Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I am naturally extroverted, I have been all my life. But I also am very unsure of myself, of who I am, of who I want to be. This may seem odd to hear from someone who is much closer to 70 than 60. I think of myself as a work in progress, but maybe everybody does.
When I retired from my job last year, I was sick of it: sick of giving everything, all my energy, to somebody else's vision. It's not that I didn't believe in it; I did and still do. But it was not my boogie. Since retirement meant that we (my husband and I) would no longer be covered under my medical insurance, I waited to retire until I turned 65 and could be covered, at least mostly, by Medicare. And I knew my boss well enough to know that I had to leave the region in order to become unavailable. After thirty years of working together, we had become a unit, and I knew Mickey would not find a replacement for what I provided him. I was right. The woman who was hired to take my place lasted less than six months.
When you leave your employment behind, your daily routine, it can be scary. Very scary. My husband, heretofore known as Smart Guy (he really is), researched places along the coast where we might retire. In the summer of 2006, we took a month to travel by car around the area we had found to be most likely. The non-negotiable criteria were: on the west coast, if possible; not a huge city but near enough for a day's travel; moderate climate; and with nearby mountains.
Our first pick was Bellingham, Washington, and that is where we are today. It's a good place. Our partnership leaves plenty of room for us to find our own path, and I knew without a doubt that the first thing I needed was to find a way to get exercise every day. My choice was to join the YMCA, which is a short bus ride into downtown Bellingham. A class every weekday morning at 9:00 am has become the center of each day. I have a reason to rise out of bed at my normal waking hour of 5:30 am. As a morning person married to a night person, we find ways to be ourselves and still have time together. This time can even take place early or late; although in close proximity to one another, we are often doing our own thing.
This rather rambling introduction is an attempt to find out who I really am. If I remove all the things that push and pull me in different directions, what is left over? If I look at life as a journey and I have almost arrived at my destination, is there something that didn't get expressed? My heart swells when I just ask the question. That's what I want to find out here, with these words.
There has been quite a bit of loss in my life: my two sons died before me; my parents are both gone and they died in their sixties; I have lost friends to illness and suicide and accidents. But even though many people in my situation would have gone under from these losses, that didn't happen to me. Sometimes I think it's because of an ability I have to turn away from loss and only let it in a little at a time. When your heart is broken, how do you patch it up? Some people grieve excessively; others turn to escapist activities. I think I just don't let it completely in, just enough to feel the crack but not enough to really believe it.
When I was 11 or 12, my dog Lassie, a beautiful collie, had to be given away, since we were moving to a new part of the country and my parents told me Lassie had to find a new home. We advertised and I remember her being taken to a nearby farm to live. I remember being in the car when we took her there, and she ran happily in the field and seemed happy enough. I don't remember being terribly upset. But my mother was. She could not understand why I wasn't grieving like she was. She cried and I didn't. She looked at me as if I were an alien from another planet. And then she said, "you are a monster, that's what you are!" A rift formed between us at that moment. I didn't know what she meant, but I believed it to be true. If I were supposed to grieve and didn't, couldn't, did that make me a monster?
Since that time, part of me has always believed that I am cruel and inhuman. I also didn't grieve for my old friends when I moved to a different town. My sister Norma Jean did, but I looked forward to a new start rather than backward. I was always happy to start fresh, to have another chance to be somebody else. To leave behind mistakes I'd made and people I'd hurt. Maybe this time, I'll be somebody better, more caring, more giving. More like other people who are not monsters. Maybe this time, nobody will find out about that ugly part of me.