The Pleasure of My Company

This column appeared in the Sunday, June 26, edition of The St. Augustine Record:

 

One of these days, most likely in the late evening, when young parents are wrangling toddlers into pajamas and couples married since the Reagan years are gazing at a sunset and sharing a bottle of Beaujolais, I am going to start babbling at my television during a re-run of the Family Feud, and they will carry me away in a straight jacket to a place where I can do myself no harm.

This is, at least, the future my 13-year-old nephew Joe has predicted for me.

Joe spent last week with my parents, riding a contraption he calls a hover board between their house and mine several times each day to swim in my pool or help me walk my dogs.

I was glad to have him around, happy to see the texts asking if I would, say, take him to the beach or to play tennis. I imagined myself to be closing in on favorite aunt status, the other aunts shaking their heads and wondering how they could match my level of greatness.

Joe and I talked of important things, like who would win the NBA finals (there have been no finals since 2010 that did not include LeBron James, he told me), and the finer points of a one-handed backhand as beautiful as Roger Federer’s. We played clay-court tennis, then watched it on grass and compared the two.

We risked certain death by walking within inches of a snake laid out along the path to the beach. He made fun of the way I throw (like a girl, of course) when I lobbed a piece of pine bark at the serpent, and I held his phone as he flung a handful of pebbles at it to see if it was alive. We compared cotton mouths to copperheads and wondered which we would prefer to bite us, if we had to be bitten.

I thought we’d bonded, Joe and I, believed that one day when I was old and could no longer rightly call his name, he would talk to me of the week we spent together and tell me he’d had fun.

I crashed into reality when his sisters got to town and I overheard the following conversation.

“Sandi talks to her dogs,” Joe said, his voice grown serious.

When his sisters replied that everyone talks to dogs, he said, more insistently, “No, I mean she has real conversations with them. It ain’t good.”

His sisters allowed that maybe it was strange, but then he had to admit Pancho, my Australian shepherd, is pretty smart and can understand a lot of what a person says.

Joe was still not convinced. He sat quietly for a moment, contemplating, and then said, “I think she does it because she’s lonely.”

I had to intervene. “Joe, just because I live alone doesn’t make me lonely.”

“But you are,” he insisted.

“Why do you think I’m lonely?” I asked.

“Because every time I texted you this week to ask if I could come over, you said, ‘Yes.’”

If agreeing to spend time with Joe means I’m lonely, call me recluse or hermit or just plain crazy. Because until the day they cart me off in that straight jacket, every time that kid calls, I will abandon what I am doing and answer with one word.

Yes.

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