His voice is deep and rough. Like boulders tumbling down a hill and breaking apart. Like gravel beneath steady footsteps.
He tells me stories about his life. The companies he started. The nonprofits he dedicates his time to in retirement. His failed marriage. His six children. The movies he’s seen.
His eyes are a watery blue. At first I wondered if he was seeing me, hearing me. There is much about him that seems insubstantial, frail.
But I was wrong. He is sharp, present. He radiates satisfaction and kindness and acceptance. He hears what I say and he remembers. He asks after the small morsels I’ve given him, “How’s business? How’s your daughter?”
His life has been long and eventful. Never a dull moment – at least, not in retrospect. No regret, not even in retrospect.
Today he asked, “When you’re not working, what do you like to do?”
I faltered a bit feeling on the spot. I don’t like talking about myself; next to decades of experiences and memories and life lived well I feel insubstantial, unformed.
After a pause, “Well, I like to cook!” He fixed his damp eyes on me as if seeing my flash of panic at having to give up this information.
A thick smile spread slowly across his face. “I’ll tell ya,” cracking rocks, rolling thunder from a creased face, “I’ve never been one for cooking! I bet your family loves that!”
His freezer is filled with giant pieces of wild, Alaskan fish. From friends who deep sea fish in untamed places. “I’ll tell ya what, I’ll never cook that fish because I can’t cook if it doesn’t go in the microwave. You ever want some fish, I’ll get all the supplies, you come cook it.”
My smile is small, trying to (probably unsuccessfully) hide that I will never take him up on his offer. “Thank you,” I say. “That’s very kind of you.”
He gathers his two newspapers, puts the lid on his coffee, stands up slowly. I can almost hear the creaking of his joints, the rusty hinges protesting sudden movement. He pauses, thoughtfully tapping his lip with a finger gnarled and bent.
“I want to make sure I have this right. You’re Karen, right?”
“Yes, but you can always just call me ‘hey you’,” I tell him.
“No,” he says, shaking his head, expression serious. “No, I won’t do that. I’ll remember your name.”
He turns, slowly, deliberately walking towards the door. Off to continue living the life he spent his life creating. And I sit, thinking about the life I’m still creating.