Discover more from "Opening Up"
Denny’s Blind Discovery
Some 40 years of living had prepared Denny for this moment. But he didn't realize it then. He sat there, calm but brimming with anticipation -- so involved with his own dread of yet another polite but stiff evening with a blind date. His eyes rested blankly on the carpeting of the reception area.
"Denny?!" he heard a woman's voice say. He looked up and saw Linda's broad smile.
"Oh, yeah," he answered clumsily and struggled to stand up to introduce himself. "Denny Benson. You're Linda?"
"That's right," she said, still smiling. She was petite and wore a blue suit. He shook her right hand, a hand so small it covered only half of his palm. Her right wrist was scarred and came out of her sleeve at an odd angle.
"Well, welcome to the Boar's Head," Denny said lightly. It seemed the natural thing to say, since he had arrived first. It was 7:05 by his watch. Being five minutes late was only a minor annoyance, but he had learned to notice the little things on blind dates.
"Let's get a booth," he suggested.
Denny retrieved his crutches from the floor, and the couple followed the maitre d' to the booth he had reserved. He noticed a slight wobble in Linda's gait. She did not seem surprised by his crutches, which he parked beneath the booth.
"I have cerebral palsy," he said factually. Women, he had found, were impressed by his willingness to be up front with them. "If you don't understand me, just say so. I'll repeat ..."
"Have had it since birth," he added, interjecting a detail in anticipation of the next question that always followed such an admission.
"I know," Linda repeated in a slight German accent.
Denny was curious about the postcard he had received from her. It only read, "I work with a man who knows a friend of yours. I would like to meet you. Linda Gould 322-9836." So, he called Linda and asked her to join him for dinner, a ritual he had mastered during his middle-age efforts to gain a social life.
"How did you get my name?" Denny bluntly asked.
"I'm a nursing assistant at the clinic on campus," Linda explained in a louder than normal voice. "Professor Lister knows someone you used to go out with."
"Teresa?" Denny asked, still not clear about the connections.
"Some nurse -- I'm not sure," Linda conceded, although he felt she knew more than she was telling him. Her eyes met his and then came to rest on her wine glass. They were soft, hazel eyes that lit up every time she spoke.
"What does he do?"
"He's a psychotherapist for the clinic," Linda recounted. "Part-time ..."
That was the guy Teresa had been telling Denny about. They worked together at the same hospital in town.
"We broke up," Denny finally said. "She was going off in weird directions. Told me no one man could meet her needs. She went back home to Arizona."
"To Arizona," he repeated more slowly.
"Yeah, that's what he said," Linda allowed.
They ordered two glasses of Chablis.
"Are psychotherapists allowed to be matchmakers?" Denny asked softly, both annoyed and surprised that strangers were discussing a bit of his personal life.
"Professor Lister is a friend of mine," she replied more coldly to what she obviously took as a cross examination. "He just mailed me a note, saying I might like to meet you."
They both became preoccupied with their wine glasses.
"She said I would never meet anyone like her again," Denny suddenly admitted, realizing he was violating one of the basic rules of meeting someone new. He never discussed other relationships - especially on a first date. "... Teresa, I mean."
"Once I had a guy say the same thing to me," Linda offered in a lower, more intimate voice. "But that was 20 years ago. We were engaged, but I just couldn't go through with it. I broke it off. I felt so guilty."
"Like it's your fault," Denny added, recalling his own experience with Teresa.
"It just didn't feel right. I was 20 at the time. Wasn't ready to get married. But my sister was mad at me. She said it was my last chance."
"Your last chance?" Denny repeated with a chuckle. "At 20?"
"My mother didn't like him," Linda added, "because he wore white socks."
"I wore white socks back then," Denny admitted. "They were in."
"But she didn't understand that."
"I only started dating five years ago," Denny admitted, realizing he was revealing a fact about his life he had not put into words before. "Was too occupied with my job. I decided I needed a balance."
"What do you do?"
"I'm vice president of corporate communication for Hartland Mutual," he recounted automatically, glad to switch to a more comfortable topic. "I do PR, member communication, employee relations -- that sort of thing. There are five of us in the department."
That didn't seem to impress her much. She began looking at the menu. And Denny decided to do the same. She ordered the northern pike; he decided on the tenderloin tips.
