Retirement is weird

Technically, I’m still working a little bit, but I’m finally starting to feel retired. And it mostly feels…weird.

I started working in the fall of 1980. I was fifteen, and I got a job at our public library as a page. (It might be the best job I ever had.) The only time I haven’t worked regularly since then was about 4 months in late 1983/early 1984, my first terms in college–when I lived off money I’d saved from my high school job. I did get 6 or so months off when I was on medical and parental leave to have my kids, but even then, I still had a job (which occupied prime mental real estate) and I picked up some freelance editing work.

For 42 (whaaaat?!?) nearly-continuous years, I’ve been exchanging hours of my life for money, and it now feels so damn strange to just…exist. I’m still laboring every day, but I’m usually not getting paid for it by some outside entity, which means that my time belongs to me in ways it never has before, not even when I was a child. I have more freedom and independence than I had then. The thoughts/feelings this has been raising are…unsettling.

Yes, that’s the word. I do not feel very settled lately.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t had many words to share here. The few I have (such as these) I’ve forced out, hoping that the words will beget more words. That I will find my groove, or get it back. It often works that way, especially after a pause, but that’s not been happening. So many things are not working the way I am used to them working.

I am not complaining. I am also not celebrating or savoring or cherishing or regretting or wanting or wishing. I am not feeling any kind of judgement about this state–that it is good, bad, or otherwise. I suppose I am simply being and observing: Life (both internal and external) feels foreign, some place I’ve never before been. Can one be an ex-pat in their own life?

Perhaps I am just detoxing, still. I don’t expect this floaty state to last forever. (Everything passes. That’s one thing I’ve learned.) But this is where I am right now.

A few weeks ago, I had a weekend visit with a cousin I hadn’t seen more than a few times in the last three decades. Despite our 10-year age difference, she is someone I felt close to when very young. For a few years as she transitioned into adulthood, she lived in the town our parents grew up in, where our grandparents still lived, and we knew each other in the ways you can know someone you see often. She painted my nails with polish from her extensive collection and gave me ice cream cones during her shifts at Baskin Robbins (the coolest job ever, even better than my Grandma’s job at the Sears candy counter). When she was living with our grandparents, she let me sleep in her bed with her when I came to visit, and as we talked late into the night she shared stories about her own childhood, which was different from mine in important and eye-opening ways. She was pretty and kind and treated me like a real person, not just a kid. I adored her. (I still do.)

After she married in her later 20s, she moved to another state; it was years–decades?–before I realized she wasn’t moving back. It was even longer before I realized what that would mean for us, and what my own move to another state would mean for my relationships with everyone in my family. For the longest time her move and mine felt temporary to me, like something we were just doing for awhile until we returned to our real life with the family we’d been part of growing up. I didn’t understand that we were each already living our real lives, that we were living them right now, every day, and that each day we lived apart was taking us further away from the time and place where we were young and our grandparents and aunts and uncles were alive and we were all part of each others’ lives in ways that would become impossible to recreate or relive even before the generations ahead of ours began dying.

As she and I sat talking at her kitchen table in the state she moved to more than 40 years ago, sharing stories about our lives past and present, she suddenly interrupted herself: “Where have the years gone?” she asked, and the question wasn’t rhetorical or musing. It was real. It was a genuine wondering, full of bewilderment.

“I don’t know,” I said, and we were both quiet for a moment. I thought about how, in my own 20s, I understood neither what I was exchanging nor what I would (and wouldn’t) get for it. And now, so much (but not all, not all) of what once might have been can now be nothing more than what was. We’ve had the marriages and children and careers we’re going to have, and she missed much of mine and I missed much of hers. Still, she is as important to me now as she ever was, and in my two days with her time was malleable and stretchy and I floated between past and present in ways that are perhaps only possible when the present isn’t so insistent on being our most important reality.

My days are quiet enough for me to see such things clearly now, and perhaps what I am feeling most is curious.

