It was the middle of August, and we were sitting along the trail of a picturesque fishing lake in Colorado, trees draped over the glassy water with their long trunks hanging like they might fall in at any moment. To take in the view and inhale the fresh air must have been a big and beautiful breath, but at that moment – the beauty was wholly lost on me. I was overdressed, trying to cover all the bits of my pre-pubescent body that was filling out and getting heavier. My skin was puffing in places where it had been firm and taut before. My face was dry and almost raw from the Oxy 10, which I had desperately been applying every morning and night. I was sweating profusely under the August sun, but I would not take off my jeans to put on shorts or remove my sweatshirt. I was self-conscious, and I hated fishing. So, I ate. I think I ate two maybe three bologna sandwiches on wonder bread with mayonnaise on one side and mustard on the other from the cooler. The soft bread stuck to the roof of my mouth and slowed down my bites. There was nothing else to do but eat with four adults drinking the afternoon away on the side of a lake, talking about adulting in 1985, which for them entailed a lot of discussion about working for Mario Cuomo, the politics of Albany, and of course, boxing. He loved boxing.
He reached into the cooler to grab a sandwich, and when he came up empty-handed, he turned to me and asked, "Dee did you eat all the bologna sandwiches?" I turned my empty-eyed pre-teen gaze his way and nodded because that is what I did. I just agreed to everything because that was the easiest path. He turned to my stepmother and his friends and started laughing and said in a buzzy drunken voice, "She ate all the sandwiches; we'll call her Porky Pig!" They all erupted in laughter.
My father was funny that way, and he always knew how to get the crowd going. He was a great leader, an inspiring mentor, and a social butterfly. He was suave and charming, but the one area where he always fell short was connecting to his little girl. Sadly, he passed in my 20's, and we were never able to clear up the pain of this experience and many other moments between us but what he left me with was incredible resilience and grit.
My awkward years lasted until my Sophomore year of High School, and then I picked up smoking Marlboros and then switched to Newport's because I was attracted to the misfits, and that's what they smoked. The weight came off, and my social life picked up tenfold.
In my 20's I replaced cigarettes with exercise, and I have been fiercely committed to sweating hard at least 5 or 6 times a week since then. I exercise for my mental health and to keep my mind clear. I often think my experience as a young girl has ensured my laser focus on feeling fit.
Midlife is a unique moment when we experience the dichotomy of looking back and seeing forward in equal measure. I am starting to understand the depth of the middle, so I am attempting to reframe my struggles from childhood and dig down to see how I can twist pain to create a new narrative for myself.
Now I love to exercise, and I don't see it as the time I take for myself or a luxury. Eating, sleeping, and exercise are necessary for my mental health and well-being. I enjoy the feeling of my heart pounding, my thoughts flowing, and ideas forming in my brain. It breaks me out of my negative thought cycle, which I am prone to and because I practice every morning, it's a powerful way to start my day. I don't mean to sound preachy; I mean to sound purposeful. Midlife has proven to be quite complex with so many distractions like aging parents, children, career shifts, physical changes, and just a general feeling of having every single life ball up in the air at the same time. I want to be ready to catch them.