The Road Ahead: Visions of Retirement

By Dale Davis | January 20th, 2023

Reality didn’t live up to expectations

People at a retirement party. By Monkey Business Images. Covid postponed Dale Davis’s plans to retire, and when it did finally happen, the reality didn’t live up to his visions of retirement.

The early Covid pandemic postponed Dale Davis’s plans to retire. Then, when it did finally happen, the reality didn’t live up to his visions of retirement.

We imagine milestones in our lives as scenes from a movie. For me, that milestone was announcing my retirement: the hearty congratulations, the handshakes, the slaps on the back and the good luck wishes. That didn’t happen.

I had worked at the community college for 37 years, 20 as department director. I had planned to retire in 2020, but, mid-March, the pandemic ravaged everyone’s lives and plans. To resuscitate my retirement account and to provide some stability for my faculty, I delayed retirement. Others were in the same boat, people whose dreams of retiring had been devastated by the virus.

In August, I returned to work, but my mind wandered. I worried that I would be infected with the virus. The joy of teaching was gone. Students came to class one day a week and worked on assignments online the rest of week. By the end of the semester, I still struggled to remember their names, and because we had to wear masks, I had no idea what most of my students looked like. One student came by my office to discuss his paper assignment. I was talking to a stranger, not the young man who sat in the front row in my nine o’clock class.

I was burned out. My coworkers had deer-in-the-headlights expressions on their faces when I announced that enough was enough and that I planned to leave at the end of the year.

“You can’t leave,” one colleague pleaded. “When you hired me, you promised to stay for 10 more years. Ten more years, man. You owe me 10 more years.” He had been reminding me “10 more years” every year for five years.

To make my retirement official, I needed to submit letters to human resources and administration. One Friday afternoon I prepared four copies of my letter, each separately addressed to the HR director, the president of the college, the academic vice-president, and the associate vice-president. This milestone movie moment played in my head as I addressed each envelope.

“Wow, 37 years!” they exclaim. “We’ll miss you. Thank you for your service.” They shake my hand, slap my back, take a moment to reminisce about all my fantastic work.

Everyone was out of the office. Human resources was closed for a staff meeting. The president was in a meeting. The vice-president was in a meeting. The associate vice-president was the only administrator in the building to accept my letter, but she had to leave for a meeting starting in about five minutes. She placed the envelope on her desk and promised to read it later. She knew what I had written.

Life rewrote my script. When I returned to my office, I laughed at my foolish disappointment. I wasn’t crushed to find the scenes of my movie scattered on the cutting floor. Luck had spared us from forced smiles and cliched compliments. You work at a place for so long, and when you leave, the world keeps revolving, people attend meetings, they finish their work and go home, the clock counting down to Monday morning and doing it all again.

Weeks later, on my last day, I finished loading items from my office into my car. Like most Fridays at 3:30, I was the last person in the building. I found no crowd of well-wishers cheering and hugging me one last time. My car was the only car in the parking lot. My colleagues were home by now, drinking lemonade or something stronger, watching Netflix or planning dinner. We had said our good-byes.

Anxious relief washed over me. I didn’t have to wake up at five in the morning anymore. I dodged becoming infected with Covid. My colleagues would be OK next year. I played Springsteen for the closing credits. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I looked at the road ahead and glanced only once in the rearview mirror.

Finding the courage to start … again: Retirement second acts

Dale Davis retired from his post of teaching writing in the community college system to work full-time on writing about subjects he loves. His article “The Oddball Kid and the Adventure of the Paperback Heroes” was published on the Mystery Tribune website.

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