For the first time in 42 years, I don’t have to exchange my life for money. What does that mean? What might it mean? What will I use my life for now, now that I have more choice than I’ve ever had?

I think before I can answer these questions, I need to come to greater understanding of and peace with the exchanges I made for so long they didn’t even feel like choices. (Maybe they weren’t?) I probably need to do some grieving. I for sure need to do some healing. Maybe then I can come to feel more grounded in what remains and in what remains to be seen.

10 thoughts on “Retirement is weird

  1. Kari says:

    So many words in this post caught my attention that I may need to sit with them for a few days before returning. I like how you phrased working as “exchanging my life for money.” That may make some people uncomfortable. (I hope it does)  I believe we think that life consists of going to school, working, retiring, and dying. What happened to the LIVING in all of this? ( Capitalism, cough, cough)

    I’m not bothered by the word “unsettling.” It tells me you’re on the right path. At the very least, you’re on the same path as me, which helps me feel better about mine. 😂😂

    Here’s to your journey. Please continue to write about it. 😘
    Kari recently posted…SearchingMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I can’t remember when/where I first encountered the idea that work is exchanging our life for money–or maybe it was that when we buy something, we are exchanging our life for it, because of the hours we worked to earn the money we use to pay for it? And, of course I’ve been living all the years I’ve been working, but the balance has sure been off. My children have such different ideas about all of this (work/life) than I had at their age, and it’s refreshing (when it’s not depressing/terrifying). At any rate, that shift in mindset about work/money/things did set me on a path. It’s a windy one with lots of things to look at it, isn’t it? I’m so glad you’re on it with me. And thanks for the encouragement to keep writing. I kinda needed to hear that.

  2. Christine says:

    Your post resonates with me, as I too have recently retired at age 60. I understand that sort of reassessing of one’s time and energy and how to best move through life. that you describe in the beginning of your post. You still have a friendship with a longtime relative, so it makes your childhood more real and not a dream, even if there is also some sadness intertwined, or at least that’s how I read your words. Happy to have found your writing through Dave’s round up.

    • Rita says:

      Hi Christine–Thank you for stopping by and helping me know I’m not the only one in this strange place. The idea that childhood is more real and not a dream are words that resonate for me. More and more, childhood is feeling like a dream–that’s just the right word for it. The edges of it are getting softer and softer; I find myself wondering if things really happened the way I remember them, and people I’ve now not seen for many years feel less and less real to me. There is both sadness and relief in that, just as there is in stepping away from work I did for more than 30 years.

    • Rita says:

      I wish you could have release from the crush of mothering/teaching/writing all-at-once. I wish, also, that I could offer some solutions. I never found them. (I suspect there aren’t good ones. For sure not easy ones.)

  3. Stacey says:

    I, too, may need to sit with the words in this post for a few days. I’ll come back and read again and think some more. I can’t retire yet, but after (unexpectedly) fostering a toddler for a year and a half, we are hoping she will be able to return to her Mom very soon. I am experiencing some of the same feelings you mention. I am excited to get my life back, more freedom to make decisions for myself, but what will I do with it now that I have been reminded that I need to live it while I can? I’ve been trying to grasp my feelings around all of this – feeling happy, feeling sad, feeling scared – and your post really resonates. Thank you for sharing your writing here.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you for letting me know that this one had meaning for you. It’s strange when experiences push us to confront the brevity of life, isn’t it?

  4. Ally Bean says:

    I take this post as a bit of a manifesto, a declaration of what is to come. I like your focus on curiosity, btw. I see what you’re saying with my husband who [sort of] retired this month. It’s interesting to watch him as he decides who he’ll be now. Of course, like you and your cousin, he wonders where did all the years go? And what he’ll do with the freedom he’s been handed.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Throw Us A Bone, We’re Trying To Name Our New FriendMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I find that if I can stay curious, it tends to serve me more than other kinds of responses. Just from what you share in your blog, I suspect that your husband will have no trouble finding worthwhile things to do, and that the process of inventing a new self will be rewarding for both of you. I sure hope so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.