The breakup of friendship between an old man and his 40ish woman neighbor.
Mathematics of the Heart
©2003 Carol M Hegberg
I should have seen the signs.
I did see the signs, only they didn’t add up to what they truly meant because the mathematics of the heart does not add and subtract to reason but adjusts according to the emotions. No matter how I approach the equation, whether I multiply or divide by the signs I recognized, the end sum totals to the loss of a friend.
It was a humid June afternoon when we packed his bags. He asked me, asked me specifically, to help him remember everything he would need over the summer up North. Usually he balked at my offer of help, perhaps out of politeness or out of manly independence, but I had always helped him in small ways. That afternoon I asked if he really wanted my help.
“Yes, come over,” he almost whispered. “Come help me pack.”
I placed the polyester shirts atop his worn shoes that I had stuffed with socks. He had sliced into all the cuffs of those socks to allow for the stretch his thin, white ankles needed for circulation. He had taken the very scissors I used to snip off the new luggage tag and cut into the fabric of the socks, just as he cut into the fabric of our friendship. And like the socks, it had no stretch. Could never have stretched that far.
He had made a list, which did not include slacks. (He always called them trousers.) I reminded him of this a few times, over and over like a daughter would a father, but it didn’t register. Perhaps he wanted a pair of shorts.
“No.” He was sure of that. It was too cool up North, even in the summer.
He moved his pen along the paper, checking off each item. Was I on his mental list?
We were finished. I felt good, fulfilled in a small way for helping my neighbor. After all, his wife had died four years before, and she always packed for their summer up North. No need for thankful words.
Then his arms flew open. And like a naive fool, I accepted his appreciation and walked into them.
But his sigh, of what I normally assumed as relief over a finished task, crawled out of his mouth like a lustful groan.
He hugged too tightly too long. Like the one in his kitchen when he had left the stove on underneath the coffee pot. I had hurried around, turning on the exhaust fan to suck out the scorch smell, setting the pot to soak in vinegar and lemon. As he had murmured words of thanks, his arms had squeezed too tightly too long. Yet I had pushed him aside like a clinging child.
Not that afternoon. His arms pressed our bodies closer. I wiggled an arm between us, but he wouldn’t release as I shoved against his bony chest. He crushed my breasts to his midriff, and my mind reeled. This can’t be happening!
His voice was lusty and quiet as he sighed my name and told me, “You’re so desirable.”
I struggled against his hold. Dear God! He is my neighbor!
He swung me around in his grip. His mouth moved lower, quietly towards mine. His moist, wrinkled lips opened, and he whispered, “Kiss me.”
My husband and I argued that night. Neither of us could sleep, and when I turned, he moaned about not having enough money for our vacation.
“Well, then we’ll save money and stay home,” I said and sat up. “We just won’t go!” I left the bed, the room, and walked outside to the cool darkness.
I escaped to the double swing. The S-hook squeaked. No sound! I wanted no sound except my weeping.
I shivered at the thought of his hands caressing my back and my bottom. He had wounded my flesh! My entire being shivered.
He was no longer my friend because he crossed that sum out as easily as a teacher X’s out a student’s mistake. He cancelled our friendship with a kiss.
He betrayed me by plotting against me. Premeditation! How could he think I could reverse my values or would indulge him!
He stole from me! I needed our vacation in the wilderness where time didn’t exist and peace seeped into my dry spirit and healed it. After one week up North (they’d invited us for years), I could live another year, take on the stress of family and work because of those five days in the purest of earthly lands. But not now. Not ever there again.
An algorithm. That’s what he was. When I had noticed the word on my son’s school book, I joked about his studying the tempo of Al Gore. From my calculations, my neighbor was the algorithm. He found the greatest common divisor and smashed our friendship into irreparable pieces.
A hound howled a lament to my cries.
I will never walk in his house again. I will never sit on his deck again. I will never borrow his car again. Those luxuries have been removed from the story problem by the indiscretions of his heart.
Our lives converged those many years into one value: friendship. He had watched our children grow as though they were his grandchildren.
Then harmonic divergence. He has plucked the line, and like a vibrating violin string, our friendship has flip-flopped and will never converge again.
The evening after, I biked around the neighborhood. I remembered my cousin’s remark when I’d introduced him as my old neighbor. She laughed through her words. “That’s no way to say it. Old.”
At the time I meant long-time because, as I viewed my father, I never truly saw him as aged. I do now. I will never see old men the way I did before.
I biked passed the house of a professor acquaintance. He waved from his porch with his baby on his lap. The fact that he was in his early seventies and a new father repulsed some. I was non-judgmental. Let people live. In ways I couldn’t foresee, his life now left a rank feeling in my stomach.
The day he left for up North, it rained. No storms, just constant, healing rain-tears. The angels were crying. I felt consoled.
As I waited in the car for my daughter, I watched the drops line up on the window like jewels. Splash! Another fell like a tear, clearing away the others, leaving a sad, empty line.
When we returned, inside our garage I found the little white table he had borrowed for his deck. On it, his old fishing hat I always borrowed up North lay with a note attached. It read, “I’m sorry.”
Did that note void his behavior? Should those words erase his actions?
No. The quotient cannot include his view.
Anger remains while sadness tries to console it. Though his words were meant to erase the sin, I cannot be his friend because the mathematics of the heart does not include reason.
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