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The Overwhelming Closeness of Retirement
By Sally Breslin
Recently, one of my friends confessed to me that she was having trouble adjusting to her husband’s retirement. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “I really love the man. But being with him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is well, driving me crazy! And the pandemic is making matters even worse because I can’t send him off anywhere for a while so I can have some alone time.”
I had to chuckle, mainly because her words made me think back to 2006, when my husband first retired. That day, my life, as I’d known it, changed dramatically.
Back in the good old days, when my husband still worked, I’d roll out of bed around 10 a.m., grab a bowl of cereal and watch deep, meaningful TV shows like soap operas or “The Price is Right.”
But my husband’s retirement changed all of that.
Instead of watching Erica Kane marrying her 23rd husband on “All My Children,” I had to suffer through such gems as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II” and every zombie movie ever created.
When my husband wasn’t watching TV, he was napping. In the first two days of his retirement, he took 11 naps. I’d never had to be quiet for so long in my life. I didn’t dare vacuum because it would wake him. I didn’t dare play with the dogs because it would wake him. I even got stomach pains while stifling belches because I was afraid they might wake him. It was torture. Every hour or so, I had to dash out back into the woods and make noise, just to get it out of my system.
Before he retired, he went to bed at 11 o’clock sharp every night. I, being a night owl, would then have my private time to write on my novel, answer my email, write in my journal or enjoy my favorite late-night TV.
But because my husband was napping so much during the day, he was wide awake at 11 o’clock. So he would sit up with me and talk. And then he would talk some more. And when he wasn’t talking, he was singing or humming or shaking his prescription bottles (full of pills) as if they were maracas to accompany himself while he was singing or humming.
Needless to say, the only creative thing I managed to write when he sat up with me every night was, “Note to self: Hide prescription bottles!”
At least back when we were first married, my husband was interested in hobbies, such as collecting coins. He would sit for hours, a magnifying glass in hand, checking the dates and mint marks on coins and then listing their conditions. All I had to do was hand him a coffee can full of loose change and tell him I thought I’d seen an Indian-head penny in there, and he’d be quiet for hours.
When he got tired of coins, he decided he wanted to build furniture, so he set up a woodworking shop out back in the shed. Except for the distant noise of saws buzzing and occasional hammering (and occasional cursing when he accidentally hammered a body part), I never knew he was around.
Unfortunately, he built a coffee table with one leg shorter than the others and kept hacking off the legs to try to make them even until he ended up with a lap tray. That’s when his interest in building furniture abruptly ended.
He then became fascinated with model trains. Even though we had no place to set them up, he bought enough trains, buildings, fake trees and rocks, vehicles and accessories to fill a storage unit the size of an airplane hangar. He never even took them out of their boxes.
“Now that you’re retired,” I said to him after he’d been retired for about a month, “you finally can make all of those models for your train layouts. In fact, I think the first one you should tackle is that roller-coaster kit I bought for you.”
The reason why I suggested that particular kit was because it contained about 18 million wood-like plastic pieces that had to be assembled. The end result was supposed to be an actual working roller coaster that looked similar to the old coaster at Canobie Lake Park. As far as I could figure, it would take him about 3 years to finish it.
His heavy sigh told me he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about my suggestion. “Where am I supposed to build it?” he asked. “The only space I have is on the kitchen table, and where will we eat if I have a half-built roller coaster sitting on it? I can just see it all now. You’ll ask me to pass the ketchup and I’ll squirt some of it into one of the coaster’s cars and send it zooming down the track to you.”
“Then pick something smaller,” I said. “How about that little trailer-park kit?’
Again, he sighed. “What I really need is a finished basement or a hobby room where I can make the stuff and leave it there without worrying about it being disturbed. No, I’m not going to touch any of my train kits until I have a good place to work on them.”
So 3 years later, when we had our new house built, I made sure there was a big hobby room for him with a really long table in it where he not only could build the models for his trains, he also could set them up in a permanent layout.
When we finally moved in, however, I noticed he barely paid attention to his much-anticipated hobby room.
“Aren’t you going to go use your room?” I asked him one night, as he sat whistling “It’s a Small World” of Disney fame for the 75th time, while I was trying to compose an email to a book editor.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m really not interested in trains any more. I think I’ll sell all of them on eBay, and maybe take up playing the trumpet again. I used to play one when I was a kid, you know.”
Believe me, I really can empathize with my friend.
But I also want to tell her that even though she might not believe it now, no matter how crazy her husband currently is driving her, after he’s gone, she’ll really miss him and all of those little things he did that annoyed her.
And I’m speaking from experience.
Sally Breslin is an award-winning humor columnist and the author of “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” “Heed the Predictor,” “The Common-Sense Approach to Dream Interpretation” and “Christmas, a Cabin and a Stranger.” Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Often, we enjoy kidding about our spouses – the predictable things they do, their unforeseeable surprises. In retirement, we get to know our significant others all over again. With a pinch of humor, tell us about adjusting to your “new” person in the house.
We will publish your responses anonymously and together we can laugh a little more about those moments we might one day hate to miss.