A dozen years ago to this very day my wife and I split the workforce. We’ve now been out of corporate America for as long as we were in.
- A twelve-pack of beer,
- Twelve assorted Krispy Kreme donuts, garnished with
- Twelve birthday candles.
And now that it’s high noon, the spirit moves me to light the candles, wish upon them, blow them out, consume aforementioned beer and donuts, and pass the afternoon contentedly writing.
(Well, there IS one more task I have to take care of prior to attaining contentment. But my unwitting accomplice is in the house just now and the dozen roses I got her are still stashed in my truck.)
Right. All things in their proper time. For the moment, though, here in no particular order are twelve items: an inventory of highs and/or lows since we retired.
But before I go there, let me tell you that I believe everybody–whether financially independent, early retired, neither, or whatever–has at least twelve favorite stories about the people they’ve known and what they’ve done and what’s been done to them. You may not think you have those kinds of stories, but you do…and I want you to know that when you yourself retire, you’ll find that they’re only the first ones in a long volume.
First. My wife and I have hatched a daughter who’s somehow able to turn oxygen into love. Check out this picture and tell me if I’m wrong.
She’d just turned one when we left the workforce. You start out trying to be the perfect parent to be the perfect child, you realize you never will, and so you settle for doing the best you can.
And maybe it’s working out. She’s a bright kid…social, creative…a real brat sometimes, especially now that she’s a teenager and is asserting her identity…and she occasionally stands down bullies. I’m telling you, she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Second. Earlier this spring my wife of almost twenty years and I were one conversation away from divorce. And then–no way I’ll be able to do this story justice–there came the morning when I sat her down to tell her I was leaving. But instead the horrible six words, “I can’t do this any more,” what burst out of my chest was a giant rush of emotion; a lancing of all the poison and resentment I, and in fact we, had been carrying for so long. And now things are much better. Amazing, the power of honest conversation.
Third. While I’m wiving, my wife beat breast cancer. She’s been clear of it for five years and change. Joy, shipmates, joy.
Fourth. Two of my best friends committed suicide a few years apart, each using the same method as the other. Being ER, though, meant that I could spend more time dealing with my grief and trauma and helping others deal with theirs.
I was also able to drive across the country and help the family of one of these friends deal with winding down his business. Not easy. And in that particular situation I had to clean a big collection of porn off his business laptop and out of his Dropbox. Doing so is an unspoken guy-pact thing, but you should hope you never have to fulfill it.
Note: Since I’m prone myself to spells of depression, I no longer keep guns in the house. Got an aluminum bat instead. Pro tip: if you sleep with a bat next to the bed, slip a tall sock over the business end. That way if the bad guy tries to grab the bat, the sock will slip off in his hand and you can clock him while he stands there confused.
Fifth. Several years after I quit my job I found out that the guy I’d hired to run one of my departments had gotten married and had kids. This isn’t unusual in corporate life, but at first he didn’t have any pedigree to speak of–no degree, no connections, no nothing…except a willingness to apply himself. This was the right attitude and he had the aptitude as well, so it wasn’t long before be he became my protege. Ended up with a hell of a lot of responsibility and a six-figure salary.
Did taking a chance on him give him that life? No, he earned it himself…but the fact that he’s now what you’d call “successful” makes me feel good inside.
Sixth. I achieved a lifelong artistic dream that I can’t get into for fear of revealing my secret identity, but the process of achieving it drove me into a colossally manic and painful frenzy for six months…upon which it paid off in personal satisfaction, if not in a great deal of money. Didn’t want to die leaving this one unaccomplished, and now I won’t. Suffice it to say that it’s a source of pride nobody can take away from me.
Seventh. Got to drop everything and be there for my mom when my dad had a couple of serious surgeries: first a cardiac catheter ablation, then the removal of his prostate. You might know how it is when a loved one goes down for a procedure: no matter how “minor” the procedure, there’s always the fear that they won’t wake up. Couldn’t let mom go through that one alone.
