If I had read the tale of my last three months in a book, I'd have hurled it at the wall as poorly written, too full of coincidence and generally too good to be true. And yet, it is true right down to the last jot and tittle.
I have after several years, adjusted to retirement - so much so that work seems as long ago to me as high school. Another life completely. I am increasingly content with my life - I love the town I live in, my house, my gardens and woods and lawns and the wildlife therein (except the ones who eat too heartily in said gardens). I love being the place family and friends stay when they are in town and my family's tendency to have events take place at my house. I enjoy our weekly Sunday breakfasts with Mom (now 97) who is moving down the slope of dementia much more slowly than many other cases I have seen. She can no longer put words together and she needs a walker to move and she hasn't a clue who any of us are, but she is smiling and sociable and affectionate (she will sometimes pat or rub my hand and it feels so loving and makes me feel good all day). She will put anything in her mouth and try to eat it so we have to be alert to her surroundings, just as if she were a toddler. Anyway, my point is that I am pretty content.
But there is one glaring fly (if flies can be said to glare) in my ointment, and that is that without someone to care for, a partner, there is a hollowness at the core of my life. Being old and generally disgusting and living in the middle of nowhere, there is almost zero chance to meet someone compatible who wants to be my mate. Before I even retired, I had begun to check out dating sites but nothing panned out. These sites may be helpful to those who are young and desirable or to the elderly who want someone to go to bingo with, but for someone elderly who hopes for an active sex life and a soulmate they are slim pickings. As one ages one gains so much baggage - not so much in the way of unresolved losses and ex-partners and the like, but habits, pleasures, commitments, non-sexual relationships of longstanding and so forth. Baggage which feels good and comforting, and which one wishes to keep.
If anyone seemed otherwise available, he always lived several thousand miles away - and though that does not bother me, sooner or later I would get the "long distance relationships don't work" line. Another frequent occurrence was being contacted by scammers both foreign and domestic. Naturally they assume that anyone old and American is desperate and rich. Well, we may be the former, but desperate doesn't always mean stupid. I learned to spot these guys usually by their second letter. They tend to have a picture that looks like a model's portfolio shot. Their 'profile' is usually a line or two, highly unrevealing except to note their 'athletic' body, and may include a reference to liking older or 'mature' men. They tend to 'love' me and promise to spend our life together by the second or third letter - way before I have really turned on my lovability effort. They always turn any conversation I have about them and their circumstances back to a discussion of me and mine. They tend to have a fascination with things in my life that indicate my degree of wealth - do I own or rent my home? What kind of car do I have? Details of their life tend to change from one letter to the next - one finds oneself thinking, "But didn't he tell me before, that…?". Once I spot them, I usually keep writing just to see how the request for money will be couched. Usually there is this one thing that needs to be paid for, then they can come to me, or they can host me if I come to them. They are considerate - I need not send actual money, I can just give my banking details and they will help me transfer the needful.
Several years ago, when I went to the wedding of my sister's daughter, I took the opportunity to meet with one guy (non-scammer) with whom I had been corresponding, named George, in Oakland, CA. It was a comedy of errors, culminating in me getting locked in a public garage while George waited 20 minutes for me to emerge and then driving away thinking I had ditched him. When I got out at last, I thought he had ditched me. Physically, George was strikingly attractive. We had, prior to the lock-in, spent several hours tooling around from sight to sight in the East Bay talking and the only negative that emerged was that we are both people who are talkers rather than listeners, and both kind of intent on setting the agenda. This was a red flag, but not a dealbreaker; being ditched was a dealbreaker for both of us, or so I thought. That was the last I heard of him - until…
This August, not long before another depressing birthday (it seems so unfair that you have to get older each time one of these rolls around, which they seem to do more and more frequently), I went to see my brother Liam and a friend of his play and sing at a local club. I got home around midnight, went to bed and was drifting off when the phone rang. When I answered, it was George after all these years. Although I feigned recognition, I actually took some time to put together who he was, and once I did we discussed the mutual abandonment at the Oakland garage and a lot of other things - including the fact that we each tended to want to control the flow to some extent. He said he had thought of me over the years, and was feeling especially lonely that night and thought he'd take a shot and call. We talked for an hour, and we talked a number of times after that. I went onto the web next day, rediscovered his dating profile and read up on him.
