I could’ve had liposuction or a tummy tuck. Maybe a boob lift. Think about it. I’d go to sleep and wake up younger and thinner looking. They’d prescribe pain medication for discomfort. In a few short weeks, I’d be good as new. Sometimes I look at this wretched backpack and I wonder why I didn’t go for new boobs.
There was a time in my life when I might have done just that. As recently as last summer, I began saving money for future “body maintenance.” I’m over forty-five, and my rigorous exercise routine has become a daily practice in trying to maintain my girth. My cups and pants spillith over. Forget actual loss of weight. Those days appear to be over. Maintenance is where it’s at.
I have come to terms with the idea that if I want to be thin while over forty-five, I have to give up cake. And wine.
That’s not going to happen. Yet.
Another factor working against my body image is that I live in South Orange County, California where the women appear to age more like a fine wine. They get better with each passing year, resembling the Barbie aisle at Target. All the varieties are represented here. Since many are my friends I can tell you I have only witnessed one—ONE—who ordered dessert deliberately and willfully. Of course afterward she pushed back her chair and in front of a group of fifteen ladies, God, and anyone else lunching at the country club, she performed a few push-up burpees. And still managed to look dainty while doing so.
Cue the call to the plastic surgeon.
But then, something happened last summer right around the time I began the savings account for “future body maintenance.” In early July, I signed up to go on a backpack trip with thirty women writers. Why not lose weight like this instead?
The invitation was on a private Facebook community board. It went something like this: “Hey I’m going to be hiking in Newfoundland next year. Would anyone else be interested in hiking and writing for a hundred miles or so?”
On impulse, I said yes.
Then other women said yes. More and more women clamoring to hike and write together. None of us had ever met.
My initial reaction: Are they freaking serious? Isn’t this like the proverbial lunch date? “Let’s do lunch?” And the other woman says, “Yes, lets.” But there’s never any lunch.
That’s not what these women are about.
I had become entwined with women who actually make things happen. Excited women. Smart, funny, independent women. Women in all kinds of leadership roles who had already traversed across Thailand or Europe or India while wearing backpacks. Women who weren’t afraid of speaking their minds or getting dirty, or flying over continents to meet up in some remote place. To backpack and write together.
Who were these people? I was already in love with the courage.
Over the next couple of months I thought: You know, I should go ahead and cancel. I’m not as brave as they are. I’m too anxious. Not a travel writer. I’ve hardly been out of the country. If you count my little foray onto Vancouver Island. That’s it. That’s all of my worldliness. I don’t even have much in written publications.
July and August went by and still, I didn’t remove myself from the group. I was too amazed by the efforts—by everyone involved—to get us organized. We had formed teams. We had assignments. I didn’t want to miss a thing. Mesmerized and terrified, there I was, swept into the adventure.
And while I grappled with my fear of planning this big adventure, something else happened. My dear friend was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. This diagnosis came from out-of-nowhere. To say it felt like a sucker-punch would be an understatement.
I’ve been on this strange terrifying journey with her since. It’s strange because I feel like the disease has set her out alone on a boat. No one, not one of us can know exactly what she is going through. Not even other women who have the same disease. Each one of them is in her own boat. Some boats are better than others, more seaworthy. They have good health insurance, a supportive family, lots of love. My friend has a good boat, one of the best. But it doesn’t matter. She can’t come to shore and I can’t come out to her. I’m with her family, all of us running along the shoreline, calling out affirmations. She’s trying to be brave, but she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. All she knows is she wants off this f’ing boat. She wants her regular life back.
I call out, “I love you!” and, “Wear your sunscreen.” And other stupid things because I don’t know how else to help her beyond running alongside, going to the occasional lung draining appointment, and just being there for her to curse out loud or cry sometimes.
There are vibrant colored kites flying overhead. They stay close, but they can’t get in the boat. These are her friends with special skills who can help her meditate, or perhaps they have first hand knowledge of the illness. A friend who can perform acupuncture or some other holistic treatment. Me? I can’t be a kite. I’m the friend who runs alongside.
We know that some of the boats will make it back to shore. Sometimes it’s an old leaky boat. Sometimes, it’s the yacht. No one can say for sure whose boat will make it back for they’re all at the mercy of the weather.
My friend has something real to fear. She’s fighting for her life. She’s sacrificed her body to surgery, to poisons, to whatever she can do to live.
So why am I going backpacking instead of getting lipo? What a difference a few short months can make. Ask me now, and I bristle at the question.
I’m healthy, and I have abused my body. Poured chemicals in it. Alcohol, drugs, lovers
(maybe the lovers part wasn’t so bad). Waxed places that shouldn’t be waxed. You name it, and yet, this body, has persevered. I love my body, this vessel that houses “me.” Why would I punish it further with lipo? I get to live here free of any health problems.
Key words: I get to live. Maybe next year I’ll get my own bad news, but for now, I haven’t been put on the sidelines for a chemo schedule or nausea.
This doesn’t take away my fear about the journey to Newfoundland. I have crippling anxiety that comes on for no particular reason. I’m a freak about flying in airplanes. Imagine a wet cat on board. God help us all on the 10-hour flight to Newfoundland if I begin to hyperventilate. Also, I’ve never been so far from home without my family. Never spent this many nights away from my husband.
When I look into my friend’s blue eyes, and hold her small hands in my own small hands…because we love each other like that even when she isn’t sick…I know I’m not canceling this trip. I have to go to Newfoundland, and layer myself with the strength of these other women. Take on new ideas. Challenge myself physically and mentally. Continue the conversations Traycie and I have always had about the sisterhood of women, mothering, education, feminism, politics, the environment, and now, medicine. She should actually be there, too, backpacking with us, but she’s busy right now, getting well. When I come home I’ll have new ideas for her to eat up, and I know she’ll be ravenous for them.
Lipo and a boob job would be too easy. Someone pass me a slice of that cake. Traycie, order up the Sauvignon Blanc. I think it’s a two-bottle night.