Life. In stasis.
By: Deidre Dare When we were freshmen in high school, my friend Shari and I, two nice Jewish girls from Brooklyn, signed up to bring food and company to the elderly. The program we volunteered with assigned each team of young do-gooders to one lonely older person. The idea was to bring the meal and sit and talk with “our” old person (we’ll call her Mrs. H) for one hour twice or thrice a week. While Mrs. H’s Swastika should have been a dead give-a-way, let’s just say it wasn’t and leave it at that. Calamity ensued. Shari and I moved on to collecting signatures protesting the senseless slaughter of adorable baby seals. But now, thirty years later, I find myself thinking a lot about Mrs. H. Did the organization ever send Mrs. H anyone else to talk with her? I assume the answer to that is “no” because there have never been that many Nazis living in Brooklyn Heights. In fact, I think it doubtful there have been any. Well, except for Mrs. H, that is. It’s possibly bizarre to have sympathy for a real Nazi, but I do. I feel sorry that Mrs. H was lonely. I feel sorry for anybody who is lonely, especially the elderly. There’s a dark underbelly to The Hamptons, and it is this: there are a hell of a lot of lonely people out here. I count myself as one of them, but the majority of them are elderly and the majority of them are local. Well, maybe. I mentioned I was writing a piece on loneliness in The Hamptons to the local “gang” out here in Sag Harbor. You know: the guys who sit in the mornings outside LT Burger and watch the world go by, quiz me about Putin’s latest moves (I lived in Russia for many years), dispense advice to all and sundry who pass by their shady bench and (though they don’t know it) are a kind of a lifeline for me (and probably many others, including each other). “These summer wives are lonely,” one said to me. “Their husbands dump them and the kids off here and skedaddle back to the City to get away from them. The summer people have loneliness too, trust me.” That may be true. But the summer people…Well, it’s getting harder and harder to feel sorry for them. Though this year they seem a bit nicer – I think that’s because the winter was so horrendous and they are simply genuinely happy to be warm at last. Both my neighbors got their houses willed to them by lonely old people who had no one else to leave their possessions to. Both. So they left them to younger people who simply looked in on them from time to time. Who checked up on them after Hurricane Sandy, for instance. Generous souls, these beneficiaries, or preying hoodlums? I don’t know the answer to that. But I know this: it’s not normal and it’s happening all around The Hamptons. I spent about a year at Cozy Cabins in Wainscott before I bought my house. There was a registered sex offender who lived there for a bit. He was old and sick. And Meals on Wheels brought him food. I was much more shocked to find out there is a Meals on Wheels out here than I was to discover I was living next to a registered sex offender. Registered sex offenders are probably a dime a dozen – most likely I’ve lived next to hundreds of them – but the image of The Hamptons just doesn’t jive with Meals on Wheels. Think about it. Like I said: there’s a dark underbelly. The idea of loneliness is hard to grasp. Most of us have jobs we love or hate (depending on the day), spouses we can or cannot bear (depending on the day), children who are annoying or not (depending on the day) and family who we both love and despise (both, most days). Unfortunately, I have experienced “old age type” loneliness in my 40’s and I am here to tell you: it is absolute Hell. I’m involved in a litigation. A high-stakes, high-profile litigation. I spent a life building a life, only to have the winds of this lawsuit huff and puff and blow it all down. Everything I built? It did not stand. One wonders, then, was it even worth building? One wonders a lot of things. There is a scene in Tom Hanks’ Castaway that always seemed alien to me. Hanks is finally rescued and taken to a hotel, yet he chooses to sleep on the floor instead of the bed. This is how our brains and our hearts work. We adjust, and going back is not that easy. A person spending a lot of time alone or all their time alone, stops wanting to be with people. And thus you get rich recluses who just want to know someone will check up on them after the next hurricane. For better or for worse: check up on the old people. Remember: small kindnesses often beget fortunes out here. My advice to the lonely elderly is to make Meals on Wheels in East Hampton your beneficiary. But don’t tell anyone. They are salivating over my last paragraph. Let’s let them. Our job is to survive. It’s wired into us. And for every lonely person out here I have learned a lesson and you need to hear it: you don’t have to survive bravely. You don’t have to survive healthfully. You don’t have to survive soberly. You don’t have to survive sanely. You just have to survive. If the only way you can do that is high as a kite, enjoy. The mainstream will tell you there is a difference between “self-medicating” and “medicated by a doctor” – but there isn’t. You’re still medicated, so who cares who does the medicating? Until recently there was a sign on Main Street that read “If you are lucky enough to live by the beach, then you are lucky enough.” I want that to be true for all of us. The good news is that some days, it is.