Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

RIP, Old Friend

I found out today that an old friend died last week.

No, that’s a double misnomer.

He was not old. He only turned 56 at the beginning of December, eight weeks before I reach that age.

And while we knew him for well over 30 years, in the last five we’d become estranged. Not as much a friend. He blamed us for something but we don’t know what. “They should know what they did,” he told a well-meaning mutual friend when she asked why he’d gone silent.

So with the distance the shock was muted. A heart attack, very sudden.

We found out in a roundabout way because of the rupture. Not even his longtime girlfriend - a friend we’d introduced to him and so we lost both - contacted us. She contacted someone who contacted someone who contacted us. These other people, who knew our old friend through Facebook, were very shocked by the suddenness.

My husband, in turn, contacted other people and told them via Facebook. In the old days we would have taken turns on the phone.

As to the death itself, MH and I, however, were not surprised. Saddened, but not surprised. Our friend was a heavy smoker and had been for most of his life. The birth of his only child during his short marriage didn’t end the smoking, and neither did the woman with him when he died.

You never know what will happen, do you? My uncle is in his 90s but is silent with dementia. My father died at 73 with a sharp mind but a body incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease. MH’s parents are active in mind and body while almost at 80. My mother died at 60 of cancer. MH is a former smoker but heavier than he should be. He is the age now our old friend was when he died.

Tufted titmice - or titmouses, as our
late friend called them.

He was a complicated man who took his resentments to the grave. But there are a lot of funny stories we remember, many memories, many good times. Maybe it was some of those times our friend didn’t want to remember and he held it against us that we continued to laugh at some of his exploits.

Those memories became tinged with sadness when our friend stopped talking to us. Now that sadness has deepened.

What horrified me more than our friend dying was the thought of my finding MH on the kitchen floor one ordinary morning. Or him finding me. As the shootings in Newtown, Conn. - ironically, the news came out the day our old friend died - showed us, life is very precious and very easy to end.

You try to exercise and eat right, drink in moderation and not smoke and hope you are doing the right thing, that there isn’t a time bomb in you that will kill you. Our friend smoked and we heard something about heart problems earlier in the year, maybe a malfunctioning valve.

I doubt that stopped him smoking either. Smoking is one of our legal drugs. (So is alcohol. Cigarette ads are no longer broadcast on television but you can still see plenty of ads for liquor and beer.) We know it can kill. But our old friend did not want to stop. We have other friends who refuse to stop, too. They knew our late friend and MH notified them of his passing. Will it inspire them to perhaps cut back? I don’t know. That’s out of our control.

So is finding out what caused the rupture in the first place. We used our mutual friend as a go-between to send our condolences and she passed along our friend’s girlfriend’s thanks. Maybe there will be future communications. I hope so. But if there are I won’t ask her because at this point it really doesn’t matter.

The last time we saw the two of them we were in their house on Cape Cod for a few days. She had him smoke outside - did he resent that? - and we sat with him at one point. He pointed out the tufted titmice he insisted on calling titmouses. He was getting interested in the birds around him and was looking forward to the hummingbirds coming to the flowers of some vines his girlfriend had planted.

I hope he got to see them.

Rest in peace, Steven Mark Perry.

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