Everything is Different

As I await my editor’s comments on the manuscript of Jane in St. Pete, my website and my life are undergoing some renovations. Life has a way of moving smooth and slow for a long time and then all at once everything is different. It’s kind of that way on the blog now. And for sure that way with Al in retirement. We are still getting alongs swimmingly here on the sunny and warm Gulf Coast. I have some great people helping me make this website more reflective of where I’m at in life now. I am determined to do the messy work of cleaning up my archives and slimming down my categories! I’m excited for all the changes, although there are bound to be some behind-the-scenes growing pains. I will do my best to be totally upfront with the trials of this complete life makeover. In the meantime, if you can’t find me here for a week or two due to the dust, I’ll still be posting to all my other usual social media: Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. ❤

What Might Have Been

I wake up by slow inches. My head pounds with a dull sickening weight. A relentless thirst makes it hard to swallow, impossible to sleep. My stomach roils and I pitch myself from the bed and to the toilet. I didn’t eat much yesterday, so I dry heave into the cool and clean porcelain bowl, once, twice, a third time. I rinse my mouth with water from the tap, then, exhausted, lie on the tile floor. Coolness kisses my cheek as I drift away. I like to be away. Away, all memory of last night is vast and blank. Away, I have nothing to regret, no secrets to hide. Away, I don’t wonder where I got the new bruise blooming on my inner thigh. 

“MOM!” I hear my older son yell. He’s outside the bedroom door, but it’s still too loud for this early in the morning. “MOM! Todd will not get up for school. I’m going to miss the bus if I don’t leave now.”

“Okay, honey,” my voice is rusty as I try to project it through the bedroom door. “I’m having a quick shower.” I stagger upright and turn on the water again. Will he know it’s just the sink and not the shower? Probably not. “Have a good day. I love you!”

“Love you,” he says. I know he will have his homework in his backpack and his lunch money in the pocket of his jeans. Mark is a good boy. He’s only ten, he shouldn’t be responsible for his little brother, who would sleep until afternoon if I let him. 

I lift the tank lid of the toilet bowl and pull out a fifth of vodka. Good. Half full. I take a long drink then another. Just enough to stop my hands shaking. Just enough to get everything into alignment. Eventually, I stash the vodka and brush my teeth. I drag a comb through my snarled hair, pull on sweat pants. They don’t match the t-shirt I slept in but I don’t change. I don’t care if the secretary in the main office judges me when I sign Todd in late again. I don’t care if she raises her eyebrows because I’m using the same thin excuse as yesterday. 

I think about the vodka still in the bottle in the bathroom. If I drank it, I’d care even less. But I don’t. Not yet. I need to get Todd to school and I am careful not to drink too much before I drive. I am a good mom. I love my kids. I’d never hurt them. 

I thrust my feet into sneakers. They’re bright pink and hurt my eyes. So don’t look down, I tell myself. Maybe today I won’t drink. Maybe today I’ll call my sponsor. Go to a meeting. I know I will be welcomed back without judgement. But then I think about how I have already had a drink today. My sponsor will know. She doesn’t take any shit off me. I might need a new sponsor. That’s fine. I can stop drinking tomorrow.

This piece of fiction came from the prompt “What Might Have Been.” There was a time in my 20s I felt sure I would become an alcoholic if I didn’t change my life. The first change led to other positive changes and a huge discovery–I’d been drinking to self-medicate in an effort to calm fear, anxiety and panic. I still don’t know how my subconscious knew I needed to make those changes, I’m just happy I listened.

Inner Critic

The number one thing people told me we needed to do when Al retired was have two television sets. I immediately saw the wisdom in this. Al loves sports and I do not. So by Big Game day, we were all set. Not only had we purchased a new television for Al, but a new recliner, too.

So Al reclined in comfort while I watched Sanditon, Taylor Swift’s documentary, and two Grace and Frankie episodes in the guest room. Perfect. Al seems to really be enjoying his retirement and I get a kick out of this new laid back husband. Everything would be perfect if only my inner critic would shut up.

Most writers have some acquaintance with the inner critic. I used to shut mine up with chocolate, but now I have to watch my sugar. So, I need a new coping mechanism. Meanwhile, my inner critic laughs in glee, remarking that writing about retirement is not quite the riveting subject I had stupidly presumed would provide fodder for many a post to come.

I have a writer’s group here in Florida. I don’t say much about them because we have all agreed not to discuss anything said in the library where we meet. I am going to bend that rule a little bit because I don’t know how else to say what comes next. One woman wrote in present tense. It turned out really well, we all loved it, but then we all love everything she writes.

I was having one of those rare moments of hubris when I proclaimed “I don’t know what I’ll write next week, but whatever it is, I will write it in present tense!” That was three days ago and I have not been able to stop thinking about it and trying out sentences. My inner critic hates every single one of them. I even tried to write this post in present tense. How hard could it be?

