If the Election Were Held Today


I had lunch today with my friend who’s a tender ninety-three. We sat at a round table in the corner of her new assisted living residence dining room, a community that assists the sweet, memory-impaired. It’s a beautiful place. It really is. The staff is friendly, respectful, dignity-givers. Up until this move a few weeks ago, she’d been on her own. A well-traveled, independent woman, she is of Puerto Rican dissent, spending much of her life in the publishing industry in Manhattan before she moved out west. She’s savvy, educated, proper, refined, elegant, gracious, loving, beloved. She’s teeny, but she’s so, so huge.


We have some standard banter. I give her a compliment and she smiles coyly and says, “Oh, I don’t know about that,” and I say, “Oh, I know about that.” She smiles again. And I do, too. And we leave it at that.


Today, she sat to my right, and on her right, “Robert” in his electric wheelchair, then the second “Robert,” who is a Navy vet and retired attorney, then “Marilyn,” then Marilyn’s beau, “West,” and then back to me. My sweet friend ordered a chicken salad sandwich with potato chips, coffee with cream, one sugar. I had the nice cup of low sodium (I surmised) chicken orzo soup and then a crisp iceberg salad with shredded carrot, ranch dressing on the side.


In a way, it was a people-watcher’s paradise—an airport and Disneyland in one place. It was tough to take notes, however. I didn’t want to be rude, plus, words pretty much escaped me. So I sat, absorbed, engaged. My heart broke, my heart filled. I watched struggles with manipulating forks, too-filled water glasses, scattered thoughts, revisiting words just spoken.


Much of the conversation was on a continual loop. The first topic was the election. Marilyn and West were Hillary supporters. That was clear. Marilyn was the spearheader, the outspoken one, raising her hand to punctuate her position, sometimes rolling her eyes, shaking her head. She recognized that First Robert, across the table, would cancel out her vote with his Trump. I wasn’t clear who Second Robert was endorsing. He talked mostly about missing his wife. My sweet friend, well, she was demure, and wasn’t sure if her new move meant she was no longer registered to vote. She was troubled by this election. None of it sat right with her.


The most interesting of the group, I have to admit, was Marilyn. She looked like Hollywood. Blonde curls, unbelievably smooth skin, thick Angelina lips and bright blue eyes, perhaps some enhancements. But still, so incredibly natural and beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I asked her what she did for a living and she said she had been a school teacher in Los Angeles.


Early on in the meal, I had asked West if he and Marilyn were married. I had noticed them stealing some looks, along with toasting empty wine glasses (several times). The only wine glasses on the lunch table.


A wide grin spread across his face. “No, she’s my girlfriend.”


“Ah,” I said.


Her eyes agreed.


When I had first sat down, I’d introduced myself. When I asked Marilyn her name, she said, “Mac.” First Robert looked at me, chimed in and said in a matter-of-fact, “She’s not Mac, her name’s Marilyn.”


Marilyn/Mac rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders.


After politics was exhausted, I’d gotten a little of everyone’s backstory, including Second Robert’s. He and his wife were married fifty years, and she’s now been gone eleven. Every time he said that line, he was notch sadder.  But he does have a new lady friend. They go to church together but they’re just friends, nothing romantic. They’d never live together.


Marilyn shrugged, interjecting, “Too bad.”


There was a whole lot of quiet. Too quiet for me, in fact, I felt uncomfortable. Until I didn’t. They seemed fine with it, so I should, too, I guessed. I looked around the dining hall. It was mostly quiet. Not just devoid of words, but peaceful. So I eased into it, too.


Holding her empty wine glass, Marilyn seemed to be beckoning the server.  I told her I’d get the server’s attention.  Also, First Robert needed some attention.  The fried egg sandwich he’d ordered over-hard was over over-easy and now it was all over him. He just waited, though, yellow yoke all over his shirt and napkin. He was unruffled, like he was fine with it either way, really. Peaceful.


Wine glasses now refilled, West and Marilyn were toasting his red to her white again. In fact, over the next half hour or so, they re-toasted/re-clinked at least a dozen times. With the same flirtatious grins and nods. At one point, I noticed a piece of food on West’s lower lip and a few moment’s later,  Marilyn touch her napkin to his face, wiping it away.


The only thing this piece has to do with the election is that it’s the day before the election. It’s a bait and switch, really. Which we might need.


Until my memory fades, I will savor today’s lesson of easing into the struggle, the broken yokes, the opposing viewpoints, the quiet, the memories gone while some remain, and still enjoying a meal together.


And I’ll leave it at that.