What Am I Doing Here?

Do you ever stop short, struck by the realization that you are in a place, literally or figuratively, that you never expected to be? 

That’s my reaction when I reflect that I’m living in a CCRC—or in non-acronymic English—a Continuing Care Retirement Community.

I was not ready for this!  I loved living in Manhattan, with everything it has to offer…museums, theater, music, ballet, restaurants, shops, and street life.  Boston has its share, but it’s not New York.  Just walking down Madison or Fifth Avenue makes me feel alive.  My friends were there!  I had spent thirty-nine years as a reluctant suburbanite.  Now that I was finally living in the city again, I had no desire to leave. 

But my life had changed.  My wonderful husband of 48 years had died and I was a woman flying solo.  We had led an exciting life together, traveling the world, living abroad. In New York,  we went to theater on and off Broadway, and the opera and ballet at Lincoln Center, attended receptions at the United Nations and black tie dinners at glamorous watering holes.  I knew a lot of that would change.  We had received those invitations because of Sheldon’s position, not mine.

So, I left my beautiful Manhattan apartment, with its views of the spires of the city and all the bridges of the East River, from the Whitestone to the Verrazano, for a Boston suburb that is more rural than urban.  I did this for various reasons:  For my children—they are relieved and happy that their mother is not far from their homes, in a secure, beautiful environment, where help is at hand should it ever be needed.  But mostly, I did it for myself.  I’m strong and able now, but I won’t always be.  Better to make this transition while I’m active, adaptable, still driving, still writing, and can enjoy new experiences.  And I am extremely happy that I did.  I love it here!

That wasn’t my initial reaction.  It’s very nice, but I will never move to a retirement community! I said, when I first saw this place with my daughters. We were looking for an apartment to spend the winter when Shelly was sick. Having had a terrible summer and fall while we were in our Cape Cod house, he wanted to stay in Boston to be near his new medical team.  Let’s do it, he said, when the “girls” told him about the new retirement community.  Why do you want to move to a campus full of old people? I asked.  New place, new people…the next phase, was his reply.  I think he knew he would not live long enough to move here, but he was always protective of me and he wanted me to be in a safe harbor. 

Just for fun, the other day, I looked through the directory of 350 Independent Living members, and counted the number of friends I’ve made.  I stopped when I reached 100.  Of course, they don’t replace the dear, old friends I left behind.  Many are more or less casual acquaintances—we say hello when we meet in the gym, dining room, theater or library.  We stop to chat and usually promise to get together for lunch or dinner, and often we do.  I have a core group of perhaps twenty close friends and another twenty very good friends.  I keep meeting new people all the time and some of them have become the kind of friends I make dinner dates with, or go to the Museum of Fine Arts with, or to the Boston Symphony.  My friends are not all residents here.  Several live in nearby towns and some are people I knew before I moved to Boston.  There’s a group of a dozen sister alumnae of Wellesley College who  live here. We meet every now and then for lunch in the private dining room.  We range in age from about 59 to 92—and the 92 year old still drives to Symphony Hall once a week!

I live in a large apartment in a separate building from the main community center. My apartment has the biggest kitchen I’ve ever had, which is ironic, since I don’t often cook.  I have dinner plans six nights this week.  That’s unusual.  I try to keep at least three nights free to go out or have dinner in my apartment.  I like to relax, read, watch the news on TV, go to the movie in our theater or one of the programs they present almost every night in the auditorium.  I have never minded being alone.  I suppose that comes from being a writer.  If I’m writing a novel, I’m never really alone, as any fiction writer will tell you.  I have my characters to keep me company.  At the moment, I’m writing the third book in the Susquehanna trilogy.  It’s about the world of medical research and I’m deeply immersed in it.  It has a working title:  First Among Peers.  I like that title.  What do you think?

I can’t say that I don’t miss New York.  I’ve lived in a number of places in the U.S. and abroad, but there is nothing quite like “the Big Apple.”   I’ve gone back a number of times for visits since I moved, but living there is different from visiting. 

I have no regrets about moving.  Everything in its moment…  I’ve had a good run so far, and now it’s time for “the next phase.”