After I graduated from college, I decided it was time to retire. While most of my friends started their new lives in big cities, I started my life where everybody around me thought I was their granddaughter.
I moved to a small, retirement style community in Central Florida and accepted a job as a newspaper reporter. As a 22-year-old, I was writing stories about Medicare, local Senior Olympics competitors, and the rising cost of prescription drugs. I watched high school sweethearts reminisce at 50-year high school reunions. I heard a lot of stories about the Great Depression. I learned how to play shuffleboard.
My experience in Florida was a 15-month glimpse into what my life was going to be like 60 years from now. I saw what I could look forward to in the next stages of my life and what I could dread. I’ve already picked out a hair-coloring kit for when I see the first strand of gray hair.
When it was time to talk to people about the stories I was working on, I took my time. Interviews weren’t all about just “getting the story.” My sources wanted me to listen to them and stay for dinner. They told me stories about their grandchildren and showed me frayed pictures in their wallets. Soon, I noticed that I was listening more carefully to people and speaking more clearly and slowly. Appreciation for a well-written story wasn’t done in a casual email, but letters composed on typewriters.
I didn’t have any liver spots on my hands, but when friends came to visit me halfway through my time in Florida, they could tell I was aging fast. I drove at least 10 miles per hour below the speed limit. My thermostat was set at 72 degrees. I wanted to eat dinner at 5 p.m. and take advantage of early bird specials. At one point, I saw a group of high school students and called them a “bunch of whippersnappers.”
But after a combination of writing too many obituaries and having women try to set me up with their grandsons who were visiting for the weekend, I decided that I was ready to live with people my age. My favorite sources were sad to see me go, but they saw my move to Chicago as my next big adventure. Moving to a new city without a job was going to be scary, they reasoned, but it wasn’t like I was going to fight in World War II.
When I was in Florida, I stood out because I was about 50 years younger than everybody else. I was different. My youth was celebrated and smiled upon. People asked me questions about my generation and what I thought about world affairs. To my Florida sources, I reminded them of who they once were.
Now, living in Chicago, I look like just like all the other fresh-faced, fair-trade coffee drinking, trust-fund hipsters in my neighborhood. When I was in college, I never appreciated my youth like I did in Florida. My time living with retirees taught me that I wasn’t going to be young and invincible forever. I learned that I was going to have to grow up and get older, eventually.
But for now, I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about joining the AARP or live in an assisted living home. If there’s anything that I took away from my time in the Sunshine State, it’s that I should enjoy my youth while I can—it only lasts for so long. Besides, Florida will be waiting for me when it’s time to retire.