So being there twice when dad came to, and seeing my mom’s joy and relief both times, and getting to witness them rub noses and hold each other and smile, and how they wiped at their tears afterwards…well, damn, man…apparently these donuts have onion centers.
Eighth. Taking a ten-week RV trip around the country during the summer of 2012. Bought a used Fleetwood, went everywhere and saw everything, and was never so happy to be back home. One of those Wizard of Oz moments, I guess, although the memories are precious and since then that trip has had a profound effect on my daughter’s development. She still talks about sitting in the amphitheater at Carlsbad Caverns watching the bats spiral up out of the cave mouth through a desert silence broken only by the soft flutter of their wings.
Among other things I remember from that trip: a sufficiently beaten-down rig broadcasts some kind of pheromone that draws a certain kind of law enforcement officer into leg-humping feverishness. I mean no disrespect to cops in general here, but we got weary of being protected and served.
They pulled us over thrice; each time obviously sniffing for pot smoke. One of the deep-south cops–get this–stopped us because he said the bicycles on our rear rack were blocking his license plate scanner. When he said that I rolled my eyes in a good-humored way, causing immediate de-escalation and (thankfully) laughter…and having reached a mutual understanding, we parted the ways. And I then of course spent the next half-hour cursing him and all his ilk.
Ninth. On the subject of cops: my best friend is one. Meeting and establishing a close relationship with him has been an ongoing high point of these twelve years.
I was doing some volunteer work for a local fire department when he and I met on an accident scene that included a stove-in skull, bleeding from the ears and a helicopter evacuation to the nearest trauma center. Afterwards he and I were sweeping up glass and getting to know each other, when he told me was into mixed martial arts training. I expressed interest he invited me for some instruction in his basement dojo. Eighteen months later I was boxing and grappling and in the best shape of my life.
So check it out: I’ve punched a cop right in the face, and I’m walking around free!
He and I have become able to discuss deep personal issues together without judgment, having established what you’d call an emotional safe space. Brothers from a different mother, you might say.
Tenth. I’ve learned to make whip-ass breakfast burritos. My entire family agrees. Once a month I make a giant batch of my special tortilla-crack and freeze the ones we don’t eat right then. The secret ingredients are–here’s the big reveal–A) a big bag o’ spinach cooked down to shreds in garlic and bacon drippings, and B) farm-fresh duck eggs.
Eleventh. On the subject of food: keeping a garden for the first several years of our ER.
Tending plants for an hour or more each day was a key element in my post-retirement decompression. A zen thing, really, where I could get into the flow of hand-tilling, hoeing up rows, planting, mulching, weeding, and of course munching on raw asparagus. Gardening might not sound particularly exciting or adventuresome, but that was the whole point, and have you ever done battle with an unruly tomato horn-worm? They have this little barb on their asses…
Twelfth. Have I already reached the end of this list? Well…my favorite moment has been…has been…
Aw, hell, I don’t know. I imagine I haven’t experienced it yet, which means that writing all this down has been futile…except that the exercise has once again caused me to realize how incredibly lucky I’ve been to have had the opportunity to even get here.
I’ve said elsewhere that nobody is independent, financially or otherwise. I can tell you, then, that one reason, probably the largest, that I started this blog is to spread awareness of FI/ER as a lifestyle and to help others to get here.
In a world of open-office environments, crushing student debt, multi-year unpaid internships, sixty-hour workweeks that are far too often devoid of meaning, constant employer nickel-and-diming, chronic burnout, and so many more soul-suckers I could bring up…if I could offer something that boosts even one person–hopefully you–towards escaping the supremely toxic lifestyle we call a corporate job, then the destination has been worth the journey.
I now find that consuming donuts and beer, while metaphorically significant, perhaps isn’t the best of food/beverage pairings. Is this an alcohol buzz, or a sugar buzz? Or both? Errk. I s’pose the time is ripe to break those dozen roses out of my truck and go see what the wife’s up to.
Hope you have a wonderful Saturday, and may all your days soon become weekends.