Lee’s brother Paul is a retired fellow who occasionally needed to get out of his house. Therefore, about a year back, he started driving part time, two or three days a week, with Lyft. Paul and Joanne still reside in the suburbs (when not staying at their Michigan lake house), but he drives mainly here in the city, serving trendy neighborhoods like mine, which are full of ride sharing young people.
Paul and I get together periodically, probably more often now than when Lee was alive. Paul called this morning to say that he expected to be in my neighborhood around noon, so we arranged to have lunch. He said that he is following a 16-hour, overnight fasting routine but today had a powerful hankering for a hearty breakfast. I said I knew just the spot. (In fact, I knew several but selected a place that was close to an ATM, as I needed an infusion of ready cash.) When I offered helpful street directions to the restaurant from my home, Paul laughingly reminded me he is “a professional driver.”
I had not seen Paul since early summer, several weeks before he and Joanne departed for Michigan this past summer. Today we caught up over a late breakfast consisting of omelets, toast, fruit, and coffee. We covered the usual topics –family, friends, football, and work, though there was not much to discuss on the work front as neither one of us works full-time anymore. I was interested in news about Paul’s younger son, Joe, and Joe’s daughter, Allie, who is a middle school student. Joe and Allie were always Lee’s favorites, even if she would never admit this fact, automatically making them my favorites, too. I was pleased to learn that Joe has completed building the state-of-the-art recording studio he aspired to in the house that he and Katie recently bought. Joe is a professional musician who is trying to establish himself as a producer. I felt proud, though hardly surprised, to learn that Allie is a straight-A student in a highly competitive and selective middle school.
Paul also informed me that Joe’s brother, Andy, remains a senior attorney, who works in-house for an international conglomerate. Paul reported that Andy has been steadily climbing the corporate ranks, earning a substantial income. Paul told me that Andy bought a townhouse on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, that he personally uses just occasionally, preferring to rent the place to tourists. Paul said that Andy is already turning a profit, and, in fact, just purchased a second luxury townhouse there. I viewed this as significant news because way back when Lee and I drafted mutual wills leaving our property to Andy, Joe, and my two nephews per stirpes, fancy legal jargon that means equal shares. However, this planned property distribution is something I’ll need to reassess considering Andy and Joe’s vastly different financial circumstances, and similar differences between my nephews.
As I listened to Paul, I recalled that when Lee was still alive, his family was like my extended family, my family-in-law, if you will. It feels so different now. Today, more than three years after Lee’s death, I’m no longer included as part of the birthday celebrations, anniversaries, graduations, holiday get-togethers, or other assorted family gatherings. I don’t miss these occasions as such; the plain truth is that I often felt more like an observer than a participant while in attendance. However, as time passes, I do miss connecting with various individuals. Paul is thus reduced to the role of being an intermediary, a substitute for other interpersonal relationships that seem gradually to be dissolving.
Sometimes I ask myself whether Paul and I have a mutual need for our friendship to maintain an illusion that nothing vital or important has changed.