Glioblastoma multiforme is one of the most serious brain tumors. Not to imply that any brain tumor is not serious, but some have slightly better survival rates. When a glioblastoma reaches Stage 4, as it had by the time my husband was diagnosed, it is nearly always a death sentence. No appeal and not much chance of a commutation. After Ron was diagnosed, but before he became so ill that it was difficult to have meaningful conversations, he suggested one day that when he was no longer there, I should find someone else.
“I don’t want anyone else,” I said. “I’m in love with you, not some other man.”
Ron was special. He was secure enough in his own masculinity not to feel threatened by a strong woman. He was gifted with the insight to understand things about me that I did not understand about myself, a gift that made him an excellent social worker. And, after his consciousness had been raised by a strong feminist in his workplace, he became a low-key feminist.
“Donna, you’re lucky to have found a man who’ll put up with you.” My mother’s words echoed in my ear. She may have been right, but it was beyond her ability to imagine that a man might not only put up with me, but enjoy the experience.
After 40 years, Ron and I had grown together, had made the little adjustments every couple makes so as not to annoy each other unnecessarily. I could not imagine at that time, nor for a time after he had crossed whatever it is that divides the living from the dead, why on earth I would want another man.
Answer: loneliness. People, like dogs, travel best in packs. Greta and I sat down on the floor one solitary weekend evening and reasoned it out. She needed the company of more humans in the house so she could practice her inter-species social skills. Me, too. I believe men are a different species, and a scientific classification will eventually catch up to what women already know.
My “toe in the water” attempt at meeting someone online through my church had flopped. I took a deep breath and dived into one of the mainstream online matchup services. Got a photo, wrestled the computer into posting it, composed a bio, looked at some available men, sent some emails.
Enter Ethelbert (not his real name) . His posting said he was 70, retired from a career with a chemical company. Three years older, not too bad. He lived in south central Pennsylvania, reasonable traveling distance. He was a widower. I was a widow. We exchanged emails.
He said he liked hiking. I like hiking. He liked dining out. I like dining out. When we arranged to meet, I wanted to meet in York, PA, about equidistant from our respective homes, but he preferred to come to my town. Okay, I would meet him at a local restaurant for lunch and then we would go for a hike. The county environmental center, with five miles of trails leading across the rolling hills and connections for longer hikes, would be perfect.
I did take one precaution. The trails at the environmental center lead into woods, and there aren’t always other hikers around. I was meeting this man for the first time. He could be anything from a saint to an axe murderer.
“If I haven’t called you to say I’m home by 4 o’clock, call the sheriff’s department,” I told my sister.
“What should I tell them?”
“Tell them I went hiking at Hashawha with a strange man and I haven’t come back. Tell them we took the yellow trail. Maybe they can at least find the body.”
Lunch with Ethelbert was an interesting experience. He regaled me with stories of his many conquests. There was one woman he especially liked, and wanted to move in with, but she wouldn’t go for it unless he agreed to stop seeing other women. He refused. They were at standoff. Was I just a convenient dummy for an “I’ll Show Her” scenario?
When Ethelbert got up to go to the men’s room and I watched him walk away, I concluded he had either had recent surgery or was older than he admitted.
He hadn’t had surgery.
“Just how old do you think I am?” he asked.
I couldn’t guess.
Holy Cats. Further discussion brought out that his sons had told him he should shave a bit off his age, or he wouldn’t meet any suitable women online. Deducting a few years is one thing—but a decade?
Given Ethelbert’s age, I suggested that perhaps we should just stroll around the town after lunch. No, he wanted to go on a real hike.
So, off to Hashawha. Ethelbert was panting by the time we reached the top of the first small hill. His nose began to run. He asked me for a tissue, but I had none. So he sniffled his way down through the meadow and across the hills.
I decided it would be wise to take the shortest loop on the trail. Good decision. I’m not Ms. Fitness, but I don’t think Ethelbert had summited anything in the preceding 10 years that was more than eight feet high. He toiled bravely on, but by the time we got back to the car, he fell into the seat, sniffled miserably and announced that he needed to use the men’s room (he hadn’t mentioned stopping in the woods).
I took him to the nature center, called my sister and told her I was in no danger, and drove him back to where his car was parked. Before he got out of the car, he tried to kiss me and said something about next time.
Could he honestly have thought there would be a next time?
(To Be Continued)
© 2011 by Donna R. Engle