Coincidence number one, was that by going back on the site, I changed my 'last visit date' to the present, moving me back to the top of some folks' search criteria. As a result of this, I received a 'virtual smile' from a lad in India named (I later found) Priyo. I would never have found Priyo in a search of my own because he is below the age I search for - it is a waste of time for someone my age to be talking to 33 year olds (usually). I thought I had another scammer on my hands and checked out his profile. The one thing different from most scammers was that this guy had four pictures on his ad (scammers rarely have more than one - never more than two) and every one of Priyo's photos had a serious if not glum facial expression. They were clearly candid shots, in a mall or some such locale. So I wrote back asking if he ever smiled. He responded that he would send me some smiling shots and that I seemed nice. I said I WAS nice (I can lie with the best of them), and this tickled him so much that we started 'talking' more. In no time at all we were Skyping, (he looked exactly like his pics) and the smiling pics he sent were so dazzling; when he smiles he goes from just a bit player to the star of stage and screen.
He didn't look like most Indians I had seen; he looked more Far Eastern. It turns out that there are a few rural states in India to the east of Bangladesh, pressed up against Burma, where the people are more Burmese in appearance than Indian. He made me laugh. I made him laugh. He told me things that could be considered negative about himself - things I couldn't imagine any scammer telling me. He answered anything I asked, he said he was employed, and he seemed to have no interest in relocating to America. He never asked anything that would be remotely revealing about my financial status. He never hinted at a lack of funds; on the contrary, he often mentioned having bought something or having gone somewhere that would make a plea for financial help pretty unconvincing, although he was clearly not wealthy. Each thing he told me via phone meshed with everything he had said before. And I looked him up on Facebook and it was clear he had a 'friend' list that had a lot of much older men. He had been on FB for years and everything mentioned there dovetailed with things he had told me. We were soon talking every morning and evening - up to 4 hours a day. We each made sure the other woke up to find a cheerful e-mail waiting to start his day. His evening is my morning and vice versa.
I had promised to meet Papa, my old Indian friend, in Toronto in October for a week or so. I had medical appointments in November. December is too hectic and expensive to travel. And Priyo was entering a police academy in mid-January where he would be living in a dorm for nearly a year. When would I ever meet this guy? - I was becoming hopelessly hooked on the image I had. He felt so genuine. Because of his job, his English was amazing; for six years he has been employed receiving dictations from American and Australian doctors which he then types out, formats and returns as patient case histories. His medical vocabulary exceeds that of most Americans, I expect, but he is also skilled at vernacular American slang. I mulled for a day or two how we might manage a meeting. Then I realized that (as I have said here before; I should listen to myself more often) love is not something you slot into your life around visits and appointments; love is something around which you build your life. I received Priyo's virtual smile on August 21. On September 19, I was stepping off a plane at Chandigarh Airport in northern India and spotting a popping and fizzing figure waving frantically at me.
It has now been just over two months since I arrived. The day before my arrival, Priyo had moved all his belongings from a cheap shared apartment in Chandigarh to a more costly apartment in Panchkula, a smaller city which abuts Chandigarh. He paid himself for this much more costly venue as well as for the move itself and some necessary items such as two ceiling fans. (After the first month I split the rent). He had even stocked the fridge with Diet Pepsi, which I had mentioned I liked during one conversation. Priyo was exactly the man he had said he was. He is generous, honorable, honest, loving, courageous, very smart (speaks 4 languages and understands a fifth) and darn good-looking. He genuinely has no interest in younger men - a handsome young model or actor is about as attractive to him as a rock. He loves American culture - music, movies and the like, and he dreams of one day visiting, but he has no interest in living there for good. He says he had no skills in demand in the US and he'd never, ever be dependent on someone else for his well-being. He has told me this is the happiest time in his life. He had never met an American before me.
