Monday, October 6, 2008

“Life is drawing without an eraser.” Brazilian cartoonist, Millor Fernandes

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Everyone must make them, but it seems it is easier for other people than it is for me. I never used to be like this.

When I worked in mid- and upper- management, I made decisions every day, on the spot, no problem. Now my mind is muddled, foggy and indecisive. What happened? I guess I just got older. I guess I have finally realized that big decisions have big impact and you can't ever take it back or re-do it.

When we decided to move back to northern California/northern Nevada in 2001 (we lived in Incline Village, Nevada for a year), we talked about it, hashed it over and over and over, before we made the decision. We knew that we couldn't afford to make a bad decision that late in our life. We were already in our mid-50's. But, we missed living near family. Time off was a struggle, particularly for me. Summer was our busiest time at the university and summer was only time our grandchildren had very much free time. Then there was the time and expense of constantly having to travel to one coast or the other. We gave up everything else to do that every holiday, every summer vacation. I always had 2 weeks off around Christmas and New Years, then I would use my vacation for the summer, if I could get away at all during that time. During those years, all I wanted was a "staycation." I craved just staying home and relaxing. I wanted to enjoy the Christmas parade (as podunk and small as it was). I wanted to put up a Christmas tree and lights and enjoy them. I wanted to bake tons of cookies and cook a Christmas turkey and enjoy the leftovers for days afterward. I wanted to welcome friends in for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I guess I needed to turn my "wanter" down.

So, that was our primary motivation to move from Arkansas. We would be able to enjoy being close to at least one of our sons, enjoy our home more and only have to travel to one coast to see our other son and grandkids. So, we leaped. Huge mistake. We moved about 7 days before our house was supposed to close escrow, assured by everyone involved that everything would go smoothly. We were dumb to believe it and it didn't happen. When the sale did fall through, we put our house back on the market, but were stuck supporting two places, our house in Arkansas and our apartment in Incline Village on basically the same income level. We weren't enjoying much, we were stressed most of the time, and our house in Arkansas just sat on the market for nearly a year.

Several months after moving to Incline Village, we visited my mom in Las Vegas and found her in complete disarray and having deteriorated mentally. We had to make some quick decisions. We could not, in any good conscious, leave my mom by herself. We spent the entire weekend cleaning her apartment. I don't think she had cleaned since she moved into that apartment 8 months before. There were dirty dishes all over the kitchen, crawling with cockroaches. Mom had appliances plugged into extension cords crossing all over the kitchen and she was covered with bruises after having fallen repeatedly when she tripped over them. There were boxes all over the living room and bedrooms, left unpacked from her move months earlier. Mom had been sleeping on her couch since she moved in because her bed was stolen during her move. I found unpaid bills strewn everywhere. She had pawned a lot of her jewelry to pay her phone and power bills and, even though my sister, Kim, loaned her money to get her jewelry out of hock, my mom would only hock them again to pay the next bill. One of the unpaid bills I found was a final notice to pay the power, which was scheduled to be shut off again in 15 days. The final straw was her car. She had hit a stop sign coming home from my sister's house one evening after dark and dented the entire passenger side of her car. Bless her heart, she was so confused and so clearly unable to care for herself.

Even though we were living in a small, one-bedroom apartment attached to the house Mike & Kathy rented, we could not let my mom stay by herself. We went home, bought a single bed which we set up against one wall in our small living room and went back to Las Vegas the next weekend and moved Mom in with us. We gave most of her furniture, appliances and such to her neighbors and anything left, other than her clothing (which was almost non-existent), we put in the storage unit we were already renting for our excess furniture. Then what? Well, that's how we lived for a few months.

I never thought throughout the whole ordeal that I would have considered myself lucky that the sale of our nice, big house in Arkansas had not only fallen through, but remained unsold the entire year. I would crawl into bed every night and cry and pray and cry and pray. I'm not catholic. I don't even know if I really, truly believe in God, but I'd pray. I looked on the internet for prayers, and printed a prayer to St. Jude, Patron Saint of Hopeless or Lost Causes. Boy, that felt like me - hopeless. I memorized that prayer and said it twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. I didn't think it really helped because I did not want to make the obvious decision to merely pack up and move back into that house. My prayer was always to sell that damn house, sell it, sell it, sell it.

What opened my eyes was a conversation with our attorney in Little Rock. Marian was representing us in a case against the former buyer of our house. We had to fly to Little Rock in late August for depositions.

We decided to stay at our house and our neighbor and friend, Lana, made up a bed on a mattress she put on the floor in our bedroom, put a folding table and chairs in the dining room and towels and wash cloth in the bathroom. When we arrived at the house, we knew why it hadn't sold. Even though Lana mowed our 3 acres of grass every single week to keep the house presentable on the outside, the realtor allowed the interior of the house to collect cobwebs and the toilets to mold. The inside of the house was disgusting and I was just plain pissed off. I had not expected our realtor to clean the house, but I sure expected him to let me know it needed cleaning. Needless to say, he didn't show his face the entire 4 days we were there.

