I found him sitting down, occupying the seat I had once occupied: On a couch, off to the side of the room. But this time it was different: there were two of us on the couch, watching the party.
As I sat there I began to realize this was not his usual perch. It opened like this: “How many kids do you have?” “Seven that I know of.” I’d heard that line before in Ireland, but not usually from an 80 year old. Definitely not from the father of a friend. “He’s such a big boy now” he said, looking wonderingly across the room at Bill. He meant strapping: over six foot and solid. Bill was awesome in my opinion—just the day before he’d taken me to his lab to look at all the one-celled organisms he was analyzing that showed a record of climate in Galway Bay since the last Ice Age. His father, Gordon, in my assessment, was just as awesome. At 78 something he had re-enrolled in geology classes and was now completing his last year of the diploma and simply loved the stuff. (Bill said he was not sure what his dad would do with himself when the course finished: maybe archeology.) Gordon still biked across full counties in Ireland. My thighs got sore when I tried to bike across a portion. He was currently planning a cycling trip across France with a friend from his Geology classes. But he was not musing on these things. “When I first held him he was only this big” he said looking from Bill to his forearm. Bill, dressed and whizzing about the room, caught the drift of the conversation and blew a kiss across the room to his father.
The conversation turned to age. “There are three secrets to aging well: eat well, exercise, and spend your life with people you love.” I smirked: Mary, Bill and Brendan’s housemate, had made sushi and seven layer cake for the party. He stilled. “I’m still figuring out the last one.” He mused on his first and second marriages, and the puzzlements they left him with. It turns out relationships at 80 something may still be as difficult to navigate—as heartbreaking and as thrilling—as at 20 something. It seemed I have much to look forward to.
The conversation turned to cross-dressing. “I only ever cross-dressed twice. I’m not up for it now any more. When I was with my first wife, well, one day I decided to dress as a woman and go down to what would have been our local pub then. None of the lads recognized me! I came up behind one of the lads and reached down and squeezed his balls. The next day he discovered that it was me, I nearly got killed.” Gordon laughed to himself. I silently hoped I would be as cool as him at eighty.
Coolness is funny. Even though it was probably only true in middle school, I still think of the sides of rooms as my proper place in a party. An awkward place, but my place. Yet sitting next to Gordon, in the middle of Ireland, ensconced in a party with people whom I love and would want at my wedding if I could drag them away from their Irish kitchens and sushi making for long enough, I realized that something had changed. I had become utterly comfortable being at the center of the room; so comfortable that I was thoroughly enjoying sitting back on that couch, laughing till my cheeks hurt, as Gordon regaled me with his life-learnings and I wondered if I could ever be that cool.