Walking on a tropical beach, I don’t know where I am or why I’m here. My memory fails to provide answers. I know the basics. My name is Peter Andresen. I’m a retired psychiatrist. I have two grown sons that are too busy. My wife, Annie, died in an accident several years ago. I have Parkinson’s disease. I think I’m in my early sixties. I’ve been bankrupt and now I scrape by on a Social Security and VA benefits. I am alone and very lonely.
There’s nothing to do at the moment, so I walk. What’s my destination? I haven’t a clue. Lazy clouds loiter overhead while a ribbon of sandy beach stretches before me. It's low tide. My only companions are seagulls hanging in the breeze. There's not a person or dwelling in sight.
Ahead, I see something in the sand. I can't tell what it is. But, since I'm not in a hurry, I don’t walk any faster. I’ll get there in due time. The beach is as smooth as a billiard table. As I draw near, I discover the object is a stoppered wine bottle. I take it in my hand. It doesn’t weigh much. Is it empty? There's no remnant of a label to suggest what it once contained. I carry it to drier patch of sand and sit down.
I’ve enjoyed wine all of my life, but not anymore. My nose stopped working a long time ago. It’s the first thing to go haywire when Parkinson’s disease makes its debut. On the other hand, if I can't appreciate wine's subtle nuances, I get by drinking cheaper wine.
Holding the bottle at arm's length, I feel like Hamlet addressing Yorick’s skull. “Who are you and where are you from?”
Remembering long-ago carefree days, I answer. “Of course. Who else, but a bunch of young people on a party boat?”
As I wipe sand from the bottle’s surface, I continue talking, “They corked it and threw it overboard to float aimlessly until discovered by an unsuspecting stranger. I bet the partiers put a message in the bottle.”
I hold it to the sun and discover I’m right. It contains a rolled piece of paper about the size of a cigarette. Shaking the bottle, I watch the paper bounce around. When I stop shaking it, the paper continues to bounce. A full minute passes and it just keeps bouncing. Then I hear a faint voice coming from the bottle. Holding it next to my ear, the paper stops bouncing and I hear a small feminine voice saying, “Let me out, please.”
I say, "Nah. This can’t be the old genie in the bottle routine . . . or can it?" I rub the bottle. For some reason, I begin to feel uneasy. I look up and down the beach. It’s still just me and the seagulls. Not a person or animal in sight. Why should I be concerned if anybody sees me? I don’t know. Of course, I’m a little too old to believe in genies. But still . . .
“Go ahead,” I say. “ Do it.” I pull the cork. Turning the bottle upside down, I shake it. The small piece of rolled paper falls onto the sand. Unrolling it, I read, “A little too old to believe in genies, you say?” It’s written in fancy cursive.
This is starting to freak me out. I stumble to my feet and scan the beach. I feel a chill. Goose bumps rise on my arms. I step over the bottle as if it was a coiled snake. But then, I hesitate. Bending over, I grasp the bottle. Straightening my posture, I take the bottle under my arm and begin to march like a Marine recruit. When I walk like this, my Parkinson's shuffle disappears. Forced march. Hupp, one-two. Hupp, three four.
A drill instructor shouts in my ear, “Shake your ass, Marine.” I stand taller and pull my shoulders back. “Double time, maggot.” I was conditioned to obey without question. As my breathing intensifies, I feel stronger, more in control and lead with my chest.
If I’m not scared, why am I double-timing?
Again, the soft female voice comes from somewhere between my ears. “I really need you. Please stop.”
Holding the bottle close to my mouth, I shout, “C’mon. Enough already.”
I will not be intimidated. I will not stop. But, why not? I’m not on a mission. I’m not heading somewhere, am I? I pause and wonder, is “somewhere” anywhere around here?
Continuing to march, I arrive at a small inlet. I stop in my tracks when I see the most perfectly beautiful young woman and she’s smiling at me. Melting, I feel like a seventh grade boy approaching the cute girl he has admired from afar.
Young, probably mid-twenties, she is petite and her smile is flawless. She’s dressed in a black two-piece swimsuit. When she stands, I see her abdominal muscles outlined perfectly. A young athletic girl with a ‘six-pack’ just like women on American Ninja Warrior. My idea of beauty.
