The Required Life

Too young to retire, too old to keep going on this way. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

It used to be, a man knew what was right and what was wrong. Not now. Now, the world he’d always known seems to be lost. The world today is a scary place. Families can’t afford to feed themselves. Students are shot inside their classrooms. Police officers are constantly under attack. Children are kidnapped from their bedrooms. Masked men wield knives killing hundreds of innocents. How did any of this happen? It isn’t right.

Slamming his hands down on the arms of his recliner, Griffin could feel his anger burn through him as he flipped off the news. Anger was his constant companion these days. And who could blame him? He’d done what he was supposed to. He’d done what was expected. He’d been dedicated to his job. Faithful to his wife. He’d raised good girls. He’d done what was required. Hadn’t he? His whole life he’d given everything to everyone. And what good had it done? Where had it gotten him?

Fired. Downsized after thirty-six years with the company. His boss had talked and talked trying to explain. None of it had registered. He’d been in a state of shock. Only one thing made it through, he’d been fired. He was no longer wanted. No longer needed. Just like that. Griffin was put out to pasture at fifty-nine years old.

Remembering, Griffin felt his chest tighten. The humiliation. The embarrassment. He’d thought the hardest thing he’d ever have to do was to tell his wife. He’d been so ashamed. Griffin hated disappointing his Annie. He should have known better. Annie hadn’t blinked an eye. She didn’t ask him what happened. Didn’t ask him what he’d done wrong. She didn’t ask how they were going to survive. Annie had wrapped her arms around him offering him the quiet comfort she knew he desperately needed. Annie was a rock. Buoyed by his wife’s love and strength, Griffin set out determined to bounce back. After all, he had the knowledge, the experience and he enjoyed hard work. He would land on his feet. Everything would turn out for the best.

He’d been wrong – so wrong. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into a year. Being out of work for more than a year with no prospects in sight, Griffin was losing hope. He had done everything he could think of. He’d taken everyone’s advice. He’d sent out resumes, reached out to all of his contacts, applied for positions outside his field. He had no pride. Griffin just wanted to work.

Early on, his oldest girl told him getting the interview was half the battle. Not for him. Oh, he’d been on plenty of interviews. Getting the interview was easy. Landing the job was another story. The man he was on paper didn’t quite compute with the man he was in person. Griffin’s work history and reputation made for a strong resume. The man on paper with the stellar work history and glowing references was a treasure, a mechanical genius everyone wanted and needed. The man on paper was their ticket to driving a company to the next level on efficiency and productivity. The frail-looking old man standing before them didn’t compute. The man standing before them didn’t look like he could competently drive a car let alone build a processing plant from the ground up. He could see the doubt in their eyes and hear it in their voices. How was a man his age going to have enough strength and energy to do the job they needed him to do.

They didn’t realize how capable he was. He was getting older, but he still had a strong mind with the same knowledge and understanding on how to troubleshoot any mechanical system. Problem was no one wanted to take a chance to see what he was able to do. They all wanted someone young, strong, and experienced. Griffin could have told them it doesn’t work that way skill, knowledge, and experience is earned. It’s built over time. Not that they would’ve listened to him. Interview after interview brought rejection after rejection. Griffin got to where he couldn’t take it anymore. Every time he got an interview, his hope would surge only to be squashed when they chose someone else. One of the managers interviewing him went so far as to ask him how he was going to manage getting up and down on his knees to work on their machines. Rude. Cocky. Arrogant. Griffin had to bite the inside of his cheek until he tasted his own blood while assuring the young man he was in great shape, and nothing ever held him back.

Truth be told, Griffin actually liked working. As a kid, he’d spent every free moment at the wrecking yard down the road from his house learning from an early age everything there was to know about cars. Griffin quickly learned how to tear down an engine and build it back up again. By the time he was sixteen he was a well-respected mechanic working at Walt’s Automotive. Over the years, he had graduated from car mechanics to plant mechanics and operations. He could build or rebuild almost anything he had a mind to. Using his knowledge and his skills, he’d went to work for a major company in the agricultural industry. The company took advantage of Griffin’s knowledge and skills sending him all over to help build new plants from the ground up and to troubleshoot plants with poor productivity. Griffin knew his knowledge and skills were unparalleled, and he’d been proud to of his work.

