Home Not Home

A few days ago I returned to Michigan from Florida. This photo is of my writing room, the place I missed the most. My husband took a six week leave of absence to spend time with me in our Florida home. I called this time our “practice retirement” although he doesn’t like when I say that. I’m not sure what his problem is with my characterization of our time in Florida. He’s a mystery to me, one I was unable to solve in six short weeks.

I have been retired four blissful years. Al was supposed to retire a few years ago, when we bought a sweet little condo in St Pete, but decided not to at the last minute. Thus I spent two winters alone in St Pete, falling more and more in love with it. Al assures me he is ready to retire (for real this time) by the end of the year. One of the things we are trying to figure out as we go forward is where to live. Michigan, where we both grew up and have lived our entire lives? Where our dearest friends and much of our families live? Or Florida, where we love taking walks on the beach? I feel less anxious in Florida. Michigan winters are misery for me, with the bad weather and worse driving conditions.

After six weeks, I know what I want: to live in Florida in a larger place. One with a writing room. Al is not so sure. And that is the heart of our biggest problem as a married couple. We can’t agree on this. The plan I see rolling out so perfectly appears not to suit him. We don’t have easy agreement. This bothers him less than it does me. He seems willing to take every day as it comes. He throws out suggestions that strike terror into my heart, like the one from last night. Why not sell the Florida place and keep our Michigan home?

We’ve been married 34 years but have not spent any significant time together in at least a decade, maybe more. Al has been working every day, including weekends, and I’ve been writing books. We are each happy in our own way. Yet we both yearn for something more. I want to travel more, to see my grandchildren (and their parents!) more. I want to spend lots more time with the man I married. If we could just agree on where to spend this time.

In Florida, I missed working on my novel and he missed having a sense of purpose. He wants to find something rewarding to do with the rest of his life. I understand that, because I derive great satisfaction from writing. Still, I assured Al I was ready to stop writing novels when he retired if our new life, whatever it turns out to be, makes it difficult. I will always write. But maybe not novels. I enjoy handwriting my morning pages with my favorite pen and notebook. I still love blogging after 17 years right here. I did those things in Florida. What I found was it wasn’t enough. In six short weeks, I learned giving up writing novels will not be so easy. I missed writing my book.

One of the methods I employ when writing a novel is to not worry about what happens next. In my first draft, I don’t plot or outline. Every day, when I am in the rhythm of writing, I know what I need to write that day. By the time I’m done for the day, I have an idea of what comes next. This is how I write books; it’s much more difficult to apply this to living a life. There are no rewrites in life. No revisions. No delete key.

Maybe that’s why Al dislikes my idea of “practice retirement” ~ these past six weeks brought up more questions than answers. The future is hard to plan. Maybe it’s like writing a book. You just take it one day at a time and edit as needed.

Long Distance Love

My son and his family are visiting from Seattle. It’s been so lovely to have them here with me, but I miss them fierce when they’re gone. I live about an hour from where I grew up. One of my brothers still lives in Taylor, our hometown, and the other lives in a neighboring town. My mom lives close to them. None of us strayed far from home.

My dad’s an adventurer. He traveled all the time for his job as a construction electrician. He’s seen the country and loves the sun. He’s retired now and lives in Florida. He and mom are still married. I admit it’s strange, but it works for them. They visit back and forth, but as they get older, it has become more difficult for Dad to drive up here for the summer or for Mom to fly down there in winter.

She was just there, as my dad has had a health scare, and needed surgery. She hated every minute of it but she’s his wife and she wanted to take care of him. They love each other, they really do. They just prefer different climates. I want to move to Florida full time as soon as Al retires, so I understand how Dad feels. My only thing is I am not going to move there without my husband. It comes down to this: I love him more than I hate the cold.

This visit my son told me that grad school was just an excuse to go to California. He got the advanced degree, married in Malibu and moved to Seattle for work. There, they started their family and formed a tight bond with several other couples who are married with kids. I see my grandchildren less than I’d like. The plan is to move to Florida and spend extended periods of time visiting Seattle and Traverse City.

And they’re good about visiting us. Especially in Florida. We’re in St Pete, only two hours from Disney World. Florida, for many of us, is “God’s Waiting Room” but for our grandchildren, Disney World is a little bit of heaven, too.

Facebook Love

Am still using the Flash! book by John Dufresne for ideas to spark flash fiction. This morning I had not one idea. My mind was a blank slate. I read on in Dufresne until I found a prompt that interested me. Two people talking to each other, both having totally different conversations. That got my fingers typing…

***

“It was just one of those Facebook things,” I tell my husband, knowing my excuse is lame and too late.

