One of the great satisfactions of getting older but at the same time being in decent physical shape is watching those people who are getting older and who are not in decent physical shape decline in a manner in which they will never recover. I do not mean this in a general term and this isn’t meant to be taken as some sort of smugness about my own health or a sense of meanness about the plight of others, yet there were those in my life, when I was very young, who were very cruel to me, and I have watched most of them die slow, and die not as men, but as squirming masses of desperation. There comes a point in time when it is far too late to recover from a lifetime of bad habits and when that point comes all anyone can do is grasp for straws and mouth homilies about miracles and good days.
There was the Oldest of The Old Gods, a man who never thought twice about the harshness of his words or the humiliation he might bestow upon others and he died poorly. At the end he wanted to go outside and smoke but his wife simply refused to allow it. He quit smoking not because he wanted to or because it might slow his decline, but because someone else made that decision for him. He had reached a point far past having any sort of political power anymore. Suddenly, it seemed, all the men who once worked under him were all gone and none could be called to do his bidding. Only his wife remained, she herself in better health than he, and there was a sea change in the way she treated the minions of the Oldest of The Old Gods.
As he slipped in and out of consciousness she chased away those few who remained. She bid them to leave and to never return. She told them that for the better part of sixty years they had taken him away from her, had drank and smoked and stayed out for days with him, and now, at the end, she remained with the wreck. Go! Get out of my house and do not come back. She invited none of them to the funeral and those who went found themselves estranged from the family. To this day I do not think she has ever spoken to any of them again.
It’s odd that these thoughts come into my mind after the dream I had last night. It was a very strange dream, even for me, for the people in the dream were familiar yet they were also very, very different. I was heading to a prison, not as a prisoner, but to visit someone. I was on a bicycle and no one seemed to notice me at all. The guards were all indifferent to me and traffic, although it was heavy, never came close to me. I walked down the halls and realized that everyone in the prison was old. Not just older but aged. Elderly in a way that suggests frailty and infirmity. Little care indeed would be needed to keep these inmates from escaping because it is likely none of them had the mental or physical wherewithal to flee had they so much desired to do so.
Then there she was. It was a terrible thing to see, really. She wasn’t just old, no, oh no, she was ancient beyond all reckoning. This was someone who had lived for more than a century and had lived most of that behind bars. Bonnie Parker had survived the ambush somehow, and they had secretly locked her away forever. There was almost no sign that she was who she had once been at all; there was no evidence that this was the woman I knew. Only her manner in trying to get me to help her suggested that she was the same. She had, over the years, built a primitive gun out of various pieces of metal. She had managed to talk the guards out of several bullets. And now she, at one hundred years old, plus, and I, were going to blast our way out of a prison that held no one under eighty years of age.
I put her on my handlebars and we pedaled out of the front gate without anyone saying a word to us. It was as odd scene for at times it was getting dark and then there were time where it was morning and then it was the full noon of day. We wound up on a balcony and used a garden hose to slip down into the lawn below where a woman tended her plants. She asked us not to trample her charges but seemed unconcerned that there was a one hundred and four year old convict making good her escape through the petunias.
At the same time, there was an odd element about the dream. She delighted in the speed of the bicycle even though it frightened her. We went down a hill at great speed and a dog chased after us. She closed her eyes and I could tell she was scared to the point that I should have done something to stop it all but we had to get past the pursuing mutt and after a while, he gave up the chase after all.
We stopped at a steel bridge were there were sea birds flying underneath it and small boats gliding on the water slowly. We stopped at a point and she asked me if I ever thought about living past one hundred and I told her I did not. She said that days go by like years and years go by like days and then one day, after it is all said and done, it has all been said and it has all been done. She asked me to leave and I did. When I looked back there was no on there at all.
At that point, I was suddenly in a room, and a friend of mine burst through the door, and I could tell she was furious with me.