Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Tomorrow is my last official day employed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Yesterday was my last actual day of work.
I woke with the singing of birds and Zen music, and turned the alarm off. My anxiety was reaching a level of numbness. A point so overwhelming that my body just blurs into a state of numbness, a place where I can only focus on that which is in front of me and just keep moving forward. I was excited and apprehensive; anxious yet calm; I had the same type of reality that I get a week or so before Christmas when I realize that I can only do what I can do. That there is an end. That this will not keep going, it may build or fizzle, but it will end. And so I took a shower and washed my hair, brushed my teeth and then decided to wear makeup. Not something I do on a normal day. Makeup is something to wear on stage, or to change your identity. Like from Kathleen to Nola Spumonii. Nola was or is my clown name. I was a member of the World famous Spumonii Sisters Clown Troupe. The greatest all woman clown troupe in the world at that time. As far as we knew, the only all woman clown troupe in the world. If you are the only, you might as well be the best. I put makeup on for dates, and parties, to go with Mary and sometimes Glen to The Mockingbird or some other celebration or reason to be out in public. A way to look different, hopefully better, to hide behind the powder, color, and sparkle. The lipstick, the darker longer lashes brushed out with mascara. To look in the mirror and feel better about how I look.
I have never thought of myself as being attractive. I am not one of those natural or exotic beauties. I am just me. So I painted the best me on I could, taking my time, making sure to not look "made up". Then slipped the blue and white dress over my head. This dress hugs my figure, or lack of one. It slides down across my body ending at my feet, simple, flattering if thin, revealing ugly secrets if not. I have been thinner these days, so thought I would take the chance. It is sleeveless so also a good opportunity to wear a sweater and feel like I am covering up any flaws that might push forward. Makeup and a simple cardigan, protection stronger then Excalibur. Safer then taking the chance of whispered gossip disapproving of my choices, my figure, my flaws. Still my own harshest critic, scarred from childhood with adults comparing me to my movie star beautiful parents. Always thought of as "one of the guys" and a little odd, marching to my own drum from high school until today.
My mother bought me a black light poster when I was 11 just starting Seventh Grade. Seventh Grade was high school when I grew up. The poster was red, yellow and orange, a Warhol feeling poster of a drum line. The words, from a song made popular by Linda Rondstat about hearing music to your own beat. A gift acknowledging me for whom I was, and that she was proud and supported me to be different, to follow the beat of a different drummer. A passage into adulthood, difficult and unique to all as we try to balance our independence and individuality and learn how to fit in. I was lucky to have such a wise and loving mother, who remembered her youth so well. She was always my best friend, and I miss her terribly, and yet feel her as part of who I am through both nature and nurture.
I fed the animals, made myself some fruit and yogurt, took an Ativan, put the top down on the toy and drove my last drive into the office as a regular state employee. A beautiful drive into the office I saw turkeys everywhere. Watching to make sure that they did not spook into the road in front of me, I got to my office and turned on the computer. It felt like a normal day. Not really, there was an excitement in the air, but I followed my normal routine; turn on the computer, check for voice messages, turn on the classical music station. Review my work and re-prioritize as necessary, log into the computer, read my emails and send out responses. I acted as if I would be there for another hundred years.
I could hear the preparations for the celebration going on around the offices, laughter and happy voices filled our Bureau. There was to be cake. That always makes my coworkers and me happy.
I heard as they shuffled the food in and out of the refrigerator, heating up some of the dishes, swapping recipes, a day of work as usual, but an excuse to leave that behind and work on a celebration. No need to feel guilty, this is a special event, sanctioned not in writing, but by being humans. The need to celebrate. The need to acknowledge special events. The need to be a part of something. The excuse to make and do for others and not have to do your usual assignments. People passed by my door, some peeping their heads in, others wondering what I was doing. I was working. I worked on the Imaginary Boyfriends license, trying to work with other states, to play by their rules and understand their levels of licenses. I had another reciprocal license request come in I worked on it also. I did a little data entry, had someone look at the big shredder. I answered the phone and answered questions. I got up from behind my desk again and again; this time for a hug from a field person come to celebrate this early retirement, the next time to print off a license or scan something into the computer to email following a request for something. I worked as I work each day. Taking on individuals tasks and doing my best to assist. Friends came by to chat and ask me why I was working. I just laughed and said, that is what they are paying me to do this morning. That was true, but it was just as true that I was avoiding all the hoorah. Denying the frightening and yet exhilarating change about to occur.
