To Each His Own

I ran into Franklin at Barnes and Nobles the other day, a bit of a surprise for me as I had not seen him for almost four years.  Not that we were close friends but he and his wife had always been in that circle of common acquaintances one acquires over the years of living in the city.  At first he was hesitant to acknowledge my presence and a bit embarrassed for the long period of absence from that circle in which we had moved so freely.  His wife, Beth, had always insisted on calling him Franklin rather than Frank and over the years it had become habit with all who knew them.  I had attended the funeral for his wife, a sad affair for she had died after a long bought with cancer and Franklin’s face was still lined with the strain of the care taking he had done for her.  Beth had barely been fifty six when death ease her pain.

There we were, finding a table and I ordered the coffee.  Franklin want to pay but I produced a ten dollar bill first and said, “Next time.”  I knew he was barely able to make ends meet.  These long slow deaths drain your bank account then they drain your soul.    I knew something of his pain, I lost my last wife to severe mental illness before the divorce.  “How’s your daughter doing?  I hear she is having another child.”

Franklin smiled a little.  “It’s okay Bill.  No need to walk on eggs with me.  I’m okay, really.  You know John Munson?  He said he might be able to get me a position with the city as an planning inspector.”

“John’s a good man.” I replied, nodding my head in assent.  He and I have played golf together a few times and the man keeps an honest score card.  Not much of a golfer though.  Always attracted to the water hazards.”

We laughed at that thought.  “I remember the time he waded barefoot into the pond and tried to hit the ball with his wedge.  He told me later that he thought it would cut through the water better than his nine iron.” As Franklin spoke I could see something of that old twinkle in his eyes.  It had been a long time, a very long time.  “The water went flying everywhere but that ball just laid there, didn’t move an inch.  All four of laughed ourselves silly.”  A sigh came over him as he paused.  “Those were some good days.”  Franklin looked away from me for a moment.

I took up the slack.  “Say, you remember George Mason?  Well he just retired.  Took a buy-out last year.  Man has never looked healthier.”

“I remember George.  Nice man.  Has a lovely wife.  I always thought that job would kill him.”  This time there was a long silence, Franklin seemed to be distant, probably thinking about his wife.  Perhaps a minute had passed before his eyes met mine.  “I’m sorry, I was just thinking about Beth.  You know, she used to worry about George.  She was close to his wife,  Anita.  They came to the funeral and sat with me for a while, Anita crying all the while she was there.  I hear they’re living in Florida now, someplace around Orlando.”

“Yes, I was just down there on business and stopped by their place.  It’s too hot and humid for my taste but both of them are tanned to the hilt and George tells me they both have taken up jogging.”

There was a quizzical look on Franklin’s face for a moment.  “The devil you say!  That big old man out jogging?  I guess he wants to live a long time.”  His voice started to trail off.  “Forgive me Bill, I just have to get use to this idea that life goes on.  It’s been a year since her death.  I feel guilty for saying this, I know, but I feel a sense of relief and yet I feel so disloyal for feeling that way.”

“Franklin, I haven’t told you about Myra, have I?”

He looked at me as if expecting some dark piece of information was about to smash into his brain.  “What’s going on with you and Myra, Bill?”

“Just after Beth’s death I divorced Myra.  I just couldn’t take it any more.  Fourteen years was more that enough, you know?  I took care of her for fourteen year and it was driving towards the edge.  I was thinking about suicide, really thinking hard about suicide.  Then I realized that I just couldn’t go on anymore.  Come to find out she was trying to divorce me and take everything I owned.  God!  What a relief to be rid of that woman.”

I saw a startled look on Franklin’s face.  “I know, I know.  Your took care of your wife for how many years, ten?  We’ve both been down that road for so long.  The difference is that Myra’s mental illness slowly killed my love for her, squeezed it out of my soul.  Your love for Beth grew even stronger.  It’s a bit of irony, isn’t it?”

He sat back in his chair and didn’t say a word for several minutes.  Then he picked up our coffee cups and said.” let me get a refill and I’ll be back.”  About five minutes late he brought both cups back and sat down.  “You made me think for a while.  I can see how all this flows.  We men always do out best to provide for our families, to protect them from harm.  Then cancer hits in Beth’s case, mental illness in Myra’s case.  And we feel at a loss, like we have failed as men and husbands and maybe fathers.  but we feel personally that we have failed.  Your know what I mean?”

“Yes, I do.  How many nights did I stand out on the street cursing god for inflicting that illness.  How helpless I felt, how less of a man I felt.  I did the cooking and the cleaning and the washing and all those things she used to do.  I did what I could to make her feel safe and loved.  And in the end, I failed.  and then when it was over I felt that great release.  I felt joy once again in my heart.  And I felt guilt for feeling that way.”

“Bill, that’s how it was with me.  The big difference is that her death didn’t kill my love, only made live very lonely.  And now I was feeling guilty for surviving.  I used to think if someone had to get cancer, why wasn’t it me?  Why her?  What did she ever do to deserve this curse?  So now I end up feeling guilty I survived and she didn’t.  it was almost like I had the same cancer and I survived.”

We were both silent for five, ten minutes.  I can’t say since I wasn’t looking at my watch.  Finally Franklin spoke.  “Bill, come over and visit me some time, I’d love the company if you don’t mind associating with an old man down on his luck.”

“Franklin, I’d be glad to visit.  How about Friday night?”

“Sure thing, Bill.  Oh, call me Frank.  I’d like that.”

“Sure thing, Frank.”

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