Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heartbreak Hotel

While out with my gal-pal this past weekend, an elderly gentleman cornered me. He subsequently talked my ear off for some forty-five minutes—until I simply had to leave and go home.

Why is it that America’s senior citizens, those that are single, are now so lonely? Having traveled abroad extensively in my life, I know this just isn’t the case in most other nations. When one is widowed or divorced in most foreign locales, he or she still has plenty of family and friends around. But in the U.S.—where work and career are placed above socializing and family on the priority totem pole, and where no one respects their elders in this day and age of born-again free love and unbridled hedonism—a significant minority of today’s senior citizens are heartbreak-lonely. And, truth be told, it breaks my heart.

The gentleman that spoke to me is sixty-four. He fought in Vietnam. He earned a purple heart after taking a few rounds to his leg and back in an attempt to rescue buddies, his buddies all butchered in the same jungle massacre. After he returned to the ‘States, he got married. A couple decades later, he got divorced. He had four children with the woman; they all live out-of-state, scattered throughout the Midwest, with busy lives. He never remarried and now resides in a senior care center. He gets to work out in the facility’s fitness center for free, he says. He looks like he uses it three to four times a week. He doesn’t drive anymore, so he rides his bike everywhere, even in winter. Saturday nights are his night out, at the bowling alley; it’s the one night of the week he’s allowed to get out and socialize, to actually speak to someone outside the senior home, in the real world.

I wish I had the courage to walk away the moment I became bored with his biographical monologue—thirty seconds after he began it. But I didn’t; I couldn’t. Instead, I stood there, with gal-pal in hand, and pretended to hang on his every word…until we shut the place down together.

At least my mom would’ve said, “Job well done, Nels,” even if I was bored to tears and getting more restless by the second. I just hate to think of anyone being so lonely. I fucking hate it.

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