I worked until quarter till eleven. Bruce sent Phyllis in to find me, to fetch me to the party. I felt like a reluctant bride aware of the change a moment would make to who I was. We walked down the long familiar hallway, out the door, along the covered outside corridor, up the stairs, into the
. So familiar, yet feeling foreign at that moment. Administrative Building
Phyllis buzzed us in. We walked down the narrow hall coming out into the main room where offices and Divisions and Sections radiate filled with working people. No celebration for them today. The blinds were open to the Eyster Auditorium, the "big auditorium" and inside were familiar faces clustered in small groups talking, bringing in food, setting up coolers with ice for drinks. The room was filled with balloons the color of a summer garden, red, pink, yellow and orange. On the tables were little terra cotta pots stuffed with green tissue paper and a wooden tongue depressor which is often used as a plant nametag. Attached to each wooden stick was a packet of flower or veggie seeds. Instead of fresh flowers, there were pictures of beautiful flowers just waiting to be planted. On the screen in the front of the room a revolving power point presentation with photos of me from the field, with my staff or family. Photos of my labs, places I have been, adventures taken and a photo of me waving as I drive off in my convertible to new and unknown adventures. Mary, Jack and Jan were there looking as lost and out of place as I felt. I joined them and stuck to them like glue for the security of family. I love my coworkers to death and think of them as my family, but I now had this separation that we were there to celebrate. A separation that would take me away and leave them behind.
Then they brought out a cake that I swear could feed 100 people! It was a huge sheet cake decorated with small flowers and plastic flower rings. In the center was the same photo of me driving off in my convertible, top down, my hand in a gesture of goodbye. A big smile on my face. It is so amazing what they can do with sugar and icing and cakes these days. It was a thing of beauty and we all stood around it and complimented it.
The food lay out across the table a virtual cornucopia of salads, sides, chicken cooked several ways, ham, breads, desserts all nested in and around the giant cake. The picture of me waving good-bye. We lined up and walked down the table oohing and aahing over the food, salads of every kind, salsas and soups, macaroni and cheese, KFC, breads waiting to wipe up the last flavor off of our plates. We settled into the business of eating. I have no idea how many people were there, maybe 50? I do not know. I also do not know who was not there. I just celebrated those who could come and be there for me, with me. We ate and ate and yet like the seven fishes and loaves the food never seemed to become less.
After everyone had their fill a signal was given and in walks my dearest and longest friend from work, Bob. He is a wonderful person and such a true and steadfast friend. No ill can be said about this person in my presence, for he is just too dear to me. He has been there for me for every day of my 25+ years. They say that men and woman cannot be friends, but there has never been a question or a misunderstanding, we have just always been friends. He knows I would do anything for him, and he would do the same, and has, for me. Often a quiet person, maybe some would call a wallflower. I do not know, I just know that he is always there for me. And here he was in giant clown shoes, a huge stuffed red bow tie, Bright rainbow colored cat in the hat type of hat with Groucho glasses on. He called me to the front of the room and had me sit in a chair. Then proceeded to tell everyone about how I had been a professional clown at one point. A fact that most there were familiar. Then he put a shower cap on my head covered it in clothespins and then attached one to each of my ears. They were not painful, but not all that comfortable either. He handed me a pair of Groucho glasses and I obediently put them one. He talked and made jokes, hidden behind his clown costume, no longer the quiet and shy person happy to let others be in the lime light. He filled a plate with whipped cream. I explained the proper procedure for putting a pie in someone's face. Such an old classic, always good for a laugh, and yet not done correctly you can end up with disastrous results like a broken nose. After my little lesson as Bob continued to fill the plate and try to figure out what to do with it, I simply slipped my hand under the plate and with a gentle nudge perfected by years, and the "pie" flew into Bob's face. He added more whipped cream, and I demonstrated again, this time with the perfect result of cream falling from his nose and chin.
