My friends are all talking about retirement. Our careers are no longer shiny and new; winter's chill seems to seep into our bones a little earlier each year; and our homes, once crowded with children, have suddenly emptied out and grown too big.
My girlfriend, the teacher, complains of backaches when she stoops to tie the many shoelaces that come unknotted during the day. She is a frequent and beloved guest at the graduations and weddings held by her former students whom she loves, but the squeaky voices of her current crop of pupils makes her ears ring.
She longs to become an antiques dealer and haunts estate sales on the weekends checking out undervalued bargains to sell online. The calendar in her kitchen has the date of her eligibility for Social Security circled in red.
My friend, the attorney, after 25 years spent in service to the court system, no longer finds her job fulfilling. An early retirement incentive was just the nudge she needed to tender her resignation. She is leaving a lifetime of memories, good and bad, behind in Buffalo.
Happily, she tells me about the exercise classes, book clubs and Olympic-size pool in the adult community she will move to in South Carolina. Of course, I am invited and I lie convincingly, with promises that I will come soon and often.
And my friend, the doctor? She has exchanged the husband who did not appreciate her for one who worships both her intellect and her double chocolate cake; the career that she worked long and hard to acquire for a retirement that has her traveling between continents as often as the flight attendant she once dreamt of becoming; and her home in Amherst for an apartment in Jerusalem.
Each one tries to persuade me to join her in the next phase of life. "You can finally sleep a full eight hours," the doctor e-mails me. "Enjoy some leisure while you are still healthy," says my friend the teacher. Would I like this? On weekday afternoons, as I rush into the house from work, flipping a frozen brick of chicken into the microwave before I take off my coat, I sometimes fantasize about a different, relaxed life.
I imagine a new, retired me -- one who has time to read all of the books I put aside when the children were young and somehow never picked up again; who has patience to learn to make the perfect souffle; who has time to jet off for the weekend without worry about returning in time for work on Monday morning.
Perhaps I would spend the whole day planning the evening meal; shopping for fresh fish and vegetables each day and leisurely baking yeast breads from scratch. The house would be sparkling clean. All the dishes would be put in the cupboards rather than air-drying for days. I would have time to bid on basket auctions that I learned about from a colleague and to attend a dog show for the first time.
Then it hits me. I hate cleaning. I'm allergic to dogs. Gambling makes me nervous. If I sleep too long, I am afraid I will miss something interesting. Moreover, my doctor has put me on a diet that precludes too many carbohydrates. Better return to work tomorrow, so I can earn enough money to buy take-out and bribe my teenager to swipe at the floor with a broom. Working is the only hobby I've ever enjoyed. Anyway, it would be unseemly to retire before my mother does.
Perhaps, though, I will consider a weekend in South Carolina.
Cynthia Balderman, who lives in Buffalo, likes her job and has no plans to retire anytime soon.