Very. So while retirement continues to flow harmoniously, the writing has hit a speed bump. It’s not like I’m blocked. I can always write. But never have I ever had to use the backspace like I’ve done this morning. That’s fine. I love a challenge. I thought Al’s retirement would be a challenge, but no, it’s wonderful in every possible way.

I can feel myself about to do something reckless here. I’m not only going to write the group pages in present tense, I am going to post them here one week from today. And that is how to shut the inner critic up. For now.

The Startle Reflex

It happens at least once a day. Al creeps upon me unawares and I startle and scream. It’s embarrassing. I worry my neighbors will think he’s abusing me. This is not a new thing, I’ve had a strong startle response my entire life. People startle me in the grocery store. But it’s gotten worse since Al retired. At first, I thought, okay, well, I’ll get used to him being around and it will calm down. Also, he is doing things to help me now like walking a little louder or making some kind of noise to alert me to his presence before he’s right behind me. As of yesterday, it was not getting better.

I finally looked “startle response” up online yesterday, pretty sure this was going to be just another weird something I have to live with. As it turns out, some of us are born with stronger startle reflexes than others, and, with it, eventually, comes anxiety. Not sure why this surprised me. When I was teaching, I’d be alone after class, erasing the board and someone would stop by the door to say hi, and I’d be so taken aback the eraser would fly from my hand.

Turtles sunning themselves on the bayou

I still don’t have any good answers about what to do with this increasingly annoying reaction of mine, although Al is trying to help by being a little louder when approaching me from behind. I’m trying to be more mindful, meditate more, and I’m practicing yoga. Also, I’m taking my meds.

I got the mindfulness idea from an article in Psychology Today. Mindfulness is just being in the moment, having a single focus. I tried, yesterday on our walk around the bayou, to keep my mind from wandering. Mindfulness is exhausting! And I’m not sure how it helps calm a crazy amygdala. (The place mid-brain where the fight or flight response resides.) I think if I was totally tuned in to simply taking one step then the next, I’d be even more startled by an alligator crossing my path.

Baby Snapper sunning in the bayou

Our alligators have their favorite spots to bask in the sun, but they are mostly well away from people. We did see an alligator on our walk yesterday. It stayed in the water, only eyes and snout on view as it floated along like a peaceful log. I call the huge resident alligator here on the bayou Big Snapper. Now, there’s a Baby Snapper, too. Al told me the one in the water next to us yesterday was Baby Snapper. He showed me a photo of Baby Snapper sunning he took last year. She’s bigger now.

Last year, I gave up nature walks entirely. I was just too fearful of ticks and also Big Snapper, despite it never getting near anyone in our large community. But yesterday, I was not afraid of the alligator in the bayou. Maybe because it was Baby Snapper. Maybe, could it possibly be, because I’d been practicing mindfulness? For whatever reason, I had a lovely walk in nature with my dear understanding husband. We even stopped awhile to observe the leisurely progress of Baby Snapper floating down the bayou.

Careful What You Wish For

Friends gave me lots of advice before Al’s retirement. The thing I heard most often was the need for two television sets. That makes sense because I dislike sports and Al can’t conquer the English accent. He likes fast action stories and I prefer PBS style romance. But we often read at night instead of watching television, except when the “big game” is on. There’s always a big game. So we bought a second television. Done.

Many women chuckled and offered variations on “It’s an adjustment.” My more frank friends said “You will wish you had more time alone.” It’s only been 20 days, and while it’s been an adjustment, it’s not been difficult. We figured out how to divide chores the first week. In a very tangible way, this is my retirement, too. Cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping…he’s doing half of everything. And without and fuss. Or, not much.

As for fun and relaxing activities, Al is not one to sit around and…write books. He says he’s going to read some of my books, though. I won’t hold him to it. He is a non-fiction guy. That’s okay. He goes to the gym three times a week, golfs regularly and even played shuffleboard this week. He says it’s like pool. I didn’t inquire further.

I have never liked team sports: watching them or playing them. I prefer to read, and it’s true I have not had as much time to read since Al retired, but that’s fine. I enjoy doing things with Al like walking on the beach or just having a coffee together in the morning. We have been grocery shopping together and that’s more fun than you’d think. I had so many chores and rote routines, mixing it up energizes my chi.

I like line dancing though it’s not actually a sport. Well, I guess it can be, but I do it for fun. I love to dance. And I like yoga, too. It’s true I have not yet found the time to actually go to line dancing or yoga class since Al retired, but I plan to do both this week. The one thing I’ve done on my own consistently is go to the writer’s group. No surprise there. Writers are my tribe.

Most of my married life, I’ve not had a companion. Now I do. It’s what I always wished for and my dream has come true at last. It’s lovely. Sure, we’re still in our honeymoon phase of retirement. We have some tough decisions and hard work ahead, but I’m certain we’ll manage it all. Together.