Years ago, when I was in practice, a geriatrician who practiced next door often brought his Portuguese Water Dogs to the office.  Occasionally, I got a referral from him, and after I saw the patient, I dictated a note, finished my work with the patient, then went next door to tell him what I thought.  He got my consult report quickly, and while waiting for him, I petted his dogs. It was very relaxing, meditating with canines in between patients. 

He retired and went first to Taos and then several years later to Georgia, to run his wife’s family farm.  Rarely, he returned to Tucson, and I talked to him briefly on those visits.  We then lost touch for several years, except at Christmas, when we exchanged cards.  

Over the next several years, the cards became more and more religious, as did his comments.  He was involved with Billy Graham in some fashion.  Then, one day in the middle of the year, I got a card about how the UN was going to have Americans disarm.  He was asking me to write someone to protest.  These sorts of conspiracies gain a lot of traction for awhile before quieting down.  Too many gun owners are way too paranoid about their guns.  Anyway, I stopped writing him, since I didn’t want any more of that correspondence, and I couldn’t think of a nice way to tell him that.  

Fast forward to October 2016, when out of the blue, he emailed me—how he found my address is not clear, but given the lack of privacy and the number of Nigerian princes who have my address, I can’t be too surprised—and asked whether I thought Hillary Clinton had Parkinson’s disease.

I let that one go, too.  No, I could have said.  She once had a sagittal sinus thrombosis from dehydration, but she didn’t have Parkinson’s.  I know there was a YouTube video of her, and I suspect somebody played around with the speed, and nothing this neurologist was going to say would change his mind.  I assumed he was trying to bait me, but that wasn’t fair. I really didn’t know what he thought.  I deleted the email.

He called me about 6 months later.  It went to my voice mail and I thought long and hard before returning the call.  I was concerned about a red-state, far right, old guy and wasn’t sure what I was going to hear.  But I called anyway, and to my surprise, we had a good, long conversation, and he had wanted me to see the video because he respected my opinion. We avoided politics, and we discussed families and our health, which gives two old men plenty to talk about, before hanging up.  

For the last 18 months, he has called about every month or six weeks.  The address on the phone is “GA,” but my bad eyes see it as “CA,” and nobody in CA needs to call me.  [I once went by a sign saying “Golf Villas” when riding a bike without glasses on, and I thought it said “Godzilla’s.”]  Each time, he asks whether I have any contact with my former partners. And each time, I tell him no.  Good heavens, I haven’t had contact with them in close to twenty years.  We thought alike neurologically, but we were polar opposites when it came to life interests and philosophy.  I don’t tell him “asked and answered.”  We talk for a bit, I hear much the same thing from him, and finally he says “God bless you,” I thank him, and hang up.  

About three weeks ago, he called, and as usual I let it go to voicemail, since I was busy.  I called him up, discussed the usual, laughed a bit about my ex-partners, and asked about his dogs, for he always has had dogs.  Yet, he himself may be part cat.  He’s on at least his fourth life—he survived an atherecomy that went badly south.  A few weeks after a neck dissection for squamous cell cancer, his wound dehisced in an Atlanta restaurant, fortunately a few blocks from Emory University Medical Center.  He survived near exsanguination.  I bet the restaurant owner loved it.  He fell off his bike while at the time taking anticoagulants.  He’s lucky to be alive and doesn’t ride anymore.  Hell, we all are lucky to be alive.  At the end of the conversation, he commented that I was the only contact he had in Tucson, and he was so happy to keep it.  That was nice of him, for I don’t have many contacts left in Tucson either, and I really need to get back there sometime soon.  People die. Heck, I may die.  I’m glad we touch base.  We’ve taken very different paths, but we can still look across the great canyon called time and communicate.  

The last time he called, I returned the call when he was busy.  In a way, that’s good, because there isn’t a lot I have to say, and I won’t have to spend a lot of time saying it.  But he blessed me again, and this time, I replied, “Good to hear from you.”  That mattered.  He thanked me.

It’s not always that way.  Correspondents gradually disappear. Some holiday cards haven’t been reciprocated.  People move in different directions.  A canoe friend from Ottawa, who survived the Dresden fire bombing in 1944, says less each year, but he always sends me information about his dog. I wonder sometimes whom I have forgotten.  I don’t know, and I have long learned not to waste time guessing what I think happened to people.  I have been always wrong the few times I got an answer.

I lost a friend in the Club this past year. He started becoming more distant last spring.  His Facebook posts had been hurtful on many occasions, but I left the platform in February and didn’t know what he had been writing.  I led hikes that he and two women in the Club often took.  One picture I did see of the three of them was entitled, “The Three Musketeers.”  I noted my exclusion.  

In September, he wrote me to say there was a birthday celebration for one of the two women.  That was the last time he informed me of anything.  He failed to return my email regarding checking of the purple diamond markers on a winter trail in the Cascades that the two of us are responsible for.  I had to take care of it myself.

On Veterans Day, he led a hike, and not once did he speak to me.  He stopped showing up on the Wednesday hikes, although he sometimes came to coffee afterward.  He doesn’t talk to me, and the few times I have said hi, he hasn’t heard me—or chose not to reply—I’m not sure which.  In November I did email him to ask what was going on.  I learned he was very depressed during the holiday season due to issues that occurred when he was in Vietnam.  He was thinking of leaving town.  I had known him through three prior holiday seasons and hadn’t known that, but at least I had an answer.  Others had commented on his behavior, so I wasn’t singled out.  I offered a time and a place to have coffee were he interested.  I didn’t hear.

Friendships need to be nurtured.  I never had many friends, and I never shall.  It’s not healthy perhaps, but on the other hand I remain busy, around people, and try to take care of myself in other spheres. In the Age of Connectivity it is easier to know what is going on with whom, for better or worse. But I chose to leave social media, because I disliked it and am happier without it.  

Against what I once thought and said, I will visit Tucson.  Five years have passed since I left, and time is passing quickly.  When my father died, I had no reason to stay there.

That is quite true.  But no reason to stay is very different from having no ties to the place.  It has taken me a while to realize that.  I’m slow to realize a lot of things in life.  To my credit, however, I eventually do realize them.  Some never do.

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