Never did I look like this. I always wanted to believe I looked like this. Mirrors are the bane of imagination's existence.

Lorna’s hair grows back to normal, but her hair is about the only predictable thing in her life.

Everyone told me I looked “great” in a buzz cut. Bless their hearts. They lied to my face just to make me feel better. One day, if need be, I’d return the favor. Eventually, my hair grew back. It didn’t let me down. It came back blonde and with that just-enough waviness to make it sassy. My hair had my back, and that was a start.

No, no, no! I said my hair had my back, not this.

The rest of my body wasn’t so predictable. Some days I felt human; some days I left like a zombie, assuming zombies felt morose and alienated.

The Zombies. Morose and alienated? Yes, I'd bet on it.

Chuck and Alex were also unpredictable. Alex was busy finishing up high school in 2004 and preparing to fly the coop. He moved 3 hours away (if I was driving, 2 hours if anyone else was) to college. My boy who came to love the “Broken House” had come to terms with leaving it. Maybe this happens to all young people at 18, but I hear too many stories of 30 year olds still living their parents to believe that. Maybe he didn’t want to see his sick mom everyday and pretend she wasn’t sick. Maybe it was the seemingly constant butting of heads between him and his father.

When Alex grew to be a young man, he emulated his independent-minded parents father. When they disagreed, which was often, I felt as if I was watching a Wild Kingdom program about two male rams locking horns over whatever male rams lock horns about. Never the bystander for long, I adopted my Middle Child Arbiter role and interceded. My voice of reason often fell on deaf rams’ ears. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak Ram.

Any chance you're ready to call a truce? Didn't think so.

It was only when I could get each male alone that I could do as much damage control as possible: convincing Chuck that Alex wasn’t a hoodlum and convincing Alex that his father was only insuring that his son’s character was beyond reproach, or something like that. Both ended up okay with each other while I got both barrels from both sides. Such is the lot of a Ram Whisperer. Some level of calm ensued until the next episode of Wild Kingdom. And so it was forever and ever, amen.

With our nest empty, Chuck devoted more time to his business, but still paid close attention to me. This, I think, unduly overburdened him. I kept working part-time and did basic household chores, but I wasn’t setting any land-speed records. He got more involved in community organizations and events and was just an all-around social butterfly. He encouraged me to “not push myself” so I wouldn’t “pay dearly for overdoing it.” I heard through friends that he spoke valiantly of me while cavorting around in public—his brilliant wife whose light was fading right before his eyes. How tragic for him her.

You have no idea what it's like living with a wife who needs you to do everything for her. And I mean everything.

During the spring of 2005, I tried one more time to prove my illness wasn’t going to define me. I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship and my first sabbatical leave from the college in 14 years. Technically, I was eligible to take a sabbatical every 7 years, but I didn’t because I was the only full-time sociologist and they needed me to teach. I was less concerned about what “they” needed at this point in my personal and professional life.

The process of applying for a Fulbright is not for academic the faint of heart, but I did it. I wanted to go to Finland to teach women’s studies at one of their universities and study their health care system. Since I taught in both areas, this opportunity would significantly inform my academic career. I simultaneously applied for a sabbatical leave for the spring 2006 semester. The US State Department awarded me the prestigious Fulbright Award in the fall of 2005. I was flabbergasted elated. The college I had given my the bulk of my professional life (healthy and unhealthy)  to denied my sabbatical application. I was flabbergasted appalled. The same non-sociologist sociologist “colleague” applied for a sabbatical at the same time to complete her PhD course work in social work. They couldn’t have us both out at the same time so they gave her the sabbatical.

All the fight in me faded. I realized that, for way too long, I was trying to hoist the sail on a submarine. No wonder I was exhausted. I was finally done. I contacted the State Department, explained the situation, and turned down the award.

Quick, raise the sail! Darn. Its... Too... Late...

Negotiating early retirement was surprisingly difficult. The college lawyer wasn’t convinced I qualified. He finally got it when I explained my situation this way: “Imagine that you just went out to a four-martini lunch. When you get back to your office, you’re called before a tough judge argue a very important case. You’re able to rally all your mental resources to pull it off, but afterwards, you’re exhausted. Well, that’s how I feel every day. Without the booze.”

The college, my teacher’s retirement system, and the Social Security Administration all agreed I wasn’t fit to work, so I entered the ranks of the permanently disabled in the summer of 2006.

Searching for a picture of "early retirement" I found this picture, which looks like a drug ad for back pain, bone health, erectile dysfunction, or early onset Alzheimer's.

 

How does Lorna adjust to retirement?