Old Men Love Me
by Caroline Simpson
I sit beside Calvin at the park, watch my daughter and his grandsons play. He’s a lawyer, used to live in London and Saudi; I’m a teacher, used to live in Turkey and Spain. We chuckle at the bossiness of three-year-olds, braid our laughter with the cool autumn breeze.
Tim is helping me write a play. I’m better at enabling than writing, he said 20 years ago as my professor. We FaceTime every week. He holds the camera up to his dining room table, the pages of my play—seeds scattered among squash he harvested from his garden.
Haven’t heard from my friend’s dad, Jack, for months. He used to send Atlantic articles about Turkey and Trump and when the weather cooled, treat me to Chinese.
They must sense I come from an old dad who took me, as a child, to watercolor classes at the senior center. We painted pigeons looking for seeds, flicked gray from a toothbrush onto the pavers they pecked at.
They’d hate that I call them old men. I hurt Dad’s feelings when I didn’t want him to be a Mommy Helper in my third-grade room. He had liver spots on his hands.
I used to think old age was a kind of confusion, a synapse misfiring a tune. I traveled the world after he died, came across an old man alone in a Venice café early on a foggy fall morning. He slowly ate his pastry, sipped espresso, then suddenly lit up and danced in his chair. We laughed together as if I’d been at that lindy hop too.
Last week Calvin asked if I ever jog in the dark. (He saw me jog past the other day.) He gave it up a few years ago after spraining his ankle, then his shoulder, in a fall. He loves that transition of light and sound from night crickets to early morning birds. He’s jogging now as he describes his old run from our neighborhood to the riverfront. Oh that hill on the way back! As soon as you cross MLK, you see it, he shakes his head.
When I moved to Montana after college to live off-grid, Dad noted he was flying Navy fighter jets at my age. When I missed the message he’d fallen and hit his head, that I needed to come home quick, I was backpacking in Yellowstone. I never saw the notices rangers posted for me on trailheads. My sisters said Dad was with me in the woods, not with them in the hospital room tied to tubes.
I took his favorite part of life when we went through his things—his Navy photo album, black and white moments attached to faded raggedy paper, some missing photo corners, dangling full of men and stories I didn’t know.
These days I live on-grid, write for 30 minutes a day at crickets-to-songbirds sunrise. The play’s coming along heavy and slow as my afternoon jog. To be in the middle is to be in the muddle, Tim says about this stage of writing a play.
He says my play is his only positive thing. In the dim light, I sometimes see Munch’s Scream flicker on his face. This is not my favorite part of life, he says.
The best hour of my day is settling into silence with Calvin on the park bench after a long day’s work. I was raised on that zephyr blowing backwards strongest in the fall, Dad meandering through backlit zinnias, martini in hand, dirt-stain on knees, taking in the garden, the day’s work, his life.
Sometimes I crave that Venice fog, a softened city silhouette—to be wrapped like a Russian nesting doll in layers of mist that soak and sink, immersed in damp whispers, outline blurred into thick emerald lagoon, bright, crisp stars twinkling above.
Caroline N. Simpson’s chapbook, Choose Your Own Adventures and Other Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. In 2020, Delaware Division of Arts awarded Caroline an Established Artist Fellowship in Poetry, and she has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize in both poetry and nonfiction. carolinensimpson.com