He doesn’t use Facebook, thinks it’s a waste of time. I can tell you this about the man I married: he doesn’t hardly like to talk to me, so why would he want to talk to almost everyone he’s ever known?

“You always do that,” he says.

“What?”

“I’m talking about our future and you bring up the past. That’s your problem.”

But I didn’t bring it up. He picked up my phone when it pinged and read my private messages and saw what he saw. Pictures, old ones, from when my Facebook love and I dated in high school. It was more than pictures, it was the whole crazy thing of me thinking I was not in love with my husband but with a guy I hadn’t seen in forty years.

“There will be penalties if we draw from the 401K now,” he says.

“We were in love once. A long time ago.” As I say it, I realize I could be talking about my husband or the Facebook guy or any number of men I had loved. Too many, too often, to ill effect. Is love like that for everyone? Is anybody happy?

“On the other hand, Florida has no state tax.”

We are sitting at the table in the dining room. There’s a whirring sound as pages spit from the printer in the corner.  “We’re gonna need a new file,” he says.

I pick up the pages. The history of  Facebook friend’s messages from first to last.  Here’s one from the middle: It feels so good to finally say I love you and mean it. The pages pile up even though we have not communicated in months. Today his text is brief. You okay?

I’m not sure but it seems I am supposed to add these little love notes to our files of financial information. Unlike the shiny clean sheets in the printer, each page of our financial history has been worn thin by many readings.

I like to buy pretty new file folders for the old abused papers. There are white ones with little gold stars, pink ones with gold hearts, pink and gold striped ones. I put the texts from my Facebook love in one of the gold heart files.

I don’t touch the other papers. I’m not a finance person, but I know that on paper we have wealth, just the wrong kind. The kind that can disappear overnight.

“I just, I don’t know, it was like I went crazy for a minute. Like I was sixteen again.” I was over it, whatever it had been, because I’d spent the last few months in bed in a sugar coma. “I’ll never be over it.”

“If we use the Roth IRA’s first, that should see us through until social security kicks in.” Also on the table: his busy calculator.

“Did you ever think that when we got old we’d still care about things like love?”

“I think we’re done here,” he said, gathering the remaining papers and putting them in their proper files. “What’s for dinner?”

 

Rocky Reunion

IMG_36867 weeks and 5 days. That’s how long we’d been apart. I don’t know what I was expecting when Al arrived, except to feel relief and happiness. That’s how I felt, but all too fleetingly. He came in at night, and we had our first argument a few hours later. It had to do with me wanting to stay in Florida longer next year. He said something rude and I snapped back and we went to bed without saying sorry. First night!

It happened again the next night and the night after that I picked a silly fight over nothing. I vented for about five or six pages in my journal and started to notice I was going over all the ways he’d let me down over the years. I stopped and went to bed, third night in a row with no kiss goodnight. We always kiss goodnight. What the hell was happening with us?

The next morning I remembered a book I’d been reading by Amy Morin…one of the things mentally strong people do not do is dwell on the past. There’s a check list with every chapter and I’d come out as needing to work on that. (Out of the 13 Things, I need to work on 6 of them!) So I reread the chapter and noticed that dwelling on the past means there are unsolved issues that need to be cleared up.

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I realized that I was angry with Al not because of the past but because next year we were supposed to be here for four or five months together. He was supposed to retire at the end of 2017. When he told me he’d decided to work a few more years, I immediately buried the hurt and rejection I felt because I wanted to be supportive of him in his career as he had always been of me with both writing and teaching. I didn’t even realize I’d bottled it up.

Instead I waited until he got here and picked on him about stupid shit. Finally that 4th morning, I told him how hurt and upset I was about him not being with me next winter. He started to remind me that we always supported the others’ work decisions. I said “I know and agree, but that’s in my head. In my heart, it hurts.”

Al did not say “that’s it, I’m retiring tomorrow.” He’s still got his plan, which is fuzzy and depends on when his auto plant actually closes down. I hate having the future be so unclear, but I do know I can’t abide another Michigan winter. It has been more lovely here than I ever could have imagined. I did just fine on my own, something I would never have suspected. I’m dreading going back to Michigan in a few days. That’s probably not very mentally strong of me, because mentally strong people do not fear change, but at least I am admitting the problem. And I’m working on it.