Then began the speeches. My boss, Bruce, who has been a friend of mine through the Department for most of my career discussed my "firsts" and accomplishments. Andy the Division Director chimed in and added to the list of attributes of hard work and dedication. Bruce teased about my working so hard this morning. Everyone laughed and yet knew that was who I am. Then they talked about how much fun my staff always had. Both in the field and in the office, my staff has always been one of the hardest working most productive groups. Teams that have slashed spending and figured out how to do more with less. People coming together to think and figure out how to set up a new system or web site or policy or procedures. People who laugh and enjoy each other and are dedicated to their work.
I confessed that at one point when the Certification Team was getting close to burn out with all the overload of work and trying to envision and bring to life a new way to do our entire system, I took all of us to the Bressler's ice cream shop when it had first opened on
Apalachee Parkway. I had told everyone else in the Bureau that we were going out for some peace and quiet to have a staff meeting. We were not gone long, and yet it did the trick, we were renewed and felt appreciated and the next day everyone came in focused on getting the work done, a hidden secret shared about sneaking out for ice cream. Adults skipping "school" for a special treat on an ordinary day. A confession made on my last day.
Stories were told of how I would bring in ice cream for the entire Bureau during the heat of summer.
Klondike bars. They also reminded each other that I would bring in hot chocolate and cookies during the cold miserable days of winter. Paneria pastries for staff meetings, or just as a pat on the back. I have always had an amazing group to work with at the Department. Some of these groups I hired the majority, others inherited, but all loved dearly like favorite children. People got up and said sweet and kind things about me. I felt loved and appreciated. I felt that I had accomplished the goals I had set out to do. I was respected for my hard work, and appreciated for my quirky way of acknowledging good work. One "take your employee to lunch day" or assistance day or whatever the name really is, I took my staff across the street for Chinese food. I had bought them little presents, a flashlight with batteries, a toothbrush and a pair of socks. Presents that are useful, but silly enough to make them smile.
I was not a card sender, but each birthday the staff member got to pick where and what they would like for lunch. I would give them an extra long lunch break, while I went back to answer the phones. My emphasis was always on letting them know how much they were valued and appreciated. For their work, for their presence, their mind and ability to work together as a team. I am a CPM graduate after all. My favorite Section was on "Leading from the heart" rewarding and recognizing individuals for their contributions and teamwork. It did not matter what the task was. We took it on and found a way to make it work. We broke down the tasks and drew fishbone diagrams, laid out procedures and policies out in charts and spread sheets, looking for the best way to improve the system.
After the speeches they gave me a beautiful canvas garden bag, covered in pockets that were filled with gardening tools, a perfect blue hydrangea and a very generous gift card to Tallahassee Nurseries. Cash for my trip with my Dad. Cards some funny, some mushy filled with words written by those staying while I left. No one brought up the cancer, but there were many wishes for a healthy and long life. I referred to the life changing disease with positive thoughts about a long and happy retirement. About leaving not because I was abandoning them, but because it was the right thing to do for my health. Smiles and heads shaking as I talked about feeling healthier and stronger then I had a year before. A family celebrating an ending, a life of sorts, well lived and now the time to pass through the door and walk out and away from them. My support, my friends and colleagues, my beloveds.
Then it was time to cut the cake. I cut a piece and then looked up and announced I was not going to be standing there and cutting the cake, just don't be shy and come on up and cut your own piece anyway you like it. It was fun. In fact these beloved people put on the most fun I have ever had at a retirement party.
And as if in a dream I was back in my office, finishing up a few last bits of work, packing the last few items, my water glass, the clock radio, my signature stamp in a bag. Closing the programs on my computer, turning it off, loading the presents and wishes of so many onto the cart to be taken to my car. My final trip out and away. Bob appeared like a guardian angel. "Let me go with you and help you load your things." My ever-present angel and friend. We unloaded the cart and walked back up the stairs so that I could turn in my ID badge, the final gesture of my career.
