My neighbor Jim is an elusive character. He’s in his mid 70’s, still very active. I’ve lived next door to him for 5 years. He’s a retired firefighter but that was his part time job! He was also a painting contractor. He keeps busy working odd jobs, mostly for friends. He golfs now and then. He does not talk much, just sort of grunts if you say hello to him. In the past year, he has engaged me in conversation once or twice. That means he likes me. At least those who know him well say that’s true.
Some things I do know about Jim is that he was briefly married and got divorced many years ago. There were no kids. His house is big…really big for one single man. I’ve never been inside but I’m told it’s nice. He has a nice big deck on the back of the house that he never uses. Ever. And the one thing that always has me perplexed is that no matter the time of the year, the windows in the house are always closed. There is no air conditioning. The driveway is on the far side of the house so I can’t see if his car is at home. The only way I know he is home in the evening is by seeing the lights on in what is most likely his living room. I know that in the winter, he goes to Florida for a few weeks. I also know he had a horrible bout with throat cancer a few years ago but seems to have recovered fairly well.
This past winter was different. Jim did not go to Florida. I did not see him to speak to but would see him come and go from time to time. But then it seemed like he was gone for long stretches of time….days and into weeks. His normal routine would be to be out doing a painting job during the day. He would come home, clean up and then drive away to parts unknown, coming home later in the evening. But as I said, this past winter was different. His paint truck seemed to never leave the yard. His car was rarely at home. Days and sometimes a week or more would go by with no signs of life in the house. This went on into Spring and early Summer. I mentioned this to a mutual friend and was frankly shocked at what I was told. Apparently elusive Jim had a lady friend! And they had been a “thing” for many many years. Well, of course I would not have known that. Good for Jim!
Her name was Betty Lou. I know nothing about her or their life together. I suspect she was a great help to him when he was sick. And then she got sick. I am told it was some time this past winter that she was diagnosed with cancer. No idea what kind. But whatever it was, it was apparently aggressive. Jim was devoted to her care which now explains the lengthy periods of time he was away from home. He stayed with her day and night. He stayed with her up until she passed. It was a big loss for Jim.
Several people have said Jim claims this was the worst year of his life. I suppose that’s probably true. I also know that Jim’s best friend of close to 50 years passed away this Spring, also of cancer. I think traditionally men are less equipped to manage a loss like this than women are. Loss is hard for everyone and Jim isn’t any different. But for some reason, his loss makes me extra sad. His life was wrapped up in her and their life and now it’s all gone. He is home now, every night. What now?