My husband turned 65 last year. Over the years, he has made it his business to take good care of us in myriad ways.
He goes to work every day for many hours. He pays all the bills. He does all the home repairs, or calls the plumber or electrician if he can’t fix it himself.
He mows the lawn and fixes the car. He vacuums, builds bookcases, washes and puts in the storm windows in the fall, and the screens when the weather gets warm.
He does the Christmas shopping, although I do wrap the presents. His projects are constant and forever ongoing. I can’t explain how much he does, and how little I do, although as I said, I do wrap the Christmas presents.
No doubt people will think I’m crazy, but what I’m saying is, it’s exhausting. A person who does everything is exhausting to a person who does nothing.
In other words, I would rather spend my life drinking coffee on a bench in the sun. But now here we are: This whirlwind with whom I live has turned 65. People have started asking him, “Are you gonna retire?” “When are you gonna retire?” “Are you thinking about retiring?” His answer is always, “Maybe.” Or “I’m thinking about it.” Or, “Probably soon.”
About six months ago, he had a medical problem that required emergency surgery. When he left the hospital the doctor told him, “You can’t do anything for six weeks. No driving … no golfing … no going to work.”
For the first week home, he was tired. He was happy to lounge around: from the bed to the chair and back again.
But soon he started to feel better. He didn’t like where the chair was that he’d been happy to sit in, so he moved it. I said “I don’t think you’re supposed to be moving chairs around.” My husband said, “The doctor didn’t say anything about that. He said no driving and no going to work.” Then he said, “By the way, let’s get these storm windows out and put the screens in.”
“Really?’ I said. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be doing things like that.”
“You can help me,” he said. “Just get the screens — they’re in the attic — and then you can put the storm windows back there after we change them.”
“Also,” he said, “There’s a little thing I need you to help me with down in the garage for a minute, I just need to drill some holes for the pegs in this bookcase I was making, and I need you to hold it steady.”
He said, “By the way you didn’t tell me the bathroom sink was leaking. Here: You get down under there, I’ll tell you what to do. Where’s the vacuum?”
He said, “I just want you to vacuum behind the pipes there, after we fix the sink. OK?” “I really don’t think you’re supposed to be doing these things,” I said again.
He said, “I’m not doing it — you are.”
Well — I did try. But I’m clumsy and not very strong. I could manage the screens, but the storm windows were too heavy for me to lug.
So whereas I would have left them leaning against the wall for the next month, he inched them slowly back to the attic himself. I couldn’t manage to hold the bookcase steady while he drilled, so he ended up shoving a heavy table against it to keep it steady. I really couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me to do under the sink — which pipe am I supposed to be tightening, and how do I use this thing? — so he ended up doing that himself as well. I did, however, manage to do the vacuuming.
I said “Maybe you should lie down for awhile.” He said, “Yeah … Maybe I will for a bit.”
I said, “I’ll be back in a little while, OK?” He said, “Yeah, fine. When you get back, maybe you can help me take the slipcovers off that couch where the dog threw up and wash them.”
I didn’t answer. It was a sunny day. I walked up to the coffee shop, got a large coffee to go and found a bench in the sun, where I sat perfectly still for an hour. I was pretty sure that when I got home the slipcovers would already be in the washing machine. I wasn’t positive, but I would have bet money that he had re-vacuumed behind the pipes under the sink in the bathroom. Six weeks, that doctor had said?
A week later I asked my husband, “So, your retirement … What do you think?” He was busy defrosting the refrigerator as well as refinishing the top of the kitchen table. “Not in a million years,” he said. “I mean — what in the world would I do all day?”
I thought, people get married all the time. Often we live whole lives in the same house, years and years. Maybe we know each other, maybe we don’t.
Either way, retirement looks to me like a challenge. Suddenly inhabiting the same space day after day after a lifetime of being yourself, at least for some percentage of every day?
I’m sure there are many people who do it well and graciously. “Retirement?” my husband had said to me. “What in the world would I do all day?” Honestly, I felt like I had just dodged a bullet. And I am 100% sure that he felt the same.