I swiped the card, nothing. I did it again, still no "click" to let us in. Bob swiped his card and we walked back in. He walked with me to the front office so I could turn in my badge, no longer needed, no longer useful. The Bureau was filled with the balloons, tied to desk in cubicles to be surprises to children that evening. Food still being divided up and put away, a relaxed atmosphere of friends having had cake and closure. I handed back my card and told them that it was already deactivated. Shocked looks stared at me. I laughed and said well it is time and I turned and watched Bob look back from the door. A worried glance, will she be OK? I smiled and said, remember if you ever need to get married, I am here. He laughed and walked out the door. We are friends, not lovers, and I could no more live in his house without my animals then he could live with my animals and me. No, this is not a love affair, this is an affair of someone as dear and special and watches over me as closely as my brothers do. He will be out for small get together's, he shies from the crowds even more then I do. We will meet for lunch, to take a class together or to go see a movie. He will oblige me and come to the Opera House to see my shows. He has five more years until he retires, and I hope that I will be able to be there for him when he packs his car for the last time and drives away. He is my Bob. One of the three people my baby lab boy is named. My father, my oldest brother and my Bob. He is like Colin. Someone who when you meet them just fits into a part of your heart that you didn't know you were holding on to for them.
I got in the toy, put the top down and for the last time as a regular state employee I drove away from the office. No one was there and saw, but I raised my hand and waved good-bye as I turned at Judy's train.
It had been a day of celebration. A day of closure. I had had my anxieties, but Mary, Jack and Jan were there for me. My family that I was not leaving. My family that is still out here. And my imaginary boyfriend had been a huge help. He had called several times over the last 24 hours. He had needed my help with his license, but he always started each call with, "How are you doing?" Not the social polite question that is always answered with, "fine, and you?" No, he has been in my place before, he knew that this is a time that a supportive voice, away from the situation, can give strength to smile and do what you have to do. No one at work could give me that, because as much as I know that I had done all that there was to do, I was leaving these people. Not leaving them as my friends, no like Paige commented, now I will have more time to enjoy these beloveds as people. But we were closing this side of the relationship. The side that was responsible for the 25+ years of friendship I shared with some of them. And I needed someone I was not leaving to be there to offer a shoulder. I never cried during the day. I did not need to. I have seen so much loss over the last few months to understand that this is not a loss as much as a turn of the page. And it was hard turning that page, but having that invisible shoulder along with my Opera House Family and my Department Family all there. All saying, "How are you doing?" And I could smile and celebrate a choice of service for 25 years. I did not go for the big bucks. I choose instead to spend my career trying to improve on the enforcement of agriculture products. To improve on the training and certification of people to use those products. On policies and procedures to assist those in the industry to do it the right way. Do the right thing. And to put checks and balances in so that they received the over site and assistance by the government to maintain a level playing field. To promote agriculture and the environment. I was acknowledged, something so important to all living creatures.
I stopped on my way home and picked up the itinerary for Dad's and my trip. A reward for a life of service. An adventure to share with my Father. The opportunity to give him the chance to visit his beloved ones one more time. And to do this with his adoring daughter by his side.
I turned out of the parking lot and instead of going home, I drove to Bealls and shopped. I am not a big shopper. I shop by necessity, not out of enjoyment. I needed to get Mr. Moon's birthday present. I needed to get one more thing for Dad for Father's Day. I thought a pretty bright shirt that will travel well. I bought the presents I needed for the beloved ones we will visit. Presents for those in the
. We will buy their cheese for gifts to our families in Netherlands . I bought a few last things that will hopefully travel well for me. And then I bought a bathing suit. I mean I had been through a lot these last few days, and well, strike while the iron is hot. Spain
And they had some pieces on the sale rack that were obviously mis-marked. I had to go to a size 10 top, and I could wear a size 6 bottom. OK, I am smaller then I used to be, but when it comes to bathing suits, there are some very sick people in this world. They are the sizers of bathing suits and they torture all woman who trudge into dressing rooms with the artificial and unnatural light that is worse then looking into a magnification mirror. In fact I think the dressing room senses when you bring in bathing suits and somehow the mirror becomes a fun house mirror contorting our shapes and sucking out our souls. But my guardian angels were there and blessed me with mis-marked suits heightening my vanity by having to go up a size on the top and down a size on the bottom. Ha, I say to those sick people who mark the sizes for bathing suits. Ha, I say! I may just wear the labels outside so people can stare in amazement. Hmmmm, no that is not a good idea that will just cause them to say, "Who does she think she is kidding, that is not a size 10 top. No way."
