My friend M and I are as different as a couple of 63-year-olds could be. She is dark, I am fair. She is short, I am tall. She is low-key, I am high-strung. She’s an optimist, I’m a pessimist. If we charted how our minds work, she’d be a bar graph and I’d be a scatter gram.
It’s her very stolidity that I find interesting. But that’s not to say she doesn’t have a sense of adventure. Recently M tossed up every detail of her life like a game of 52-card pickup.
After selling their West Village apartment, she and her husband realized they had conflicting ideas about the ideal domicile. She wanted to live in the country, he wanted to live in the city. Instead of compromising and moving to, say, Westchester, they split the money. He bought an apartment on the Upper West Side. She bought a car, rented a farmhouse in the Berkshires and moved into it with her dog. She and her husband talk on the phone and pay each other visits. She swears she’s not lonely.
It hasn’t all been easy: The first thing she told me when I went to visit her last weekend was “I’m on a tight budget.” Heating oil costs as much as $600 a month—and even then you have to wear long underwear, turtlenecks and fleeces in the house. The car has an engine light that went on for no reason and doesn’t go out. The dog needs to be pilled several times a day and walked in the middle of the night and gets diarrhea if you share your food with her. She hasn’t found a steady job, so she’s substitute-teaching for a pittance and wondering how long it’ll be before she has to dip into her savings.
But M is happy. Every night when she walks the dog, she looks at the starry sky, and every day when she gets up in the morning she sees the cobble that rises behind her house. And she’s thrilled by their beauty. Most of all, I think, she’s thrilled that she did what she wanted to do instead of going along with someone else’s plan or just getting mired in the inertia of the known. And I have to say I’m thrilled too. I don’t want her life—it’s too cold, for one thing—but seeing her carp her diem makes me feel I could too.