I remember the day clearly, walking home from eighth grade with a girlfriend. We were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, next to an apple tree, near where a former house had been replaced by a gas station. Vehicles buzzed past, maneuvering a curve, then disappearing. We were on the verge of ninth grade, high school, when my friend proclaimed, “You know, in ninth grade, after gym class, we all have to take a shower together.” I asked what was meant by “together.” The friend said “together,” in one big shower room.
I was so unsure of myself at that age, a gangly 5’9″ monster with an overbite and glasses. The last thing this eighth grader wanted to do was stand naked in a shower with other girls who I perceived to be better and prettier than me. No, this couldn’t be happening. Is this what high school was all about? Being humiliated under water? It was at this point that I wanted to stay in eighth grade forever and do anything to avoid a communal shower.
I didn’t want to grow up.
The Beginning of the End
I was a complete emotional wreck. It would have been preferable to stay home that day, but I didn’t want to be home with him. Anxiety and depression were emotional symptoms of the day. Constantly on the verge of tears, I tried my damndest to hold back sobs of unhappiness. Life was spiraling out of control and I didn’t know how to fix it. This marriage seemed beyond repair.
An antiquated phone book sat on the shelf, begging to be released from its confines. I resisted for a moment, but eventually removed the book and placed it in my lap. I stared at it for a few minutes, then opened the phone book to the yellow pages and the letter D. D is for divorce lawyers. I studied the text for a long time, turning pages, allowing a few tears to stain the yellow until I felt the grip of fear. I don’t know if I can do this. What will I do on my own? Can I manage on my own? He will be angry. I don’t think I can do this. I closed the phone book and put it back on the shelf.
I didn’t want to be an adult, at least not for another two years.
A Bad Day
It was supposed to be a good day, or at least a good morning filled with an employee recognition event, co-workers, and sweet treats.
Then the call came.
The owner of the assisted living facility gently advised that paramedics were there for dad. He had slumped over in his wheel chair. Three weeks earlier, dad had spent five days in the hospital. There was no diagnosis or treatment, only stabilization. At home, lethargy and slurred speech were present, with none of the usual smart retorts that came from dad’s clever wit. He was sleeping often and I had an uneasy feeling.
You can tell yourself you will be prepared for this, but that’s a lie. It didn’t matter that dad was 95 and I had been fully aware that his time left on the planet was short. It still hurt. It hurt like hell when the owner said, “I’m so sorry,” when I had to deliver the news to mom, when I knelt beside his lifeless body and sobbed tears of a broken heart. At that moment, I didn’t want to be the grieving adult daughter.
The little girl wanted to be 10 again, wanted her father back.
I can see it…the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s still too far away. As I stand at the computer, manipulating an Excel spreadsheet and making plans to send out an email reminder for overdue work, the retirement blues appear. I no longer want to deal with deadlines, projects and incessant emails. I want to retire, yet I know my sentence is two to four years until parole.
I wonder if I’ll make it.
June 1st will mark a 40-year anniversary as a public servant. I started when I was 10. Or perhaps I was 12 or 18. It was a lifetime ago, when Play That Funky Music was on Billboard’s Top 10 and I may have owned a pair of bell bottom jeans. During the course of my career, I voted for President 10 times, had eight different bosses in three different positions, was married and divorced, obtained a motorcycle license, found a faith community, made new friends and became caretaker for mom and dad.
I’m tired. For many years, the plan was to retire in 2016. Life changes, however, and the price of happiness delayed that plan. So, as I look around an office drenched in morning light and stacks of folders, I know I have to keep going.
I don’t want to.
I want to be 5 again, on a sandy beach, with a plastic pail and shovel.