Entranced, I walk towards her. She waits for me and looks into my eyes. Not a hint of a sexual come-on. That doesn’t bother me—I haven’t been capable of sexual intimacy for five years. Parkinson’s killed my ability to perform or even desire to perform. It’s pretty nice to not get tangled in desire and fantasy. I recall Freud celebrating his loss of sexual desire. Sex changes things. It ruins too many friendships, not to mention marriages.
Facing one another, we don’t hug. Instead we hold hands. I’m lost in her deep brown eyes. The hair of her brunette ponytail flutters with the breeze.
Usually, I’m a confident guy. But now? Nothing. I just stand and gaze at her . . . and wait.
Releasing my hands, she stands beside me and places her arm around my waist. I reciprocate, placing my arm over her shoulder.
Her voice soft, “Would you like to spend some time with me?”
Inside, my little Peter jumps up and down. Say ‘yes,’ please say yes. If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.
I stumble over my words, “Well . . . yes. I think so.”
We continue gazing at each other for another long minute. My mind overflowing with questions. Her expression? Sweet, kind, but mischievous. With apparently nothing more to say, we start walking along the beach. As we do, she caresses my arm with her free hand and rests her head against my chest. Petite, she is the perfect size to fit under my arm. The last time when I was at my doctor’s office, I checked my height. I'm five-seven. Twenty years ago, I was five-nine. We shrink with age. She must be five-four.
As we continue walking, I’m beginning to feel unsettled, but not afraid. It’s as if I already know whatever happens will likely turn out okay.
“What are we doing here?”
She jabs me in the ribs. “Walking, silly.”
I chuckle. Nice sound, chuckling. I don’t chuckle much anymore. There was a time when I was a funny guy. I traveled the country prescribing the health-promoting benefits of laughter and positive humor to audiences large and small.
“Why do you call me, Silly?
“It’s a term of endearment. If it offends you, I can choose another.”
“It’s okay . . . No harm, no foul.”
I repeat my question, “I mean, what are we really doing here? I’m sixty-three years old, walking on a beach in I-don’t-know-where with a beautiful, athletic young woman who appears to know me.”
She stops and cocks her head to the side. “Do you want me to tell you what this is about?”
“Indeed, I do.”
Her eyes darting back and forth, she looks like she is about to deliver a punch line. “Twenty years ago, when you agreed to get Parkinson’s disease . . .”
THUD! What? Hearing those words . . . agreed to get Parkinson’s, I become paralyzed. Deaf as well as dumb. Nah! This is bull-pucky! What’s going on? Nothing’s making sense. Everything freezes except her eyes.
As if searching an old musty attic, I scour my memory. Do I vaguely remember something? She says I chose Parkinson’s. How does she know I have Parkinson’s? But of course, my pill-rolling right hand is pretty obvious.
She breaks the spell. “You know? I once was called to help a couple in their fifties. It was their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Same idea; they’re alone on a beach and find a bottle in the sand. They rub it and I appear to grant them each a wish.”
Is she about to tell me a story after what she just unloaded on me?
“And like all my clients, they were in utter disbelief.”
I choke out, “clients.”
“Oh, of course, Peter. I’m sorry. I need to remember there is so much you aren’t aware of . . . yet.”
I stammer, “You know my name?”
“Of course. This isn’t our first rodeo.”
My knees become wobbly. “Let’s stop and sit for a minute, I need to collect myself.”
We seat ourselves on a pair of beach chairs—Where the hell did they come from?—at a small table covered with a white linen tablecloth on which I find an opened bottle of Batard-Montrachet, vintage 2000, and two crystal wine glasses. I pour the chilled wine into our glasses and take a sip. “Oh, that is nice, very nice. But it’s way out of my price range.”
My companion smiles as she reaches across the table and touches her glass to mine. “To imagination and the magic of your mind.”
What does she mean by that? I take another taste, but I’m still rattled and confused. I need another minute to compose myself. I swish the wine in my glass and savor the bouquet. “Damn, this is one great wine.”
