Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Real Men Cry II

Exertec Health and Fitness Center, Napa, California, USA

June 3, 2014

"Be quiet. Big boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry. Big boys don't cry." ... 10cc

This essay, Real Men Cry II, is the companion piece to Real Men Cry.

Sometimes she was there. Sometimes she wasn't. I usually arrive at the gym early - before 7:00am. On occasion she would be sitting at a high table on a bar stool in the reception area - well dressed, elegant. Other times she wasn't. When she was there, she had no gear or books with her - not even a bag. She just sat there alone at the table, as if lost in her own world. If I smiled at her as I walked by, she smiled back. But in her eyes I saw something else: a vacancy, a no one at home  look, a blank stare. The ravages of Alzheimer's  I guessed.

Then one day I noticed my friend Andrew (not his real name) talking with her. When I met him in the locker room later, I asked him "I noticed you talking with a pretty lady in the reception area. Is she your girlfriend?". It was a light-hearted enough remark, one I instantly regretted when he answered "No, she's my wife.".

Andrew's got to be in his seventies. He's retired. He's in the gym diligently every morning, sometimes to work out, other times just to soak in the hot tub. He's devoted to his wife. They've been married over fifty years. Now that she has Alzheimer's (he confirmed it - I guessed right) he takes care of her full time. When he comes to the gym in the morning, she comes too. She sits at the high table on a bar stool in the reception area, patiently waiting for him, the love of her life, to finish. I was touched deeply by this, a regular Darby and Joan  love story for the ages.

One day when I arrived at the gym, she wasn't there. But he was. He was standing at the concierge desk with blood dripping from gashes in his face. His lip was split, and a black eye was beginning to form. His knees were bruised almost to the point of bleeding. There were deep scratches on his lower legs, and he nursed what looked like a broken finger, gingerly bending an elbow which didn't look too happy either. "Andrew" I asked "did you get into a fight again?"  (ever the joker ...). "I hope the other guy looks worse than you ...".

He'd been walking to the gym from his home which is nearby, tripped and fell down a flight of stairs, and obviously hurt himself. Yet he continued on to the gym, not realizing the extent of his injuries. Upon seeing the condition he was in, the concierge immediately called 911. A team responded quickly, taking him to the emergency room where he was treated for his (fortunately minor) injuries. He didn't show up again at the gym for a few weeks after that. I called him and left a message on his voicemail asking how he was and telling him I looked forward to seeing him back in the gym again soon. But he didn't return my call.

Then one day he was back in the gym locker room. His face was still marked but mostly healed. Still the joker, I asked him "How's your girlfriend?". He stopped, looked away, then looked back at me, then looked away again. "She's very angry with me" he finally said - I could tell he'd determined he could trust me. "Why?" I asked, "What did you do?". "When I fell and hurt myself and had to go to the ER, I realized I couldn't take care of her properly anymore, so I had to put her into a home where she can have the care she needs. She's very angry about it. She yells at the staff and is very un‑cooperative. And when I visit her, she yells at me too. But what can I do?".

He was the picture of absolute dejection, of total sadness. I totally got it. The two of them had probably been high school sweethearts, had been married for fifty years and more, had never been apart, and now in quick succession she gets Alzheimer's, he has an accident, he can't take care of her anymore, and she's rudely thrust (against her will) into the company of strangers and away from the only man she's ever loved. Ouch!

I nodded my head, just getting it, not wanting to dishonor the piety and the sanctity of the moment with some smart alecky  comment. When I saw him again at the gym on subsequent occasions, we didn't talk about her. But I knew. And he knew that I knew. And I could tell there was some comfort for him in knowing I knew.

Another month slipped by during which time I didn't see him at all - or else he'd changed his gym time and was now coming in later when I'd already completed my workout. Then one day I was in the locker room just before taking a shower following my workout, and there he was. "Hey, Andrew!" I called out to him "Where've you been? How's your girlfriend?" (calling her his girlfriend was by now a marginal joke at best, but he didn't seem to mind - he may have even liked it, so I continued to use it).

He had a strange look on face. "She died" he said simply.

The silence between us was suddenly too thick in the air. I was about to say "But I only saw her what seems like yesterday ..." and quickly erased that thought as being too superficial, too stoopid. "I'm so sorry, Andrew" I said, now totally focused. He told me that although her age and the Alzheimer's were deemed to have played a significant role in her demise, he thought her heart had simply given out when she found herself (what she considered to be) abandoned by him. He was having a hard time of it - both in having lost her, as well as in blaming himself for her death. "Andrew" I said, "don't do that. Don't blame yourself. What you did for her was out of total love and respect. Give yourself permission to say goodbye. Give yourself permission to grieve. Give yourself permission to cry - none of this big boys don't cry  macho bullshit, OK?".

"That's all I'm doing these days: crying" he said.

And then he began to cry - right then and there in the gym locker room, surrounded by twenty or thirty men in various stages of dress and undress - some completely naked, some all but naked with towels around their waists (Andrew and I were both in the latter category). That locker room suddenly became very, very quiet.

It was in that very moment I was called to hug him. "How odd! How awkward"  I heard my voice-over comment. I'm naked except for a towel around my waist, and I'm about to hug another man who's naked except for a towel around his waist, and the entire spectacle is being watched by twenty or thirty naked and semi-naked men. Awkward  ... to say the least. Every eye in that gym locker room was on me in that moment. You could hear a pin drop.

I hugged him. He offered no resistance. Somehow my arms worked so that the hug itself worked without it being inappropriate - which it certainly could have become. When I stepped back, he was looking at me. "Real men cry Andrew" I said. He was unembarrassed - just very, very sad, and still crying. "Call me if you want to talk.". "Thank You Laurence" he said, then walked over to a sink to shave, his unguarded tears making tracks in the shaving cream on his cheeks for all the world to see.

The locker room was still dead quiet. Then - slowly, at first - people began saying things: from the empathetic "Sorry to hear about your wife Andrew" to the generous "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you Andrew" to the friendly "When you feel up to it, let's you and me go get a few cold, tall brewskis  sometime Andrew" to (in the absence of anything more substantial) the token "Hey! You're a good man Andrew.". People who hadn't said anything to him before now, were coming up to him, patting him on the back, shaking his hand. And if you looked closely, you'd have seen many an eye of those big strong tough guys, misted over.

It's easy to forget that anywhere you are with whatever's going on, is the perfect place for you to be. When you're wildly, exuberantly  happy, it's easier to get this is it  than when you're sad, having just lost the love of your life. Yet this is it  also. It's always  it. The way through grief is to experience it. Real men cry. The only way out is through.

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