Lary’s in love, and I’ve decided this is a sign of something positive. For one, Lary is a hundred years old, give or take a couple quarter centuries. I met him twenty years ago at, oddly, a church wedding. He was about as inconspicuous as an angry circus elephant. Our friendship fused almost instantly over cake frosting and a mutual disgust for overly affectionate lovebirds.
Unknown to me then, and for decades since, was the fact that Lary had already handed his heart to someone and, even though things did not work out, had never asked for it back. Perhaps that’s why, when I met him, he was already starting to get that wizened look that would soon weather into a face that is a cross between a hard-touring rock star and a cuddly Crypt Keeper. And let’s not forget those eyes—like a crocodile, only blue as blowtorch flames.
Don’t get me wrong. Lary is, curiously, a very good-looking guy. And I have seen pictures of him taken from as far back as when he was a baby, disproving my theory—heartily supported by Lary—that he wasn’t born so much as he simply crawled into existence, perhaps from a tar pit. In these photographs, I discovered that Lary used to be so handsome he could actually part a crowd with his presence. There is one picture in particular in which he is lying at a languid angle on a beach, his arm around the incandescent woman who is the soon-to-be misplaced love of his life. Lary is smiling, squinting at the sun, his blond hair touching his shoulders, and he is so beautiful it’s almost mythical. Whenever I see this photo, I have to stare. It’s not like I can’t tell it’s him. I can totally tell it’s him. I just can’t believe it’s him.
It’s like that photo my friend Lynn keeps of her eighty-six-year-old mother that was taken back in the forties. In it, Lynn’s mother is strolling along a sidewalk, wearing jodhpurs, the kind of pants favored by dictators and movie directors at the time. Her hair is a dark cascade of mildly coiffed curls. She is as alarmingly lovely as she is confident. It was snapped in an instant, by a random photographer on the street, and it’s a testimony to his talents that he felt compelled to capture that vision. Today some may find it hard to reconcile this photo with the fragile woman on the sofa, surrounded by medicine, breathing her last. But beauty has so many levels, and there is something undeniably beautiful about what this woman has become over the years, what we all become eventually. Lynn’s mother is not simply eighty-six. Lynn’s mother is every age she has ever been.
Lary, of course, is very comfortable with his age. He had no use for the beauty of his youth, which I’m sure proved problematic for him on account of the fact that with beauty comes magnetism, and deep down Lary, as a general rule, is sincerely unable to stand most people. So it only makes sense that he would set about weathering his looks to the point where the outside of him is level with the inside. Until recently, if I were pressed to pick one word to describe both his looks and his personality, that word would have been “textured.”
So it goes without saying that there are many levels to Lary. He is a hundred years old, give or take a couple quarter centuries, and after a certain age you expect things to set. So I thought Lary was set. I thought he’d be as he swore he’d always be: sardonic, antisocial, mildly evil, and joyfully destructive. It never occurred to me that the day would come when Lary would be, like, madly in love.
But this is not a new love. It’s an old love. Evidently it lay dormant in Lary until suddenly it was time to surface. It’s a Godzilla kind of love: there all along, waiting for a minor atomic incident to signal its release. Today, when the two of them look at each other, they see their weathered faces as well as the loveliness captured in that photo on the beach so long ago. And there is something undeniably beautiful about what they have become over the years. Now Lary is everything he swore he’d never be: happy, gushing, and utterly unconcerned with what you think about it. I’m taking this as a sign of something positive—not because this is the first time since I met him that Lary has finally realized he’s in love, but because, since the first time I met him, I’ve finally realized that being in love is all Lary has ever been.
Photograph courtesy of Hollis Gillespie