get checkups.” A short laugh. I have been to more doctors in the past year than I saw my whole life.”
Where did you meet her?
“Her daughter was my neighbor. I was at her daughter’s house one day when she showed up. I took one look and I made up my mind to ask her out.”
Was it hard to ask for a date? After all these years?
I should have known better than to ask. He’s supremely self-confident. He made a short snarly sound with his lips.
“No. Not at all. We hit it off right away.”
How long a courtship?
“After a couple of dates she had some health issues. I went to her house to help out. It got late; she told me that I may as well stay the night rather than drive home. The next day the same. And the next day. She recovered fast, but I never left. We got married soon afterward.”
And the children? Are they on board with this?
“They love it. We decided that what’s hers belongs to her kids; what’s mine to mine. I moved into her house; if anything happens to her I’ll be homeless.” A loud laugh.
I’m happy for you. After all you went through… It seems as if your children feel the same way.
He nodded. Came close to shedding one tear, but he recovered and quickly left.
Second chances. Every once in a while we hear about these “late romances.” Most people, however, would run hard and fast away from a commitment after such a lengthy and traumatic marriage. At age 70. Maybe in less than ideal health. And the children; there’s a wild card. What will they say?
And yet… Jane Fonda talks about the third age; how people our age are in much better shape, physically and sometimes financially, than our parents were at the same time in their lives. How maybe we can squeeze another eventful decade out of our fading but still able skeletons.
My wife and I will be moving soon (again). Three stories; smack dab in the middle of downtown; close to the ballpark and the restaurants and the beautiful new library. Our children were concerned about the steps, and the walking we intend to do, and the recent murder a couple of blocks away, and the nearby homeless shelter.
But we don’t feel old, and there’s so much to do; so many new people we hope to meet.
Maybe we’re foolish; maybe our second chance will turn out to be a snowball in Hell. Yet we’re ready to push ahead with our third and fourth acts. Snowballs be damned.