First of all, that means I’m going to be 51 someday. It’s nine years off, but it’s more true than it ever was that this is going to happen. It's more true because I can visualize half an hour of each of these ensuing days perfectly. I’m tethered to the brick facade and royal blue railings of Sacajawea, and they’re pulling me closer and closer to my death.
I’m having a difficult time remembering that I’m not actually 51 now. GOOD CHRIST, I’M 51! Oh, wait, no.
Note to the 51-and-over crowd who may be reading this: It’s not you, it’s mortality.
That’s the thing. If our lives are a horizontal timeline that reads in classic Western style from left to right, I feel tucked over to the right a little more than before. I remember feeling myself on the left-hand side of that timeline. I had forever to figure out what I was going to do or be. I could blossom in my own sweet time. I didn’t have to nail it down. The right hand side of the timeline felt positively wide-open and breezy. Horizonless, almost. The map just faded off.
But now I can feel a wall over to my right. I’m not about to bump into it or anything, but I’m aware of its presence, kinesthetically. My body knows its there.
And that brings me to my topic. The body. My body. The ol’ vessel. I’m going to sail in this thing to the grave, and I’m realizing that I’m at some sort of turning point. Here’s a Philip Barry mash-up, from that old beauty, The Philadelphia Story:
My, she was yar...It means easy to handle, quick to the helm, fast, right. Everything a boat should be, until she develops dry rot.
I’m dedicated to the whole notion of yar, inside and out. It’s something to shoot for, that fineness and agility in all the domains that matter to you. But for most of my life, I’ve been focusing on my mental or emotional or spiritual yar. The inner yars.
A few years ago, after I had Finn, I made my first serious run at physical yar. I’d joined a nearby gym to drop the last bits of baby weight. When you joined this gym, you got two free sessions with a personal trainer to get you going. I remember looping away on an elliptical, waiting for my trainer to nab me for my first session. And then somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and there was Niles.
(Niles, wherever you are, I salute you. Move back to Seattle so you can train me some more.)
Niles was -- as it can never hurt a trainer to be -- ridiculously handsome. His chiseled features were the stuff of Roman coins, truly. And as we embarked on what would turn out to be a year of thrice-weekly workouts, it became clear that Niles was also a deeply good, decent, searching person. We talked about all sorts of things as he made me stronger, enjoyed a shared philosophical bent. He was just a good dude.
And also, he was really, really good-looking. I got 2.5 times stronger than I would have with another trainer, because when your trainer is that attractive, you put out at least 2.5 times the effort. I should really say that I got 9 or 10 times stronger than I would have in other circumstances. It's instinctual. It's why birds have bright feathers.
It was frankly hilarious, how much I was fronting during our workouts. You see, when I was growing up, my family was engaged in a constant competition to see who could be the biggest wilting lily. Whoever was the sickest or faintest or most exhausted won the day’s sympathy prize. But we were lavish with sympathy for anybody’s pitiful old complaint. One of us would collapse in the front door after, I don’t know, going out to buy a stapler, and give the traditional extravagant Kunz family announcement/groan, “I’m HOME,” and then proceed to lay out the tiny physical indignities of the last hour and a half that had done us in. We expected -- nay, felt entitled to -- and received! -- three sets of rapt and understanding ears for our litanies.
But you’d never know it from my sessions with Niles. I gave the mythical 110% every step of the way. Niles would have me down in a plank, and he’d have his little timer out, and I’d hold that goddamn plank until my muscles were all screaming “WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!” (Shh, muscles. Zip it. We’re somebody else right now.) And Niles would exclaim with real joy, “That’s great! That’s thirty seconds longer than you could do it before!” And I’d be giving off the vibe, pshaw, well, hey. That’s just me. I’m all heart. I never say die. I just don’t know how to do it another way.
Dave, of course, if he’s reading this, is snorting into his soup. I can’t escape my childhood completely. Every day, all day, I’m like “Oh, my finger” and “Ouch, my hip” and “I feel dizzy” and “The back of my neck is killing me” and “I have a little sore throat”. And the Rowleys are a different proposition altogether. Dave’s mom, Larraine, is the quintessential Rowley tough nut. She lives out her days in bona-fide screaming back agony from a botched surgery she underwent thirty-plus years ago. But she powers through it and does whatever she sets her mind to, and will never, never let on that she’s in pain unless she really can’t move any more. When you see some slightly pursed lips and she admits out loud that there’s a little pain, you can bet that anybody else alive would be screaming for an ambulance. So it’s safe to say that Dave is not impressed with my frequent bids for physical sympathy. Let’s say that he’s visibly unimpressed.