"Anyway," Denny continued in an effort to reconnect again by switching back to a discussion of relationships in general, "I've found life doesn't end at 20. It's just a different game at 40."
"I don't know if it's a game," she questioned, again reverting to her louder-than-normal voice. Her eyes opened wider. She did not blink.
"Dating, I mean, " Denny explained, disappointed that what he thought was insightful came across as a platitude. "It can be a bitch."
"Oh, that's true," she allowed, more reflectively, and her eyes mellowed. "Especially at our age."
"I've dated one person who is suicidal," he related. "Two were obsessed with their fathers. One was so intellectual she was cold. It was like she had no feelings. Another was manic-depressive ..."
"I see you've been around," she interrupted with laughter. "I once went with a guy who I suspect was gay, but that doesn't match your record ..."
"And no one has seemed to figure out what life is all about."
"No ..., " Denny quickly added, "I'm still working on that one."
Their food came. Denny automatically went through the motions of eating his meal without really tasting it, concentrating, instead, on a conversation that had not become the guarded chatter he usually encountered on first dates.
"Anyway," he continued, "how can you build a relationship with a person, if you don't know who you are?"
"I don't know," Linda replied. "That's why I've come to the point where I'm comfortable living alone. I used to live with various groups of girls when I first started working, and, at the time, I dreaded the thought of living alone. But group living gets old. Now I have my own apartment, and it works."
"I know what you mean," Denny added, also trying to illustrate his independence. "I bought a condo four years ago. Living alone has its advantages ..."
"... And, disadvantages," she admitted. "It can be lonely. Don't you get the feeling sometimes that you're missing something?"
"Yeah," Denny agreed, finding himself mentally running to keep up with her. "But it's better than living with someone who isn't on your wavelength."
"The more I think about it the more I think we got this marriage thing all wrong," Linda said more softly and slowly. "Two can't become one. You're still separate individuals."
Denny could see he was a bit more idealistic. "But the right two people, together, can create a third dimension that is greater than just putting two people together and calling them a couple," he tried to explain. It was 1983 -- before corporate commercials on Sunday morning TV had made "synergy" a household word.
Denny concentrated on his food.
"You can lose your individuality so easily," Linda said, breaking the silence that didn't seem awkward but, instead, became another means of sharing. "That's what scares me."
The conversation floated through a second glass of wine and dessert.
It was over coffee that Linda broke the cadence of their dialogue with more firmness in her voice. "There's something I must tell you," she insisted, citing what Denny had surmised. "I have cerebral palsy, too. I was premature and have always been deaf on my left side."
"I understand," he assured her. He could see relief sweep over her face. "But what happened to your hand?"
"I had a bad car accident about 10 years ago," she explained. "Put it through the windshield. I thought I would never be able to work again."
They discovered it was 11:00 and the Boar's Head was closing. Outside the entrance, they again shook hands, and Denny said he would call her. She turned and walked to her car.
The uneven clack-clack-clack of her low-heeled shoes echoed off the pavement in the darkness. Denny slowly opened his car door with a singular impression: He had just met a fellow survivor.
Jump ahead 40 more years – and into the 39th year of his marriage with Linda. Denny, now also visually impaired, realizes they met at the right time in their lives because they were happy and thriving as single adults – and were ready to commit to helping a partner further grow as an individual.
That's why this observation from William Hazlitt stands out in Denny's mind:
"Even in the common affairs of life, in love, friendship, and marriage, how little security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others!"
Denny's takeaway tip from this episode: Take personal responsibility for the happiness in your life.
Here’s to elderhood and vulnerability!
Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF retired, author of “Opening Up” newsletter
“Story-guided Discussion for Finding Peace with Age-related Limitations”
How to use “My Latest Legacy Nugget” resources to share your “Opening Up” comment with a family member or friend.
Template for “My Latest Legacy Nugget” note - birthday
Template for “My Latest Legacy Nugget” note - graduation day
Template for “My Latest Legacy Nugget” note - holiday greeting
Template for “My Latest Legacy Nugget” note - special day
Template for “My Latest Legacy Nugget” note - wedding anniversary
Template for “My Latest Legacy Nugget” note - wedding day
See all past issues of “Opening Up.”
Check guidelines for your “Opening Up” Discussion Group