Priyo has his quirks - a bit of a fussbudget; he is overprotective when I feel a bit ill (happened twice) and crossing a road with him is a series of 'Come, Come, Come, Wait, Wait, Wait, Come Come Come' commands, despite the fact that I have safely crossed roads for about 70 years, and little things like that, but he is in every way the good man that I found myself falling for via computer and telephone. There have been no bad surprises. He puts me first always. He does the laundry, cooking, cleaning, and everything that needs doing. It would be embarrassing if I didn't have the thick hide of the Entitled. Once I was washing a couple of plates and he demanded to know what was I doing. I said it was not his job to wait on me and he said when he loves someone, he enjoys doing things for them. Well, I certainly don't want to deprive him of that pleasure! He remembers any preference I mention. He caters to my tastes every time he cooks. I told him before I came that one of my crosses to bear in a life which has seen a lot of travel is that I have real difficulty with unfamiliar foods. He cooks Indian (which I like) but he runs ingredients past me before he is tries something new. He thinks it is really funny when I say, "Eeeewwww!" We laugh a lot, I can make him laugh really hard. I am crazy about the guy. It is so amazing to meet someone who is genuinely good right down to his innermost self - and I can hardly believe how lucky he feels to have found me. We can be together comfortably when we are doing separate things. Sometimes we lie down reading separate books - Priyo just finished a Lee Child novel (in English).
Priyo told me he was sorry that we had to go everywhere on his motorcycle - he wished he could have a car for me. I asked why; I kind of enjoyed the motorcycle when I wasn't totally panicked that a bus and a horse-drawn cart were bearing down on us at high speeds (well, not so high speed for the horse). He said that he knew American Senior Citizens were not accustomed to riding on the backs of motorcycles. It is the closest I have come to smacking him over the head with a club.
I have done very little sightseeing here. I am not a guy for sights in the first place and I came here for Priyo, not castles and beaches. Chandigarh and Panchkula are planned cities (by Le Corbusier) and are the wealthiest per capita cities in India. There are a great number of beautifully laid out and well-maintained parks. Priyo has taken me to a rose garden, a cactus garden, a rock garden (which is not what one thinks of when one says 'rock garden at home - it is a huge maze with waterfalls and full grown trees and narrow paths between 20-foot-high walls, with hundreds of whimsical sculptures of people and animals and small scale replicas of villages). But mostly we just go to market and stay home (when he is not at work), and that suits me to a 'T'.
I didn't grasp how cheap it is to live here until I discovered that for two consecutive months, despite buying a handmade carpet and a leather jacket and my my share of the rent and groceries etc, as well as keeping up on my insurance, utilities and other expenses back home, I had nearly a thousand left in my checking account at month end, whereas I usually have very little when I am home, even sometimes having to shift some savings into checking to make it to month end. But here is a little comparison that might make it clear. At home I pay more than $90 every two months for Waste Management to come once a week and pick up the trash I have toted out to the roadside. Here I have a man come daily to my door and take away whatever trash I have accumulated for the princely sum of 80 cents a month (plus a 32 cent tip once a year on the holiday called Diwali). I got my Doc Martin shoes, which had a tear in the fabric, repaired and polished by a guy sitting under a tree for 64 cents. I get a shave occasionally by a guy working under a different tree for 32 cents.
In a month, I will return to America. Being away from home, I have realized how much I like my place in Reedville. I do not want to give it up. Since I have a reverse mortgage I will lose it legally if I am living away from it for more than six months in a year. Although Priyo will see a large increase in salary as a cop, he will still have a really hard time saving enough to come to the US to visit any time soon; moreover, he will have issues about getting enough time off work to do so. A visa to the US requires the recipient to show savings of $8000 over and above the cost of the visit. So it appears that ours will be a sporadic relationship. That's OK. I told Priyo that I understood he was young, and that if he felt the need, I was perfectly OK with him having the occasional fling. He said he hoped I would be his only man in that area. I loved the honesty of the word 'hoped'. It was so realistic and it was a refusal to make false promises. He said he felt the same about me, but I can't see anyone banging on my door in the middle of nowhere and demanding to have sex with an old man that only his mother (and Priyo) could love.
So we shall see how things go from here. I have always lived by whim and I don't really worry much about what is next when I am happy. One day of happiness is a win. How foolish to be miserable because something might not be easy in some future time.
Meanwhile, I am living the dream!