Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Big Decision

I've been posting selections from Voluntary Nomads since last September -- a story from each chapter of the book, about 15 per cent of the whole -- and today's is the last excerpt. From Part Eight: Bolivia Cliffhangers, Chapter 33:

The Big Decision

Tina joined us in La Paz for her third Christmas visit and we made our requisite trips to the big market for hand-woven aguayo tablecloths and to Elizabeth's shop for gifts and souvenirs that Tina wanted for her friends. Fred and I had a lovely time during Tina's visit. Tina, not so much. Two days after Christmas she spoke her mind at breakfast.

"The last thing I want to do is to hurt your feelings…."

In the pause that followed I gathered courage to face her next words.

"You know how much I love you guys, but…I want to change to an earlier flight…. I have a life and I want to get back to it."

We put her on the plane on December 30, instead of January 10 as planned. That meant we would be apart on her twenty-second birthday, the first birthday without us in her entire life. I put on a serene front but my insides ripped asunder. Letting go required a strength I wasn't sure I had.

In the car on the way home from the airport, Fred and I blinked our swollen, blurry eyes.

"You know what?" I said. "She's right. I think we should leave early too. I have a life and I want to get on with it."

Until that moment we had dithered about setting our retirement date. We wanted to collect our reward of early retirement and live closer to our families, but we had financial fears. With twenty-five years of service, counting his four years in the Army, Fred's annuity would equal fifty percent of the average of his highest three years' salary. The loss of my income would reduce our total budget to about one third of our current spending power. I thought of a pie chart and visualized a one-third-sized wedge. Small. Less than half.

Still, I had read Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and I understood how it was possible to live a fulfilling life on less money. The question we had to ask: how much is enough? Our situation would have been more daunting if we hadn't experienced our quasi-hippie period in the early 70s when we learned to make do with much less. Also in our favor was the state of mind we had maintained over the years, living frugally and saving well.

Fred said he was willing to continue in the Foreign Service as long as I would go along. But I was ready to leave it behind. After years of re-inventing myself at every post while staying within the identity of Fred's wife and Dakota and Tina's mother, a basic instinct prodded me to pursue a deeper knowledge of myself. I needed to explore who else I might be – potter, artist, singer, quilter, marathon runner, who-knows-what -- and I wanted to do it in New Mexico. ###

To read all of the stories in Voluntary Nomads, order the paperback from Amazon or Barnes and Noble (Nook book available there too). Popular E-book formats are available at Smashwords too. Go to Outskirts Press for book club discounts (listen to an audio clip there as well) or download a pdf file to read on your computer.

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