63 and Free

03/04/2015 01:00 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2015
Tetsuro Takai via Getty Images

"Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly..."

-English Proverb

I retired at 58 because I had seen my father rock early retirement like a boss.

His friends, children of the Depression like my Dad, thought he was crazy to give up a good job to just "play" for the rest of his life. That's how they saw it. My mother, too.

But I understand, completely now, the wisdom of it. If you are free to enjoy your life fully, the older you get, the better it gets.

At least at first.

I have it on good authority from two of the most energetic elders I've ever met that at 70 or so, "the wheels fall off." But right now, my wheels, though wobbly, are still working just fine.

It hasn't been an entirely smooth ride thus far, to be sure. The first year required lots of attitude adjustments. "Not doing" was difficult for me. I was a middle school assistant principal when I retired, used to whole days when it was almost impossible to find time for a bathroom break, let alone a whole lunch.

Suddenly, having all the time in the world to do whatever I damned well pleased was disorienting. I wasn't sure what I damned well pleased.

I thought I knew, having dreamt about it for years. And on that first weekday morning of my retirement, when local kids were rushing to the school buses laughing and shouting, I smiled smugly and burrowed down warm and cozy in my bed to sleep two more hours just because I could.

But when my feet hit the floor those two hours later, I had no idea what to do with myself. Each morning, and every few hours of every day, I recited my own solo version of the aimless conversation at the end of the movie Marty:

"What do I wanna do?"

"I don't know. What do I wanna do?"

"I don't know. What do I wanna do?"

Having other friends who'd bailed out early with me helped immensely. And by the second year, we were constantly "doing." Day trips, weekend adventures, loooooong lunches, even longer dinners and, somehow inevitably, casino bingo.

I don't know how that happens. Out here in AZ, no matter how many times you tell yourself you're not going to get old and play bingo, you do. Maybe it's the $750 I've won so far that keeps me at it. Or the sumptuous "comped" (free) rooms we now get each month that let us "girls" have little slumber parties and eat way too many carbs for way less money than we spend for those long lunches.

However it happened, we bingo hard.

But after a while, aside from the casino, we ran out of things to do. Some went back to work, at least part time. Another one became an almost full time babysitter, caring for her grandchildren several times a week.

For me, it was back to the Marty monologue. A sort of limbo land. Reading, eating, falling asleep after watching TV 'til the wee hours and rising later each morning than I'd ever imagined I could.

Cocooning, I call it now. I had no idea what it was then. I just muddled through it.

Until one day... I started to write. First for Open Salon again, which I hadn't done for a while. And then on The Huffington Post. I didn't care about being paid or even being read. I just wanted to write again, the way I had as a kid. For hours. Just saying whatever I needed to say.

The early experiments of my youth led to a career at the Chicago Sun Times and beyond. But this time, I wasn't looking for a "real" job. I just wanted to write for the love of it -- no strings.

And one day, out of the blue... "someone" spoke to me. I hadn't gone mad. It was a story unfolding in my head, told my the protagonist in a very distinctive, teenage voice.

I wrote it all down. And afterwards, I printed out the pages and read them as if they'd been written by someone else. They had been, in a way. But I read them without judgment. Without fear or any real ideas about what would happen next.

I loved this kid, whoever he was. And "invited" him to speak through me anytime. And so he arrived every morning -- no more Marty. It was me and The Kid.

As the "conversation" continued, I decided to put each new chapter up on Wattpad, for others to see and discuss. And to my immense surprise, the reads just kept on coming -- 14,200 now. And still rising.

It's completely unlike my own voice, and that's why it fascinates me so. But then, I have always heard "voices." Began "writing" before I could actually write, scribbling little lines on scraps of paper I found around the house when I could barely walk yet. Babbling baby talk stories to myself before I knew real words.

And on the cusp of 63 -- a week to go -- I'm telling new stories. Or old ones that were locked inside for decades while I was immersed in career and marriage and mothering and more.

I don't care if they're never published. I'm just thrilled that the voices still speak to me. I am that caterpillar. Becoming a butterfly with words for wings.

And flying free, at 63.

Photo credit: Peacock Butterfly by Charlesjsharp [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons