Thoughts by Richard Bleil
My aunt gave me a very special photograph of my grandfather. It was of him in uniform from his time in the service. It was creased, discolored, and in terrible shape. I was living in New York City at the time, and thought it was wonderful. Of course, this was in the early to mid ‘90’s, long before photography software. But I didn’t want to keep the photo to myself.
This is the kind of person I am. I wanted to share it with my family. I first thought of surprising my parents, then I started thinking of my many aunts and uncles, and so on. I took the picture to a photography shop to see if they could clean it up. I needed something like half a dozen of them if they could get rid of the creases and fix the balance. They insisted they could do it, but my GOD was it expensive. I was working as a post-doctoral research assistant, basically paid minimum wage in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but I managed to scrape together enough money to get the job done.
It was beautiful. I framed them, carefully packed them, and shipped them off as a nice surprise for my family. My mother was so moved, she called me to ask me what the hell I was doing. After all, she told me, everybody already has the photo. I got a nice scolding for wasting my money.
Honestly, I don’t give a damn. It was a nice effort, even if nobody liked it. After all, I’d never seen the photo before, so I tried to share it as best I could. I’ll take it.
Compare that with the kind of surprises I got. My senior year in high school, I always had trouble dating. The few blind dates I went on were miserable failures (my fault, no doubt), and I never really had a girlfriend. For some reason, in my senior year, my sister picked up my yearbook for me. When she gave it to me, the front cover had an anonymous love letter that covered the entire page. She had loved me from afar, was too shy to speak, and so forth. At the bottom of the page it said, “continued on page…” Going to that page, it turned out to be a hoax. My sister and her friend wrote the whole thing as a joke. Her friend penned it so I wouldn’t recognize the handwriting, but they just thought it would be funny. And of course it’s funny to make fun of somebody who feels deeply and rarely felt loved.
“We were laughing with you, not at you” was the typical response, but I wasn’t laughing. The odd thing to this story is that I had completely forgotten about this episode until about a week ago. I have no idea what made me think of it again, but I was devastated when I thought of the callous and cruel trick they had perpetrated. Being lonely is not a joke. Even today I get romantic notes from my social media dating service, and before long they are talking about how they only need a little bit of money from me to help their ailing mother and then can come to be with me.
Preying on the emotions of lonely people like me is just cruel. Being single is like a handicap. It was never easy for me to be alone in high school, seeing all of my classmates with their significant others, being constantly turned down on dates because she already has a boyfriend (the few times I had the courage to actually ask that is). I never did, and will never, criticize somebody for not having time for me because of their significant other. There are bad choices, but it’s not mine to decide that. If she is happy, then regardless of my desires, I’m happy for her. I’m happy she doesn’t have to go through what I have. I’m happy that she does not know the loneliness that I feel. I’m happy to shoulder this burden rather than trying to snake my way between her and her significant other.
To this day, I do not know what made me think of this. If I could figure that out, maybe I could again let go of it and bury the memory once again, but I cannot see what the trigger was. All I do know is that I would rather be the guy who spends money he doesn’t have to surprise people and make them happy than the guy who makes fun of people for being awkward and lonely.