Long and Winding Decision

“No single decision you ever made has led in a straight line to where you find yourself now.”………..Deepak Chopra

Follow to a tee, the recommended decision making steps outlined in all the magazines. Still, there’s no sure-fire way of knowing the true consequences of a decision until it’s been lived with for a while. Such was the series of choices that engulfed eight years of my life (2005-2013)  beginning with my move to a rural, small town with my husband.

This was where he’d always wanted to live. Memories of childhood camping experiences with his father and uncles outweighed the tenuous nature of our marriage that we never talked about. Being newly retired, it seemed the right time for his dream to finally come true. While it was happening, the move was exciting and I looked forward to a new beginning. Now we’ll finally be happy, I thought. Having lived in another rural, small town many years ago, I knew what we were getting into.

“It’ll be hard,” I told him. He was born and raised in a small town and longed to return to that familiarity. “Growing up in a small town is one thing. You automatically belong. But it’s completely different when you move to a small town,” I warned.

The sentiments, eloquently expressed by John Mellencamp in his song, Small Town, don’t apply to interlopers: “Yeah, I can be myself in a small town.”………“People let me be just what I want to be.”………..“Had myself a ball in a small town.”

Those are feelings reserved only for “natives” and “locals.” Where Mellencamp felt accepted and comfortable, newcomers can’t shake being considered outsiders. For a long time, maybe forever, there’s little trust and your innocent remarks or actions are looked on with suspicion. Breaking into the well-established social structure is a formidable task, often replete with failure.

My husband brushed all that off. He wanted what he wanted. And I was doing what I thought a good wife would do. I was being supportive. The only stipulation I had was that I’d move only if I found a job in my profession. When I did, I took that as a sign. We started packing.

Or, I should say, I started packing. As that’s the way things worked in our marriage. I did everything. So for this move he so wanted, I did all the calling, all the arranging, making appointments and worrying. The move went well and we settled into our new home. We’d left behind a long history with friends and nearness to family for a solitary existence in the woods. Good thing we had each other because it was, as I’d predicted, lonely. This seemed to bring us closer. For a while.

I started my new job as the first and only supervisor in a small government agency, glad to have someplace to go each day. Within weeks, I’d be slapped in the face with the reality that I was a foreigner. The long established power structure was determined to keep all the doors bolted. Who did I think I was, telling them what to do?

As time progressed, the job only got worse with a relentless jockeying of passive aggressive mind games designed to undo anything I wanted to accomplish. The goal of my do-nothing boss was to avoid any confrontation and he was certain of only one thing: he didn’t want to rock the boat. I had no support.

I’d leave work after dealing all day with these dismal dynamics, only to arrive home to a disappointed and unhappy husband. It finally occurred to me that this move hadn’t been the best decision. Actually, I didn’t really think I’d made a decision; it was just something that had happened to me. It would take a long time to see my part in our convoluted dance of mismatched desires and expectations.

It was hard to accept the folly of thinking the move would save my marriage. Silly me. Everyone knows the geographic cure, moving to save a marriage, doesn’t work any better than having a baby to save the marriage. Or buying a bigger house. Or getting oh so busy with home improvement projects. None of these cures work. As I found, when we arrived at our new destination, I was still me. He was still he. The marriage was still what it was.

After five years in our new home it became clear we had no future. I moved to an apartment and filed for divorce. This improved things, since I could now come home to peace and quiet, then decide what I wanted to do instead of trying to please an unhappy man. I luckily had followed my usual pattern of establishing friendships with women and pursuing my own interests. So, I wasn’t completely alone.

Three years after the divorce, along came another crossroad. Here I was, hundreds of miles away from family and friends, stuck in a job that was difficult to the max every day, isolated in a small town where I didn’t belong. The long road trips to see family and friends became more frequent. I braced myself for the next decisions I knew were coming. Retire? Yes or no. Move? Yes or no. For quite a while, I avoided thoughts of the future and just plowed ahead with my life, making the best of things. Then the letter arrived.

It was the annual report of my status at this job from hell. According to the report, I was now eligible for a pension. I’d never had a government job before so a pension wasn’t something I’d expected. Also, I didn’t think I’d be at this job long enough to even qualify. I was already two years beyond full retirement age and for the first time, it looked appealing.

I requested a retirement estimate. If I worked until such and such date, what would the size of this pension be?  It wasn’t large but enough to supplement my other resources and make retirement a real option. I’d long ago accepted that the job’s toxic undercurrents were so engrained it would take a tsunami to bring about even minuscule change. Eight years was enough. I set a date, cleaned out my desk and walked out with relief. My true feelings of glee were hidden behind my usual stoic demeanor; I’d learned to play their office games quite well.

But, getting past the negative feelings was another story. I’d always prided myself on being successful in my work; so why did I fail so miserably at this? The failed marriage only added to that burden. I finally had to realize I did everything I could to make the marriage work and to improve the agency. Sometimes that’s the best you can do. I started looking forward.

Moving is always a challenge but especially hard when it’s done all alone. Reeling from this move and the bad decision it turned out be, I was especially cautious about what to do next. No repeat of the geographic cure. This move would be for the right reasons. Let’s call it a geographic relocation, moving to a place where I could fashion the life I wanted.

Friends warned that all the retirement articles say you shouldn’t make big changes or decisions the first year of retirement. Only change 8% of your life at a time, they warned, But I’d lived here alone for three years already and this dead end country road was no longer appealing. Time to go. Six months after retirement, I broke all the rules.

So far, I’m doing well. But just let me say, everyday isn’t all sunshine and roses. Though my comfort grows daily, feelings of not belonging and even boredom creep in at times. That’s to be expected since I’m managing three big adjustments at the same time. Building a new single life. Finding satisfaction in retirement. Adjusting from a rural to urban community.

Any one of these would be enough; all three together are daunting. I’ve made up my mind to take things slow. It would be just my style to get overinvolved and fill up my schedule. After all, when you’re busy, there’s little time to think. This time, I really want to think.

I’m no longer afraid of making a bad decision because that move wasn’t the end of the world. I came through a difficult time with just a few bruises, didn’t sell out and even learned a lot about myself. More importantly, had I not endured the dark days at that small, government agency, I’d never have earned that pension. What a fluke! Or, is that one of those unintended consequences you always hear about?

Friends now say I seem happy and they praise me for going with my gut and being decisive. Some have called me brave. I’m proud that I survived that decision, living eight years in an unfriendly, lonely place where the trajectory of my life took a path I couldn’t have predicted. Actually, I’ve more than survived. I’m thriving.

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