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Retrospective on a friendship

June 7th, 2011 at 10:36 am

My old friend informs me he will now live to be 80. That's a big improvement, since for the last few years, ever since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he's been telling me he's going to die an early death, probably within the next 5 years.

We got together yesterday to walk on a new riverwalk in a blue collar town in between him and me. (I was passing through the area driving back home from a medical study at Yale, so it was convenient.)

I woke up this morning ruminating about our visit, and I realized that something was different about this time. Meaning, it was a pleasant visit, through and through.

My friend has always been an extremely argumentative kind of person, the kind of person who would have been president of your high school's debating team. He's combative, loves to drag you into arguments over politics and often seems to relish challenging people.

There were any number of times, after a get-together with my friend over the years, that I kind of grit my teeth, shook my head and profusely thanked myself for having the good sense not to marry this guy many years ago when I fell in love with him.

It's one of the reasons I broke up with him over 25 years ago when we were dating. We just got into too many arguments.

Even getting together as friends, he has this way of controlling situations, making me very aware that he is controlling the conversation by steering it toward certain topics and watching the clock so that our visit ends at a certain time. Nothing is left to chance! It certainly never helped that he's a Republican and I'm a Democrat; he would often bait me with inflammatory comments, which I've long ago learned to ignore.

But, like most people, he's got many sides. People are not black and white, they are many shades of gray. Despite the impression you may have gotten from what I've written just now, he's a very good person. I was initially attracted to him because aside from his extremely handsome good looks when he was younger, he was also very, very smart and had a great sense of humor. Although he has no children, he was always very devoted to family and especially to his 2 nieces, who lacked a father figure in their life. He's a great piano/organ player, and would love to wow strangers in a hotel lobby or some other public place by sitting down at the keyboard and launching into some tune. He also was fluent in several languages, which proved very helpful when we traveled to Europe together at least 3 times. He's also extremely outgoing and can quickly put people he's never met at ease with a quick joke.

I remember one time at the end of a long vacation abroad and disembarking from a European flight in New York, my friend broke out singing "My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty..." as we walked with the rest of the passengers from the plane to the airport terminal. He somehow captured the sentiment most of the other passengers were feeling, that glad-to-be-home feeling. People turned around to look at him and laughed. He loved that kind of attention.

So we've remained friends for all these years. But his sunny disposition changed for the worse in more recent years after his wife left him, not once, but twice (meaning, she left him, she insisted they divorce, which they did, then they reconciled, eventually remarried, and then she left him again). Left him with no warning, becus she apparently couldn't stand his controlling behavior either. There was lots of therapy involved, and anti-depressants for him, and all-around very trying times.

Then he got prostate cancer, and she had a life-threatening medical issue that's left her now on permanent disability and with chronic health problems. He stuck with her; I'd say she's extremely lucky to have him. He goes to BJs and buys her groceries, takes her to her doctor's appointments, and is whisking her off for a few days in Newport Rhode Island next week, although they live completely apart, she in her condo and he in hers. Those are her wishes, not his.

My friend had some cutting-edge laser surgery for his cancer. He sued his insurer (representing himself) to get coverage for the procedure, and won. But the surgery didn't work, and now he's on a medication to keep the cancer in check. His doc said it will eventually start losing its effectiveness in about 3 years, and after that they'll have to turn to another medication, but there aren't many other medications right now they can use. So he needs to hope that something new will come down the pike.

But anyway, according to my friend's new calculations, he will now live to be 80. This, despite the fact that his father, age 94, is still alive and kicking; they regularly play golf together.

So I'm relieved to see that my friend is sounding a little less morbid when we get together. He had earlier told me in great detail how he was disposing of his assets in his estate when he dies. I kept warning him that he shouldn't give away too much money while he's still alive because he may surprise himself and live longer. (See, there is a money thread here.) He has a niece he dotes on, and has given a lot of money to.

But anyway, getting back to what struck me this morning, I realized that in yesterday's visit, it was a kinder, gentler R. He wasn't argumentative, combative or controlling the way he's always been.

I wonder now if it's this drug he's taking for the prostate cancer. It contains female hormones that make him put on weight, but it could also be mellowing him out. Or maybe, given his new, self-proclaimed life expectancy calculations, he's relaxed a little because he realizes he's got another 15+ years. Or maybe he's relaxing a bit simply due to the passage of time, something I observed in other older males like my own father.....all the fire and brimstone of their earlier years gives way to a more sensitive, less testosterone-driven person. Or maybe because he's finally come to terms with the new reality of his 2nd marriage to the same woman, although they live apart and maintain a platonic-style relationship that centers on time spent sharing their dog and occasional getaways to places like Newport or Maine.

Whatever the reason, I really like it.

5 Responses to “Retrospective on a friendship”

  1. My English Castle Says:

    It would be funny if female hormones made him nicer. But it sounds like you've had a great rewarding relationship.

  2. MonkeyMama Says:

    I've kind of found that I am most compatible with charismatic introverts. I think there is only so much of an extrovert I can take, though opposites attract. So, I can totally relate to how attractive a personality like that is, but how unbearable I would find that in a marriage. Sounds like you are great as friends. & it sounds nice to see things looking up for a friend who has been so much.

  3. CB in the City Says:

    He actually sounds a lot like my ex-husband. Maybe if I could've gotten some female hormones into him, the marriage would have survived! Smile

  4. patientsaver Says:

    What interesting comments. CB, you crack me up. MM, I find that I do best in relationships, including friendships, with somewhat extroverted people, but not extreme extroverts, and definitely not introverts. (I'm someone who likes to know where they stand, and with introverts, that can be something of a mystery.) My English Castle,I really wouldn't be surprised if that had something to do with it!

  5. baselle Says:

    Could be that he made it to the last stage of death: acceptance. Even though he's figured that he's not going to die, probably seriously comtemplated it. And the grim reaper is impervious to combat, argument or a control freak. It will be interesting to note if his new lease on life means he reverts back to a more controlling person.

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