“Was he the last man alive,” I asked myself. He who’d walked another life than mine; climbed mountains I would never see but whose eyes lit up with understanding when I talked. You do not have to be young to be lost, and living on the edge of approval, sited somewhere near exile, was a fate we had in common. I was twenty four and he “just over eighty” as he’d said for several years.
He was difficult by all accounts, and refusing to be wrapped in his obituary: we shared a horror of the commonplace as seen from Chaos Road. His morals were doubtful, his career had been patchy, but he was exuberant and a celebrator of the smallest episode.
He was there by force of circumstances and I, because I lacked vocation, but our bond was to “Grab the moment and let the morrow damn you if it can. “
“Drink and smoke forever, and dance till your legs betray you, and never let the buggers see you beg for a reprieve.” Such was his advice to me, barely comprehensible, but his defiance of the fates was born on every breath. His eyes were full of mischief and his hands were never disciplined but he still knew the urgency of wanting “a good night out.” His mind was free to travel, his memories were infinite and in our wish to be “free of it,” we shared a common bond.
“Take me away with you. Let me see the moors once more, sit in a bar and share a smoke with friends” he pleaded, and so one night I stole him from his old peoples home, sneaking out during a shift change, and climbed into my wreck of a car, “Nearly as old as me” he said, smiling at the thought.
For one night only, we sat and smoked and drank where no one would know us, as if we’d discovered home. I was not and never have been, “Romantically gifted” but he told me, “If you find a woman who’ll love you, discover her every day. Eighteen or eighty, or somewhere in between, will not matter in the slightest. Their eyes will be the pool in which you swim and their happiness the point of every day,” and as he said it, I felt him shut down for a moment.
His Annie was seventy-two when she died, he told me, and chided him each and every day for all that she celebrated him, and in the central well of values he loved her without question, and missed her presence always. “She’s a corker ain’t she” he said holding up her photograph, taken on their fiftieth wedding anniversary outside some city pub, and she was smiling up at him and her look was saying, “What will I do with you?” but she’d made an odd man happy which is a hard thing to do.
I got sacked the next day and barred from seeing him because common sense will stand no reckless acts but I will raise a glass to him forever: the bravest man I knew.