In third grade, a classmate, Herbert Peterson, claimed to have seen a two-headed pig. I didn’t doubt him.
In our rural area, such an oddity seemed possible. He further asserted one head was good — pleasing oink, rosy color, ate from his hand. The other was evil. It shrieked, slobbered, and nearly ate his left thumb.
Retirement reminds me of Herb’s pig.
Its good head offers few obligations, intriguing possibilities, fun with friends; whispers you can do what you want. You’re free to run and play.
The evil head scoffs that you don’t know what you want; you have few friends beyond work. You’re too old to run and play; you’ll hobble and hurt.
The helpful head persists: make changes, take risks, roam free like an organic chicken. Two months into retirement, I accepted its counsel. A year later, I vanquished the bad head.
Here’s how I did it: I signed up for a bowling class.
Janet, the ungainly, walked alone into Thunder Rolls, my heart in my throat, and found new friends. Two fun-loving ladies in their 30s introduced themselves as classmates and advised, “Watch your butt out there, Hon, the lanes are slicker than spit.”
They offered me a beer and asked if I thought they had a chance with the instructor.
Throughout the course, they invited my participation as they discussed their sex lives and picked fights in the parking lot. They sought my opinion as they pondered how many metal studs to embed in which body parts. When I finally broke 100, they grabbed me in a bear hug and danced me around the lobby to the rhythmic repetition of their favorite profanities.
Our friendship didn’t survive the end of the class; our lives were too different. But like a bowling ball headed for a strike, they sent me spinning straight and true into my retirement.
I had made new friends and started to run and play. Retirement’s evil head looked worried.
Because I enjoyed bowling, despite going at it like a disabled dog, I enrolled in a memoir class.
I wrote stories of my childhood, memories from my heart. Weekly, I read my efforts to positive classmates, who laughed at the right times and never looked puzzled nor dismayed.
Encouraged, I entered a local cowboy poetry contest, won first place, and blew my $20 prize money at a local bar.
I had discovered a passion and the courage to share it. The bad head gurgled and gulped.
Finally, for the first time since childhood, I danced in public as though no one were watching.
A friend insisted I join several partying women on the dance floor at a local affair. Ignoring the astonished look on my husband’s face, I shook my hips; I waved my hands; I bumped; I twisted; I shimmied down and, despite all odds, shimmied back up. In time to the music. I think.
That night, I danced retirement’s evil head to death, stomped it into the floor, kept my left thumb safe.
I nearly fell victim to the downside of retirement because, like many baby boomers, my job consumed me.
My life was career-centered and goal-oriented: another degree to earn, position to seek, skill to develop.
Others might retire, but I would work. When I died, my office would be enshrined, and a plaque hung: “Janet Sheridan worked here.”
Then in 2007, I grew weary and knew I must retire.
I started my new life like an angry teenager, flailing about for an identity, recoiling from the responsibility of planning and executing meaningful activities to fill the rest of my days.
Instead, I retreated into sloth: over-eating, over-sleeping, substituting novels for life.
But the good head, my head, persisted. I gave in, climbed out of my recliner, took classes — and danced.
This column was first published in the Denver Post on November 15, 2009.