I took my treasures to the cash register and watched the red ink show discounts and sale prices. A final discount for "mature shoppers" and I had saved more then I spent. I had not come close to spending the money I was given for the trip, and I had taken care of many shopping obligations, easily and happily with one trip. I felt grateful and blessed. It had been a glorious day of celebration and ended with the feeling of success not unlike a caveman's feeling after a particularly good hunt. I drove out of
along the interstate and headed home. Home for the last time as a regular state employee, home with the information to unlock the anxiety and mysteries of our trip, home with a car overflowing with presents and treasures. Tallahassee
The wind felt glorious blowing through the car. I took I-10 east heading for
, my home. A state trooper passed me on the left side as I drove the speed limit riding along in the "slow lane." The trooper, as is their habit was traveling about 10 miles over the speed limit. I am not sure why they do that. Is it because they can? Anyway, the SUVs and other gas-guzzlers were loaded up behind him. Only the first person knowing that the car holding up the traffic was an unmarked trooper. My mind was filled with thoughts of the day, but I was riveted back into the present by a cloud of smoke? Dust? Dirt? Coming at us. It was up a ways, maybe 20 car links up in front of me. I saw everyone in the left lane slam on their breaks, then all the cars in front of me. I had already started slowing down, looking up ahead to try and figure out what was going on. The cloud was as thick as the dust storm in the movie Jefferson County . Then I saw the Troopers car do a 360 spin. Cars were disappearing into the cloud that I now realized was the dryness and dirt being blown up from the median. And then there was a huge black SUV heading west in our east bound lanes. The front of the vehicle appearing out of the invisibility of the dirt and dust like a horror show. The cop did another spin, this time a 180 and was travelling behind the vehicle heading our way. The cars in front of me heading for the shoulders, slamming their cars to a halt and jumping out of them. The SUV disappeared momentarily and then appeared to my right, obviously it had rolled, maybe repeatedly and had ended up on its side about 75 feet off the interstate down the shoulder. By this point I was stopped and pulled a little to the side. The SUV was directly next to me. Never a threat to me, it had lost control heading west bound and crossed our lanes some in flight I think and ended up only near me by reference. The trooper right behind it. I sat there as people leapt from the vehicles running to see if they could help. I saw no movement for that minute or two before I could drive away. I have stopped at accidents before when I was needed. But the trooper had seen it all and there were plenty of people already acting, I was not needed other then to move my vehicle out of the Malay and go home. It all happened so quickly and yet in slow motion. There was a sense of unreality about the heat and dust and dirt, the trooper being right there, the smashed windshield, the car lying in the wrong place at a wrong angle. I respectfully and carefully pulled away when it was clear. Thankful for the not so close call, and that there were people there to help. Hidalgo
I was filled with mixed emotions last night. Gratitude, pride, loss. Humbled by the outpouring of love and support from my colleagues, my family, my friends had shared with me. I needed to process the entire day. The work, the celebration, the closure, the loss of identity, the step into a future by picking up the travel papers, the buying of gifts for others, the surreal drive on the interstate.
I talked to my Dad and then to my Vicki. I spoke to my friend Kim who I met when she worked for our sister bureau at the Department, then came to our Bureau and married one of the staff members I had hired. She has retired and left the Department, not out of age, but out of a desire to move on in her life. She lives in
now and she and Jim are very happy. There is life after the Department. North Carolina
I stayed up later for a "school night" because I am retired now and I do not have to get up and be rested and ready to work. I did not set my alarm. I did not think about what I had to accomplish today at work. I did not think about what I would wear. I went to bed with my cats and my baby boy Bob and slept.
