Finding Myself in Retirement
by Michael Yeager
In my senior year of high school, 1965, an English teacher told me he thought I could become a good writer. It’s funny how a little bit of encouragement can go a long way. I was struggling to write a novel when I met my wife in 1977. I didn’t finish it. We got married, had a son and I became a mental health counselor. I periodically returned to my unfinished novel, but family, work and household duties always came first, and rightfully so. I joined a writing group in the 1980s and it was the best thing I ever did to feed my inner writer. After two years in the group, I was able to complete the book, which was a coming of age story about my early years and my year in Vietnam, but it never felt finished. It remained untouched as I continued to focus on career and family.
About 3 years ago a lifelong friend, Paul, told me our high school buddy, Petie, was living in Phoenix. My wife and I live in southern Arizona, so I called Petie up and arranged to drive to Phoenix for a visit. Paul and I were best men at Petie’s 1969 wedding and I think that was the last time I’d seen him. When we got together, he looked the same, but as an older version. It immediately felt like we were still pals from high school. The close connection to each other was still there, not unlike brothers. After talking a bit, I discovered Petie, now 65, had lived a remarkable life. He was already a pilot when I knew him in high school and he went on to fly planes commercially. He’s owned several oil companies and airline companies and at one point was the CEO of DHL, the largest overseas cargo carrier service in the world. He was a business man, an economist, and Bob Dole's assistant campaign manager.
I was most fascinated by his earlier exploits. Shortly after his wedding in ‘69, he, like so many of us young men at the time, was forced into doing something about the military draft that was breathing down his neck. He didn’t want to end up as a “ground-pounder” so he joined Air America and flew covert operations for the CIA in Vietnam.
Traumatized by his war experiences, he found he could no longer fit into domestic life, so he accepted a job flying for an island hopping airline company in the Caribbean islands.
Petie had written down many of his life experiences and had tried to get someone to transform them into a more literary work. He had made some friends in Hollywood and one of the DreamWorks screenwriters wrote a screen play about his early life. I have a copy of it and it is terrible. It reads like Harold and Kumar go to Vietnam, very Hollywoodized. Petie immediately rejected it. When I was with him in Phoenix, he told me he had been reading my blog and liked the way I wrote. He asked if I'd like to take a crack at writing his stories. His offer was like a gift from heaven.
I don't think I'm a natural story teller, but I do have experience writing other peoples stories, so I said “yes” and started writing the book. I had a real advantage writing Petie’s stories because I knew him so well. We grew up in the same small Missouri town and I knew his parents, his brother and sister. In 1966 we drove in his Corvair convertible to Florida for a wild spring break get away, but that’s another story. I've always liked and been fascinated by Petie. He is a great story teller and the guy you'd want to go out with in high school because you knew something exciting would happen. He's got a devil may care attitude and has always enjoyed taking risks. He likes talking about his exploits, but isn't braggadocios. In fact, he is always baffled by how he gets into and out of each situation. He’s able to laugh at himself, his good luck, and his stupidity. He has been hunted down and nearly killed by the Hawaiian mafia, he was jailed in Iran as a spy and witnessed an execution, thinking that he would be next. His stories go on and on.
My old friend is a gold mine of exciting stories and he and I both enjoy our collaboration. We agreed that I would write a fictionalize book about his early life. I was able to draw on my own experiences as well, especially for the Vietnam part. So we developed this character, PT Davis, not unlike Petie himself, with a little of me in the mix and I wrote, with his help, our first novel, Above The Labyrinth.
Now that I have a book out, I finally feel like a “serious writer”. It’s as though I’ve found myself in retirement. Not having the pressures of career and family has freed me to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. I can honestly say I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I know this phase of life will be over all too soon, so I am trying to enjoy it by putting each day to good use and being grateful for the simple things in life.
Oh yeah, I’m going to return to that coming of age novel I’ve been working on for half of my life. I think now I’m ready to finish it.
Link to Above the Labyrinth on Amazon kindle books:Above The Labyrinth