Following my last blog post, Talking with Teens, I asked Guy if he knew what scares Q14. Clowns, we knew. Spiders? Maybe he’d outgrown that one.
When Q climbed in the car after school, we asked him. Clowns and spiders. Probing deeper I asked, “Okay, but when you think about your life in the world, what scares you?” He didn’t have to think long: “After I die, will anyone remember me?”
Ouch! Talk about a stab to the parental heart!
My fear is similar, but different.
When my kids were small, we had a neighbor named Frank. His picture ought to appear under “curmudgeon” in the dictionary. He had lived alone for many years after his partner had passed. He had a niece, but they weren’t close. He did nothing to ingratiate himself with neighbors. The opposite, in fact, as he was always cranky and not afraid to share.
One day Frank shuffled up to our doorstep with a heavy white lunch sack. He received senior lunches delivered to his home everyday and, although he was lactose intolerant, the service wouldn’t modify his order. They brought him a school-sized carton of milk five days a week.
Frank asked if my young children could drink the milk. He didn’t want it to go to waste.
I hate food waste, so I accepted his generosity. Most days after school, I’d send one of my kids running to his door to pick up milk.
Some months into this new routine, Frank showed up looking much worse than usual. He’d had surgery on his eyelids and couldn’t see to apply his ointment. Would I be willing?
I’m not a nurse. I’m not even currently CPR trained. The whole thing skeeved me out, to be honest, but Frank was alone and in need. I felt sorry for him.
Twice a day for a week, I squeezed ointment from the little sterile tube onto his eyelids, then once a day for another week. When the process was complete, he showed up at our door again, this time bearing wine.
We worked toward an awkward friendship of sorts. We invited Frank to Easter dinner at the neighborhood pool. Guy barbecued while our kids swam. Frank brought us a bottle of wine now and again when he took the free senior bus to Trader Joe’s. He asked for our reviews, and asked about restaurants we’d visited or other San Francisco sites we’d seen. He clearly missed being out on the town with his partner.
Eventually, we moved across town, but we still stopped by once a week to see Frank and pick up the milk. By then, we’d realized Frank’s refrigerator wasn’t working well, so the kids didn’t drink it. We just used it as an excuse to check in on Frank. A hoarder, Frank never let us past his doorstep.
The neighbor who shared his wall called one day; she’d heard a loud crash in Frank’s condo and come running. When he didn’t open the door, she called 911. Frank had taken a significant fall. Not long after, we got a message on our answering machine. Frank said his niece was moving him to a senior care home. We had been on vacation when he left the message and we had no way to get in touch. We never heard from Frank again.
The cast of the musical RENT, facing the AIDS crisis of the early 90’s, sings: Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? I hear the melody in my head and I think of Frank. I don’t want to outlive my family, be estranged from others, and become a curmudgeon. I’m sure that sounds melodramatic, but then again, I think it might be more common than we recognize. Beyond something tragic happening to my family, being alone and unloved is my biggest personal fear.
How about you?