Me: “My finger!”
Dave: Blank look.
Me: Pregnant stare.
Dave: Eventual grudging nod. Not of acknowledgement. I-have-to-do-this-or-she-won’t-go-away. That nod.
Me (a vibe): That’s it?
Dave (a vibe): Oh, that’s it, all right.
Okay. Okay, but if I die of possible minor floating arthritis in the next few minutes, you’re going to feel like a real heel. Play “Little Wing” at my funeral, by the way.
Anyway. Working with Niles for that year -- up until I got pregnant and then miscarried and then got pregnant again with Fred -- transformed my body, for certain. I was as slender as I’d ever been, but this time I had muscles, and all kinds of physical verve and confidence. And I became one of his favorite clients, one of his real success stories. But, most happily, for the first time in my life I felt that my exterior matched the best of my interior.
When I was growing up and going through my young adult life, I always had this feeling that my forties were going to be a really excellent time for me. 40 was my target age. Things were going to start to get good. The right side of the timeline may have been amorphous and foggy, but I felt something glowing waiting for me right around that age range. I pictured myself like some sort of warrior elf queen, strong and bright and agile. Maybe carrying a spear of some kind. Wearing some kind of killer boots, invariably.
After I had Fred, all my work with Niles was lost. My fraught pregnancy had me tethered to bedrest, and I kissed all of those core muscles -- as you do -- goodbye. And then last year I had surgery, and it’s been a long road to recovery from there. Eight weeks stuck in bed watching Netflix and eating vanilla wafer and Scharffen Berger sandwiches is not a recipe for vitality. It’s a recipe for a super fat ass, is what it’s a recipe for.
But forces are at work now, finally, pulling me back towards yar. One, there’s that wall over to my right that keeps whispering to me, “Now or never.” This is when I’m forging the body that’s going to contain me for the rest of the ride. I can extend the ride, I can make it more fun, I can give myself more energy, I can give myself a prettier vessel. I can make an elf queen suit.
And two, two is mysterious. Let me give a foundation for this. Eight years ago, I met Dave on a yoga retreat on Maui, and within five days we were practically engaged. One night at dinner, there under the stars with Dave and all our fellow students, I couldn’t eat a thing. I couldn’t even speak. I felt like my body was being filled with light, like my being at the deepest level was being refined by some force I felt but couldn’t comprehend. I felt something humming in me, transforming me, right there in front of my untouched plate. Like something wanted a better life for me, and was cooking me right there in order for me to receive it.
In a much quieter and less dramatic way, I feel like the same thing is happening right now. My diet has spontaneously changed. My sweet tooth, a powerful thing, has all but dissolved. My attraction to crappy food of every stripe has vamoosed. The leftover Fred/vanilla wafer weight is coming off. I’ve begun making these smoothies for myself, gulping down mountains of greens. I can’t recommend this enough, my friends. I’m even going to give you the recipe for this insanely good thing. It feels like the most magical elixir. A cup and a half of greens, packed tight. A banana. A kiwi. Some mango. 2 tablespoons of protein powder. (The hemp sort is really good, not chalky at all.) 2 tablespoons of coconut butter. 2 cups of water. Blend away. Drink it on an empty stomach, otherwise it won’t feel good. (Do believe me about that.) On the one hand, it's a smoothie. It's just a smoothie. But on the other hand, it's a message to my body, a message to my life. I don't even want to articulate it and cheapen it. It's precious, whatever it is.
I really do think there’s some kind of quickening going on. I feel it personally, and I’m seeing it everywhere. Something’s turning up the heat under us all, I think, cooking us a little faster. And I’m feeling those two forces so keenly. The increasing nearness of death and some insistent life force in reply. There’s a call, and I can’t resist trying to answer it, and now I’m trying to answer it with everything I have, even this old shell.