Epidemic 8/31/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

The piano is beautiful.  I’ve written on it a few times already; built around the turn of the twentieth century (a little before), its beauty is not only in the artistry and music, but also in the history.  It’s not a piano I plan to play often as I have an electric piano that has modern built in features (like a metronome I intend to use for my guitar as well), but she fits perfectly in this house which was built just after the turn of the twentieth century. 

Before me, she lived with a family that included, as they often do, a mom.  I interacted with the father who seemed to keep his children and wife well separated from me, but they were around.  Apparently, the mom wore a heavy perfume (or maybe the father has a secret weekend life).  When the piano was delivered (I still need a name for her), the house was filled with the fragrant smell of what I assume is the mother’s perfume. 

It was surprisingly pleasant.  I enjoyed periodically catching a whiff of the perfume as I came home, or woke up, or just happened to notice it when I was in the living room (perhaps the air kicked on causing a temporary boost in the airborne concentration).  It might sound desperate, but in a way, I kind of felt like maybe I was not living alone after all.  I realized it made me feel like maybe there was somebody other than my cat in the house, and in the back of my mind, I derived perhaps too much joy in pretending like she was just there.

Who “she” was I don’t know.  Not his wife, as I never met her and barely got a glance of her, but somebody.  I pretended like it was the smell of my wife, somebody who loves me, somebody who cares about me, somebody who wants to spend her time with me.

I know; it’s not reality.

Not long ago, a report was published exclaiming that loneliness is an epidemic among seniors in the US.  According to the report from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), forty percent of seniors over sixty-five experience loneliness, defined as feeling separated and disconnected, regularly.  Okay, I’m not sixty-five yet, but I definitely feel routinely lonely, especially by this definition. 

The feeling of loneliness has severe impacts on health, such as increased mortality, increased symptoms when ill, and a greater possibility of failing to recover from major surgeries such as heart bypasses.  In other words, it means I will likely die sooner because I’m lonely.

No great loss.

But for many people, this is tragic.  As we get older, we tend to lose people.  Some to death.  My dad lived for a decade after my mother passed away, and no doubt her loss hit him severely (probably more severely than he even expected).  But that’s not all.  In our society, we also have a habit of distancing ourselves from elders.  Kids often look at the elderly with disdain, complaining that they’re “out of touch” and “don’t understand”.  In some cultures, the elderly are highly respected.  Maybe they’re not “up with the times”, but they have also accumulated a lifetime of wisdom and stories, and this is something cherished in some cultures.  Of course, this is also a nation of separation.  Who among us didn’t yearn to turn eighteen so they could get away from home to live in dorms or get their first job so they can get their first apartment?  It’s highly uncommon in our society to share homes with multiple generations.  Grandparents, then, end up in a retirement home or, like me, living alone in their house with rare visitors.

I’m so happy to report that among my friends, this is not very common.  I have a very near and dear friend who routinely does things with her daughters.  Sometimes this entails favors like watching their kids, but it’s also meals, phone calls, and this past week she spent time with her youngest helping her sister paint.  I love that.

As for me?  Well, I don’t see things changing anytime soon.  It’s just the way my life has been.  The one thing that has scared me from as young as I can recall is being alone, and yet that fear has become frighteningly real.  I often joke about having somebody find my body because of the smell.  Sadly, this is how my uncle was eventually discovered, and it’s a very real possibility for me.  It’s just something I’ve come to accept.  My fate is to live here with Star, my cat, but I’m seriously considering buying some kind of perfume so at least it will smell like I’m not alone.  It’s the best I will be able to do.

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