II. The First Six Months of Not Quite Retirement

(Eagle River, WI. April to October 2013) All the retirement articles say don’t make changes too quickly. Change only 8% of your life at a time. I hear what they’re saying. It makes sense. It’s less clear how a person can do what’s in their best interest and still follow these guidelines. I would learn by doing.

Right from the start, being retired made me feel off balance. Being a get-up-in-the-morning and get-to-work type of person continuously for over thirty years, it was unsettling to have no structure. So I’d get up early, hit the shower and get dressed. Then I had nothing to do and no place to go. A newly retired friend said she went someplace every day even if it was just to sit in a coffee shop and read the paper for an hour. That seemed so insignificant after a work life of constant deadlines, meetings and projects to complete.

Within a week, the ex-husband was calling and we slowly and then not so slowly returned to our old ways. The only difference was that we lived in separate houses. He’d come to my place and I to his. We returned to our customary road trips, movies, out to lunch or dinner. We talked every day.

He said he wanted to talk about us but seemed to be waiting for me and I was strangely hesitant. He brought out the list he’d made when contemplating divorce, a list of my deficiencies. What kind of a man writes such a list? What kind of man keeps such a list all this time? I was pretty sure he was checking his list to see what I’d corrected. Then, I couldn’t shake the thought that I was just convenient, someone he already knew so he didn’t have to start all over with a stranger. I deserve better than that.

When we’d divorced, he had to get a mortgage to buy out my interest in our house. He knew I still had that money and I couldn’t help but wonder if he saw this as a short cut. Get back together and then I’ll buy back into the house. We were clearly not on the same page but limped along, at an impasse, for about three months.

Just as it occurred to me that without his daily contact, I’d be pretty bored and lonely in this godforsaken place, our reconciliation was done. The relief of no longer having to meet his standards blended with the shock of being all alone once again. I’d taken a couple of short trips downstate and felt more at home there. Having lived in the Milwaukee area before, still having friends there and being closer to family in Madison made the decision easy. The where was easy, the how a bit more complicated.

I wanted to live in a senior community. That way I wouldn’t be completely alone. In my preliminary search I’d found that often these facilities were on freeway frontage roads or plunked down in the middle of a field. I wanted a neighborhood. I knew which locations I wanted, did an internet search and I picked some that looked good in Wauwatosa, Brookfield and Waukesha. In early August, I made arrangements to stay with my friend, Betty and made appointments for showings.

The beginning of my search, the first place I visited was on the Honey Creek Parkway in Wauwatosa. Following the GPS directions led me down a wooded, residential road. By the time I saw the building, an old school, I was in love. The facility was older but well maintained. The people friendly. The location just right.

I asked Betty to come and see it; I wanted another set of eyes. I worried I was being hasty; shouldn’t I look at more places before making such a huge decision. The next day we saw the actual apartment that was available. It was perfect. I signed a lease that day and returned to Eagle River with a plan.

I couldn’t move in before the end of September and this gave me two months to make arrangements and pack. Also plenty of time to perseverate. Which I did. So began the most stressful time of wondering, doubting, planning and thinking. I made myself physically sick worrying. Tumms, Immodium and Tylenol every day.

The intricacies of pulling off an over 300 mile move all alone seemed daunting. I’d never used a professional long distance mover before. The man came over to give me an estimate and nonchalantly entered my move into his I-pad. Just another day at the office for him but a monumental event for me. Thanks to my old work habit of writing lists, my master list helped me feel in control as I looked it over and decided what could be done each day. It felt good to check things off.

As in past moves, I knew it got easier once things were taken off the walls and other personal items boxed up. Home became depersonalized, little more than a roof and four walls. I sold a few things and took others to a consignment shop, gave away books and clothes. The days ticked away. I said goodbye to my book group, writing group, poker group, the UU fellowship and had my last lunch with my old boss. The cards and flowers from each event filled my kitchen counter. Lovely.

Retirement issues had been put aside since all my energy was focused on the move. I thought long and hard about what I was doing. I realized that previously, all my moves had been toward something. A new job. A new town. Exciting new opportunities. This time was different. I was moving away, going into the unknown. As packing progressed and the pieces began to fall into place, the feelings of failure, sadness, closure and change were slowly being replaced by hopefulness.

The day before the move, I packed my car with things that were fragile: computer, stereo, etc. I called the mover to check and the crew was expected before noon the next day. I hung up the phone with the eerie feeling of excitement; there was also the anxiety of having no idea how the next day and all the days after that would work out. I was as ready as I’d ever be.

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