Gripping the arms of his old recliner, Griffin felt the pressure building. His chest tightening. This burning rage was consuming him. What was he expected to do? Was he really expected to spend the rest of his days sitting in his old recliner waiting to wither and die? Griffin was sick of sitting around with nothing to do but stare at the television. He’d worked so hard his whole life. Now this is what he was reduced to. Sitting in his living room all day with nothing to do but stare at the television, stare at his wife, stare at the four walls of his living room. It used to be he loved coming home after a long day at work kicking back and relaxing in his recliner. Annie had wanted to throw it away many a time over the years, but Griffin had always put up a fight. Now he hated the thing. Griffin felt the tightness spreading across his chest as he realized he’d been sentenced to a life of imprisonment in the chair he’d loved, and there was nothing he could do about it. Maybe this was his punishment for not letting his wife throw the chair out years ago.

A bang at the front door brought him back from his dark consuming thoughts. Weighed down with grocery bags, his wife struggling under her load. Scurrying to help, Griffin took the bags from Annie glad to have his wife home. Smiling her thanks, Annie shut the door with her foot following Griffin. into the kitchen. Moving with an easy grace that comes from years of living with someone, they began putting away the groceries. Griffin felt the pressure and the tension ease as he worked side by side with his wife. He didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky. Her and the girls kept him going.

“How was your day?” Annie asked as she tucked the milk into the fridge.

“Same as yesterday and same as the day before and same as the day before that. Sitting around here all day with nothing to do. How was yours?” Griffin gruffly asked his wife.

Nervously, Annie bit her lip. She’d really been hoping today would be a good day for her husband. Good days for Griffin were harder and harder to come by these days. She’d needed today to be a good day, so tonight would go easier. No such luck. Annie promised herself she would wait until they sat down to dinner before broaching the subject she’d been mulling over for the last couple of months. Annie had stacked the cards in her favor with tonight’s dinner. Griffin loved a good steak. She was hoping a good meal would help him relax making him more receptive to hear what she had to say.

“It was good. Real good. I bought a couple of steaks. Picked up some veggies from the farmer’s market. I thought you could grill for us and I will make us a nice salad.”

Taking the steaks, Griffin slammed the kitchen door shut behind him heading out to the patio to fire up the grill. Wincing at the slamming of the kitchen door, Annie watched her husband work through the window as she prepared the salad. She thought about the last year. Griffin was such a good man – a good husband and a good father. They had built a good life together. Loosing his job had been such a blow. So much of who Griffin was had been wrapped up in his career. The last year hadn’t helped. Interview after interview after interview sent him spiraling further and further inward. Now, more often than not he was sullen, distant, and angry.

She had tried to help, but nothing she did seemed to bring him any comfort. Hopefully, this time will be different. The shock had been immediate when he’d came home and told her. She couldn’t quite believe it. Fired. All these years, Griffin had always been his company’s go-to-guy. The man every one relied on to troubleshoot and fix anything from mechanical malfunctions to productivity issues. Griffin had been so devoted to the company. Being let go so suddenly after all those years had been a devastating blow. Annie knew Griffin didn’t need her adding to the pain and the pressure of his loss with her worries and fears, so she’d done everything she could to offer only comfort and support.

When Griffin lost his job, Annie had no doubt that he’d find work. It was just a temporary setback. Griffin would be fine. They’d be fine. He was a hard worker. He had knowledge, skills, and experience. Ultimately, none of that had mattered. No one wanted to hire a man his age. It was all so ridiculous. Her husband was so willing and so capable of working, but no one would risk hiring an old man. It’d been a little over a year. A year of watching the man she loved turn into this bitter angry creature. A year of living with false hope. A year spent walking on egg shells. Annie could feel Griffin’s anger and resentment like it was a living breathing thing that had taken up residency in their home and in their marriage. She couldn’t take it anymore. After a year of living this way, she was done. She just had to tell Griffin. Steeling her resolve, Annie began to move about her kitchen with renewed focus.

