Leo could adapt easily to unemployment. He’d been working side gigs for years, alternating with periods of no paid work at all. His expenses were minimal, and his resources were ample – if you count the alleys, dumpsters, and cast-offs of friends as resources. Leo could scavenge anything. As long as he had shelter and clean water, he didn’t fear the absence of anything else.
But of all our Pine Street friends, Leo found it toughest to adapt to the rules of no handshakes and no hugs. He felt the absence of human touch the way he imagined amputation survivors felt the absence of their limbs: a palpable, constantly thrumming pain where handshakes and hugs should be.
“All of us have to give up something,” he said to Precious, Marilyn’s scruffy old dog who had stuck to Leo through all the changes since her mistress’s death two years before. “I guess I have to give up hugs.”
Leo and Precious sat on the front porch of Allison’s old green house. The chill of the spring evening hadn’t quite deepened into cold, and the setting sun cast golden rays on the few lingering clouds. Leo gazed at the shifting colors, pulling his fleece hood up over his ears. Precious, curled up on his lap, thumped her plume of a tail against his leg. By now, her eyes were too clouded with cataracts to see, but she trained them on Leo’s face anyway.
It’s more than that, Leo. The giving up of things, the sacrifice, the letting go. Each of us will be called upon to shed the unessential, and it will be a surprise, each time, what we discover is unessential.
Leo’s head jerked. Had he dozed off? Did the voice, which sounded a lot like Marilyn, come to him in a dream? If so, it must have been brief, as the sun was not yet below the horizon. Precious seemed sound asleep on his lap, breathing gentle canine snores. His leg tingled and he woke her, momentarily, as he shifted his weight. The old dog sighed.
“What do I need to shed?” Leo asked out loud.
The answer the universe sent would, indeed, surprise him.