 

 

 

The Starter Wife

2wedding.SKMBT_C36413092514530Thirty years ago today I married my third husband. I was his first wife. He wanted the whole wedding, with a big party and the church and a tuxedo. I agreed, but only because it was his first go-round. Frankly I was a little embarrassed inviting people to yet another celebration of forever love. I knew damn well love, at least for me, didn’t seem to last forever. And there were already red flags flying, long before the wedding day dawned.

We’d broken up when he decided we should postpone the wedding after we set the date and everyone had been invited. Then we got back together, but only because I made him choose, all or nothing. Marriage or break up for good. I was a single mom, in the middle of a custody war with no end in sight. I had to be tough. He chose me, but sometimes he’d say “everyone has a starter wife, right?” I wasn’t sure he was joking.

On our wedding day, someone set a video camera up by the keg of beer on the patio. This would become our wedding video. When we got back from our honeymoon (not all hearts and flowers) and watched the video from our wedding day, I heard Al’s friends making bets on how long the marriage would last. Not long, was the general consensus. Less than a year.

Things were rocky as a landslide those first months, that first year. We had completely different ideas about how marriage worked and neither one of us was very good at compromise. There were lots of tears and hurt feelings. He flung the word divorce around so liberally I once went into the boys’ bedroom to find them filling their little gym bags, the ones they used when they switched houses to their dads’ place.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re packing. Al says we’re getting a divorce.”

I told them Al didn’t mean it, we were not getting a divorce, grown ups sometimes said things they didn’t mean when they were upset. The boys calmed down and unpacked their toys and pajamas. But they looked sad. Which broke my heart. Maybe I should get a divorce. Maybe Al really didn’t want to be married to me and maybe I had been a fool to think I could fall in love again and finally make it work. So many more red flags had popped up since we’d said “I do.”

There was the way he never told me when he made plans with his guy friends, just went out. On Friday night. To the bar. And plenty of other nights, too. No discussion, just “see ya.” Or the times I’d try to do something nice for him, like throwing him a birthday party or buying him a little gift, and he’d always say “how much is this going to cost me?” Then there was the way he flung around the D word. The way he’d been so mean on our honeymoon, falling asleep on the road to Hana so I had to drive down that mountain myself, terrified the whole time. Not my idea of a romantic hero. Not at all.

Even on our wedding day, he spent more time drinking with his friends than by my side. He’d walked in on me smoking a cigarette and yelled at me in front of a bunch of wedding guests. Remembering all these raging red flags, I began to worry big time. Not so much about what this would do to my ongoing custody case, but what it would do to my own heart, and the hearts of those two little boys I loved so much. I’d been through a no-big-deal divorce at 18, from my high school sweetheart, and then I’d been through the wrecking ball with my second husband, the father of my sons. I wasn’t sure how we’d survive another divorce. I wasn’t sure I had a choice.

But I was strong back then, so much stronger than I am now. The years have made me soft, but back then I had time on my side. I believed that many good things were in my family’s future. What I didn’t know is if that family would hold three or four people. My mother seemed to think divorce was in the cards for Al and me. I had told her a little bit about our problems and she said “I never thought it would work.” I’m not sure there was anybody who believed we could make it work. Not my ex, not my kids, not my family, not our friends, and apparently not even Al.

I waited until the kids were with their dad and then I sat down on the sofa in the living room and had the talk with Al. I told him that I was done fighting for our love. It was pretty clear to me that he didn’t really love me and that this marriage had been a big mistake. I told him about the little scene in the boys’ bedroom. I don’t think I even had any tears left. Our relationship had started out so beautifully, as so many love stories do, but it had turned uglier and uglier and I truly believed it was past saving. Al agreed. We would divorce, less than a year after we married.

I got up off the sofa. I had no place to go, but I knew how to find an apartment. I’d done it plenty of times. Now it was my turn to pack. I guessed I really had been the starter wife he said I was after all. And good luck to the next one. I was heading down the hallway, ready to pack my own bags, when Al called me back into the living room. By this point, I wasn’t angry; neither one of us had even raised our voices during the entire discussion. All the tears and arguments were over.

I turned around to look at him sitting there, feeling so sad, because I still loved him, even though our marriage was impossible to fix. I was a born loser in love. Three times married, three times failed. He sat there on the sofa looking at me. “What?” I said, simply defeated. Nothing else he said could make me feel lower than I already did in that moment.

“I still love you,” he said.

That was thirty years ago. Somehow the starter wife became the only wife, with hard work, determination, abiding love, and many highs and lows in a very long, mostly happy marriage.

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