My mom called me yesterday to let me know that she had been offered something big, something she did not expect but had been hoping for a while now — an offer for early retirement. When she told me, I could hear the excitement in her voice. Although she was still debating whether to take it, she couldn't help but admit, "whenever I think of it, I just feel so happy."
When I interned at a university press, my supervisor invited me to attend my first retirement party to celebrate the end of three beloved employees. There was a gigantic cake, plenty of wine and cheese, and many corny, inside jokes that I did not fully understand. The only retiree I knew was Jim. He worked in the Design department, a cubicle away from me. He had been at the Press for upwards of thirty years. From what I had heard, he did not talk much. But on my first day, when I had asked him if he had any mail for me to bring down for him, we had talked for almost an hour about everything from my career to Breaking Bad. The conversation was slow and deliberate, but full.
At the retirement party, I found myself pondering if I would be happy working somewhere for thirty years. The answer was and still is — I don’t know. But I do know that ever since I started working in an office environment, I have learned that the lines between work and life begin to blur, no matter how many days, years, or decades a person has been there. Less than two months into my job. I already have four pairs of shoes under my desk because I am too lazy to bring them home; a stack of tupperware piling in the corner of my cubicle; and all of my personal online orders shipping to the office as a safety net for not having a permanent address. Even as we try to separate work and life for balance, there are so many ways that the office life begins to seep into the personal and vice versa, even if it’s just out of convenience rather than necessity.
On Jim’s last day, he had slipped out without telling anyone he was leaving. Goodbyes were said at the party and that was enough for him. That was his style. My mom tells me that she has until mid-October to decide whether she will take the early retirement. She wants to wait until the last minute to send in her form. Still, she has already started to clean up her work space, to bring some things home little by little, just in case.
It’s hard for me to even imagine. Jim and my mom make the act of separating the bond between the personal and the corporate—a bond that has become unbalanced throughout the years—seem so effortless. But maybe that is the point. Maybe it is a bond that needs to be separated cleanly and unemotionally, no matter how inconvenient it is.
I find it funny to think how my mom’s career might end right just as mine is only beginning. Before we hang up, she tells me that she wants to go see grandma, and I tell her that I have some vacation days I could use. We begin to plan. I can tell, she is feeling free.
This week in pictures: I walked around Astoria, sat near throw-up on the subway, and visited the 9/11 Memorial.