I think back on my Parkinson’s. It’s been fifteen years (the best I can calculate) since I lost my sense of smell. Not a great loss in the grand scheme of things. If you have to live without one cranial nerve, losing your sense of smell causes the fewest problems. About ten years ago, I had a month-long ordeal of rock-hard constipation. Only years later did I learn it was an early sign of Parkinson’s. It is called one of the “non-motor symptoms.”
Eight years ago, my right thumb started to tap the beat of a different drummer. I first noticed it when stopped at a traffic light. Unwelcome observations by friends and family made it hard to deny; I was stooped-over and shuffled when I walked. My palsied right arm didn’t swing, despite my hand doing the rhumba.
I feel kind eyes soothing my evident discomfort. I look back at my companion. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours. What do you want me to call you?”
She leans across the table and plants a kiss on the tip of my nose. “Have fun, name me after someone you’d like to hang out with.”
She’s right. There were years when I was the life of the party. Besides teaching Health & Humor, I wrote a book on the positive use of humor for healing.
I remember a workshop I presented to a Parkinson’s group thirty years ago. Persons with Parkinson’s—we call them PWPs—caregivers, and medical providers. One man was, by all appearances, frozen. Almost no movement; his face chiseled from a block of salt. Only his eyes followed me, but he seemed attentive. I clowned my way through the seven stages of laughter. When it came to my telling everybody to make the craziest faces they could, he shattered his mask with a Cheshire Cat grin. Sobbing, his wife hugged him. Later she revealed he hadn’t smiled for over a year. I heard from her six weeks later. She told me he passed away and expressed her gratitude that during the last weeks of his life they laughed together every day.
My companion brings me back. “I was telling you about an older married couple I worked with sometime back.”
“Yeah, but I think you were still trying to figure out what’s going on. Why don’t you just let it go for a minute? You know, ‘go with the flow.’ Let me tell you about this couple. If you listen, you might begin to understand what we are doing here.”
“Okay, I’ll be quiet.”
She assumes the persona of an Arabian genie (more threatening than pretty). “I met this couple who had been married for over thirty years. Each was to receive one wish.”
She takes another sip of wine. “The woman spoke first, ‘I want to spend the next year traveling around the world with my wonderful husband.’”
I tilt my head and nod. “Sounds like something I'd like to do.”
“You’d think so. I gave the woman a folder containing all the documents needed for the two of them to take a year and travel around the world.”
She pauses with a frown and takes an audible breath. “The guy took a while to say anything. Then he said, ‘That sounds pretty romantic all right, but this is a rare opportunity for a man like me. So, I am sorry, my love, but my wish is to have a wife thirty years younger than me.’”
My petite friend stopped and smiled what, in the vernacular, is called a shit-eating grin. “I granted his wish, snapped my fingers, and he suddenly became ninety ears old. The whole nine yards, arthritis, half deaf, and a prostate as hard as a baseball.”
After my laughter subsides, I look at her again. The scary genie is gone. In fact, she looks more like a young, athletic Audrey Hepburn.
“Which of her movies was your favorite?”
How did she know I was thinking about Audrey Hepburn?
She grins. “Sorry, when someone reads your mind, it can get pretty creepy.”
“What is your name, really?”
“I don’t have a name. It depends on who I’m with and what’s in their mind; their emotional reaction to me.”
I’m feeling a mixture of comfort and confusion. “You remind me of Audrey Hepburn. And my favorite movie was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The name of the main character was Holly Golightly. She was whimsical and very beautiful.”
“Is that what you want to name me?”
“Yes. Holly . . . Holly Golightly.”
But my better mind cautions me to stop and think. “Holly Golightly’s character was flakey and manipulative. You don’t seem to be like that. I love the name, Holly. What last name feels right to you?”
“The word that best describes me is Be.”
“I like that.”
“Very well. From now on, my name will be Holly Be.”
She points at me. “You need to go lightly as well. You need to get back in touch with your whimsical humor.”
A funny story comes to mind. One I told at countless humor workshops.