This morning the cats and dogs felt it was time to get up and have breakfast at five. They sensed the change in me, and wanted to make sure that I did not forget to feed them. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but they were insistent. I obliged their fear of starvation and got up, took my chemo pill, made their breakfasts and went back to bed. Satisfied for the attention, they ate, and then crawled back into their sleeping places and left me alone until 8:00.
I woke and said, “Today I will start a new routine, make new habits.” I washed my face, opened the back door and faced my first day unemployed. It was cool compared to how it has been lately. Sixties instead of upper 70s. The minimal amount of moisture that had fallen the night before still hung to the cooled grass. I fixed my breakfast and thought, what should I do today. I knew I wanted to write this post. I know that I need to send dad the itinerary. But what do you do your first day or retirement?
Mow the yard.
Perfect. I started laundry and did a little of this and that waiting for the grass to dry and hoping that the heat would not come with the drying grass. I hung up sheets on my solar dryer. The new term for a clothesline. I replaced each load with the next washed, folding the dry laundry between hanging up the next. Smelling the fresh smell of sunshine on my sheets, blankets and clothes. The stiffness blown out with the summer breeze. Each piece I lifted to my face and breathed in as I took it off the line to fold. Each piece filled me with a joy of the smell of sunshine.
Then I pulled out my electric push mower and untangled the extension cord and mowed the part of the yard that I consider my "back yard." The strip of property between the trailer and the perennial beds. I mowed along the end of each side of the trailer. The sun felt good on my head, neck, shoulders and arms. It wrapped me in the joy of doing what I chose to do. The softer whirr of an electric mower instead of the power of a fossil fuel machine. I had my lunch on the back porch reading a book, sitting outside enjoying the temperatures that were cooler then the past few days. Looking up every once in a while and letting my retirement wrap around me like the sun had when I mowed and hung up my clothes. I just sat sometimes. No reason not to. No rush, no deadlines, a new life to learn to live and enjoy.
Gratitude for being alive and sitting on my porch. Gratitude for the opportunities of a new life, a new twist on the journey, a new chapter of my life. Gratitude for the health and strength to once again push my electric mower, carry out the laundry basket weighted down with the damp laundry. Grateful for the day and any others that might follow.
And now I have spent many hours sitting in my red chair writing out these past events from the last couple of days. Happy, content, grateful. I know life will speed up again, and I could have gone up to the sewing group today, but I decided that I would rather just stay at my home. My home. My little farm, with the chickens and rabbits, orchard, blueberries, gardens of flowering plants, bells whispering in the summer breeze. The boys lazing in heat along with the cats.
How gifted I am.
My life filled with stories and adventures, beloved friends and family, plants and animals. A life I have imagined. Not exactly how I had imagined it over the years. I acknowledge the losses that have helped me to get to this gifted place. The hard work, the dedication, the love and joy. The sharing of my life with others, and now here I sit, my fingers filling the screen with so many words. So much to say, to be grateful for, to remember, to celebrate.
Beginnings and endings.
That is what life can be.
And without an ending you cannot have a new beginning.
And the losses? Opportunities for more gifts. And my world is filled with so many gifts.
So many many gifts.
And that is how my last day of work and my first day of retirement went.
Tomorrow Judy, Mary and I will head to
to see the wonderful and magical Dr. M. We will leave Thomasville behind and head to another state. We will leave early and have lunch together in a different state. Then we will come home. Florida
I am seriously considering going with Judy tomorrow night for an orientation with the Red Cross. I am not sure what I want out of this meeting. An opportunity to be needed and to again serve people, the environment and animals? I do not think I want to travel around helping disasters, I have my home and family of plants and animals here that I could not leave to do that. I also have Stage 4 lung cancer and cannot leave my doctor. He is the biggest gift that has enabled me to be healthier and happier and to have a retirement. But there might be things I can do from here. I will go see. I will follow in my Father's footsteps and go to see what I can do with the Red Cross.
I will leave as many doors of opportunities open as possible. Yesterday and today have been magical days, filled with so many gifts and joys, endings and beginnings. Just a couple of days, but lived well, and now put in writing to remember. To remember is to remind us to live today. These memories will give me a lot of reasons to live.