Warm and inviting, Annie’s kitchen was designed for someone who loves to cook and made for large families who come together to eat. While Griffin favored the living room and his recliner, Annie was at home in her kitchen. They stopped using the dinning room after the girls grew up and moved out preferring to take their meals sitting side by side at the island or at the small kitchen table. Smoothing a wrinkle from the cream colored table cloth, Annie decided they would eat at the table tonight.

Sitting across the table from the man she’d spent the last thirty-two years with, Annie took a deep breath before taking the plunge. “Griffin?”

“Hmm?” Focused on the steak in front of him, Griffin didn’t glance up from his plate.

“I’m retiring at the end of this month.” Immediately, she had his full attention. His dinner forgotten.

“What happened?” Griffin demanded anger and worry prominent in his voice.

“Nothing happened. I’m fine. Everything is fine. It’s just time, that’s all.” Annie quickly reassured him.

“What do you mean its time? You’re only fifty-four. People don’t retire at fifty-four. You’re too young. People don’t just decide to retire out of the blue. Something had to have happened. What happened today?”

Taking another deep breath, Annie forged ahead. “Nothing happened. You know I love my work. I’m just ready to slow down. We’ve always talked about taking the motor home out of storage and traveling across the United States when we got older. Well, I think now is the perfect time. I’m ready to go. I want us to go and do this while we still can.”

“What are you talking about? We can’t just go gallivanting off on whim. We have responsibilities. I’m not retired. I have been killing myself looking for a job. What has gotten into you ?”

“First of all, this isn’t a whim. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now. It is the perfect time to go. Second of all, why kill yourself when you don’t have to? You’ve worked hard your whole life, so why not enjoy yourself now? Not a lot of people have an opportunity like this. We have the money, we’re both relatively healthy, and we have the time. Now, is the perfect time for us to do this.”

Annie held her breath waiting. Griffin remained unnervingly quiet. Unable to bear the pain of Griffin’s silence, Annie softly sighed. “I love you. I want to do this with you. I need you to do this with me, but if you don’t want to. If you can’t do this with me then I’ll try to understand, but I’m still going to go. I know this last year has been incredibly hard, but it shouldn’t define who we are or the life we’ve built together. I want us to take advantage of the opportunity life has handed us. I want us to play late into the night and sleep in until noon. I want to read all the books I’ve never gotten to read because work, kids, and responsibilities always had to come first. I want to dip my toes in the ocean while we walk hand in hand along the beach. I want to explore and travel the world with you. I want to enjoy having you all to myself.”

Griffin didn’t trust himself to talk. Playing it all over in his mind, he felt the tightness squeeze his chest into a vice. She was going to go, with or without him. He’d lost his job. Now he was loosing his Annie.

Standing up, Annie moved to stand behind her husband sliding her arms around his shoulders. Leaning down, she kissed the top of his head. “Hon, I love you. I want you with me. I need you with me. We can do this. We should do this. Just think about it. Take some time and think about it.”

Griffin sat at the kitchen table long after Annie went up to bed. Playing it all over in his mind, he rubbed absently at his chest trying to ease the burning pain. Too young to retire, too old to keep going on this way. Hadn’t he been thinking that very thing this afternoon? Could he give up the hunt and just retire? No more resumes. No more interviews. No more waiting for a job offer that never comes.

He’d lost his job. He didn’t want to loose his Annie. She was going with or without him. Griffin had lived with his wife long enough to know when she’s serious.

So ridiculous. Annie couldn’t find her way out of a paper sack. How was she going to navigate her way around the highways when she was in a panic because she didn’t know where she was at? Her vision wasn’t what it used to be and she had a hard time seeing at night. She would be limited to driving only during the daylight hours. She really did need him. Smiling, Griffin felt the burning in his chest ease as he headed upstairs to find his wife.

Daily Prompt: Burn


12 thoughts on “The Required Life

  1. Moving story and wonderfully written. I tend to shy away from fiction on blogs and gravitate toward personal stories, but I was captivated. The only part I question is the math. He’s 59 and she’s 54, yet they were together for 42 years?

    Liked by 1 person

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