"A man walked into a bar with a briefcase under his arm. Though he appeared wealthy (having arrived in a Ferrari), he also appeared depressed. He ordered a double scotch. Then he placed his brief case on the bar and opened it. A little man dressed in a tuxedo climbed out. Then the sad looking man took a small piano out and placed it on the bar. The little man seated himself on a little piano stool and started to play. He was excellent. He played classics, jazz, anything. The bartender stared in amazement.
'Hey, buddy, I've never seen anything like that. Where did you find him?'
"The depressed man wasn’t enthusiastic. 'Well, it’s like this. I was marooned on a desert island and about to die. I was digging in the sand for water when I happened upon this bottle. I brushed the sand off and a genie appeared. She said I had rescued her from her prison and she would grant me three wishes. Well, my first wish was to be rescued, and, as you can see, I’m here and I’m safe. Secondly, I asked for money, lots of it. And you can see I’m wealthy. But then, in my haste—or maybe the genie didn’t hear me right—I made my third request. And now I’m stuck with this twelve inch pianist.”
Holly bursts into laughter and punches my shoulder. “Now that’s more what I had in mind.”
And right away, another bawdy story comes to mind.
“Let me tell you another. I created this word, gelastolalia. It means if something strikes you funny, laugh with gusto. Don’t hold your laughter in. Amplify it. The more willing you are to express your humor, the more delight you will experience.
“The concept of gelastolalia came to me as a result of having studied sex therapy. I went to Los Angeles where I took a workshop on the treatment of sexual dysfunctions. One concept we were taught was “erolalia.” It means if you feel extreme pleasure while having sex, make sounds hat express your pleasure. Doing so will enhance your experience and your partner’s as well.
"A couple in Southern California were having sex problems. In essence, the guy was a lousy lover. His wife took him to a sex therapist for training. Southern California is an interesting part of the country for many reasons. Among them, they have earthquakes. The tremors jolt or roll and can last from a couple seconds to over a minute. Their intensity is measured on the Richter Scale. Over five implies property damage; over six, the loss of life.
“Well, this couple went home to work on their erolalia assignment just as an earthquake measuring six point two on the Richter Scale hit. It was a ‘roller’ and it lasted for a minute and a half. Their bed began to roll back and forth across the room, smashing the furniture. Finally, it crashed out through the wall and onto the front lawn. The woman looked at her husband and said with satisfied smile, “Now that’s what I had in mind.”
I look at Holly. Obviously, she loves it. “You want one more?”
“Go on, you silly man. Hit me again.”
Being a Norskie, I reach into my mental folder of Norwegian jokes.
“Helga and Herman were in their eighties, been married nearly sixty years. Herman was getting ready to die. Feeling no fear, he looked forward to dying. He was awaiting a sign from God. He had heard about the bright light you see when you’re about to die. One night after he’d been up for a while, he returned to bed and shook Helga.
‘Wake up, Helga. I yoost had a sign from God. I think I’m going to die soon.’
‘For goodness sake, Herman, what is it this time?’
‘Helga, it was a sign from God. I know it. I went into the bathroom. It was dark. I lifted the toilet lid, just like you always told me. As I did, the room was filled with a beautiful blue-white light. I put the lid down and the light went out. I lifted it again and it came back on. Helga, it was a miracle.
‘Herman, come back to bed. You got your head crooked on your neck and you’ve been pissing in the refrigerator again.’”
Holly laughs so hard tears stream down her face.
She wipes her runny nose. “As our time together unfolds, stay in touch with your humor. Think of it a vitamin H.”
I rotate my empty wine glass studying how the last drop has just enough volume to roll with each rotation. I put the glass down and notice the sun nearing the horizon; the clouds reflecting gold and orange. Minutes pass and the gold gives way to pink; the sun sinking below the horizon.
Holly is beautiful. I want to hold her, cuddle her, sleep with her. She just appeared from out of nowhere. And voila, I can dream of lying beside a beautiful woman again, caressing each other, and talking endlessly. But, there’s no sexual desire.
Her musical voice calls me, “Hey, silly man. You look tired. Come lie down beside me and rest.”
Holly gestures for me to join her on a double-wide sleeping bag. As we lie down, our legs naturally intertwine. Our lips touch ever so briefly and then I relax into sweet repose.