We arrived late on a Thursday afternoon, spent most of the evening cleaning the house, then drove to Little Rock for our depositions on Friday morning. We met briefly with Marian before the depositions, then afterward went back to her office for further consultation. After some discussion, Tom left the room to make some phone calls and I stayed and talked with Marian. She asked how things were going and I was honest. I told her they weren't going well, we were financially stretched very, very thin and I told her about my mom.

She asked, "Terri, do y'all have a retirement account?"

"Yes," I said, thinking she was going to suggest that we completely liquidate it.

She paused for a moment and said, "Let this lawsuit go. Let me ask them to settle. You don't need the additional stress. Terri, you are well known and respected in your field and you know you can get a job here. Tom had clients before he left and he'll have clients if he comes back. Why don't you just withdraw enough money from your retirement to move back? You'll have an affordable, comfortable home, a lot less stress and be able to comfortably take care of your mom. I went through the same thing with my mom. It's harder than you think it is right now."

It wasn't until that very moment that I knew she was right and I will forever be grateful for her very smart, very kind words and for stating the obvious solution that Tom and I had completely ignored.

We did exactly what she suggested. We priced a moving truck, gas, hotels, etc., pulled enough money out of our retirement to cover it and moved back home.

And, Marian was right. It did get harder with my mom. For just under a year until her death, we cared for her and watched her deteriorate even further. It really was the hardest thing I've ever done.

Yes, I said we moved "back home." We moved from our home - California - in January, 1993. It has been a culture shock, to be sure. Back in April, I read an essay penned by a foodie friend, Alison of Someone's in the Kitchen, who also relocated to Arkansas a few years back and whose words resonated for me. She wrote in part:

"Extreme agitation set in about five years ago when Captain Sturm and I relocated to the wasteland that I now call home. It was something that I tried to ignore, tried to smother, tried to deny existed in me but as I have learned, we cannot deny who we truly are. Soon after our move, I felt trapped...bored...unstimulated...The reality of living here has not even come close to meeting the expectations of my life as I thought it would be. I used to live in a place where words like "metro" and "expressway" were part of everyday conversation. Discretionary income was something that everyone had. Meeting friends and co-workers at a local hangout after work for a chocolate martini or three was a weekly occurrence. Diversity abounded. Movie theaters had stadium seating. My heart, my mind, and my soul were fulfilled."

All I could think when I read that was, Wow, wow, that is exactly how I have felt. Even still I feel that way to some degree, but this is home. When we moved back into that house on Tanner Lane, I felt like I was home. When we moved into this house and started to remodel and as we finish each little thing ~ this feels like home. It's not perfect, but it's home. We know all of our neighbors and their children. I share my "test" baked goods with Rob and Amanda next door. Tom helps Mrs. Duke across the street with her repairs. In the summer, we enjoy the lake and boating. We bought firewood for the winter from our neighbor, Steve. I've added the Sugar Bears womens basketball team's home game schedule to my calendar. We have season tickets to the theater in Memphis, just a short drive away. I'm a bleeding heart Democrat living in a red Republican state. I'm a minority, but that's okay.

Tom and I have talked very seriously about moving somewhere else to retire. We've looked at condos in Clearwater, Florida and Savannah, Georgia (where our youngest son lives), but I don't know if we will. The thought of finishing this remodel to get the house just the way we want it and then sell it without having time to enjoy the fruits of our labor makes me nuts. We've done that with every home we've ever owned. The thought of packing up everything I own and moving one more time into a house or condo that I know we will have to remodel makes me want to throw up.

These decisions get harder and harder to make because what I think I've learned is I can't go back, I can't recapture, I must move forward because "life is a drawing without an eraser." As my mother-in-law has always said, "no place is perfect." She's right. Every place has it's drawbacks ~ too hot or too cold, too humid or too dry, too much snow or too much rain, too Republican or too Democrat, too elitist or too redneck, but any place CAN be home. It may not be what I'm used to; it may not be everything I want; the lifestyles may be different; the stores may not sell everything I'm used to buying; and the community priorities may conflict with my idea of what they should be, but I CAN make it my home. I did and I did it without even knowing it.


Alison said...

Terri, I just ran across this post and it made me cry to read those words that both you and I wrote about living in AR. I'm still waiting to move into my new house here in Charlotte - the place that I wanted to come back to so badly and reality has started to sink in. I am very happy to be back here but to think that I sacrificed my best friend, Captain Sturm, for a geographical location just kills me. Life will go on, I know, but it surely is hard!

Anonymous said...

The author is Millor Fernandes , a brasilian ...

Terri said...

Thank you, Anonymous! I'll make that change to the title.