The Right Direction

Late February into March is always terrible in New York. Spring is just over the horizon, but you wouldn’t know it, because the landscape is bleak and dark, the ground is snow and ice covered, and the air is painful. The spirit just deflates around so much winter.

New Yorkers are a tough breed. We send our kids outside to play in 18 degrees and the general attitude is “Get used to it.”

I have lived in New York for almost 10 years now, so I am used to it. I am used to the cyclical nature of things, the lightning fast, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-spring, that morphs overnight into two oppressive months of sticky, sun-soaked summer, followed by a short wonderland of fall. Then snow upon snow upon snow. I’m already thinking about all the things that must be done when spring is here. But since I can’t do anything about it yet, it has put me in a contemplative headspace (which is a dangerous gear for my brain to get stuck in). I am thinking a lot about all the things I want to do. All the things I need to do. Planning trips for when the weather is better. Thinking about what I want this year to look like.

While I’m sitting here gnashing at the bit to do all these things, I’ve been holed up in my little house, killing time reading. One of the things I’ve been reading is a blog I like, and this week the topic has been the slow decline and death from cancer of a friend of the blogger. This person left a life half-lived, and died regretting that they hadn’t gotten in shape, traveled the world, and generally done more with the time they had.

And this of course triggered a whole avalanche of memories about my aunt, who died in 2017 of a brain tumor. She, too, died before she had a chance to live the life she dreamed of. And I think about her every day. I miss her. But my love for her is complicated by the fact that she is also my cautionary tale. The person I most look to and say I do not want to grow up and have lived life like you did. I do not want to die at age 65 never having achieved any of the things I always talked about achieving. I’m also angry at her for acting like she had endless days to turn her ship around.

We do not get endless days.

I hope wherever she is she’s not offended (because I would be deeply offended if I was someone’s poster child of a misspent life.)

Sometimes it feels like she is hovering just over my shoulder, cheering me on for having the bravery to go after the things she did not. Because the life I’m living now is because, for the last 4 years, I’ve continually asked myself What didn’t Aunt Rhonda do?

She didn’t leave her crappy marriage to my abusive uncle, who treated her like garbage and cheated on her repeatedly. In fact, every time they divorced, she ended up right back with him. Once she told me that she felt like God himself had gifted my Uncle to her. That, and her purpose in life was to love him in spite of their difficulties.

I still believe that is the biggest steaming pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life. That she had it the wrong way around. She was the gift to my Uncle, her and her love for him, a love that he chose not to accept, not to treasure, and not to nourish.

My personal philosophy is that when someone doesn’t want the gift you’re offering them, you take it back to the store, return it for a refund, and use that refund for something for yourself. Or non-metaphorically, you just divorce the bastard. And stay that way.

I kept all of this in mind as I navigated my own divorce. Don’t be like Aunt Rhonda was my mantra every time it got hard. I looked at my aunt’s relationship with my selfish, dismissive uncle and kept telling myself, “She deserved to be loved back. She deserved a man who appreciated her. She deserved to be treated with respect. And I do, too.

Aunt Rhonda was also the supporting actress in her own life. She always put others’ needs ahead of her own, and never demanded her due. If she had, she wouldn’t have died with so much left unfinished and not experienced. I think about that often as I go about my life. She deserved to selfishly follow her dreams. She should have taken those trips, alone if need be, and seen what she could have of the world.

I am determined to go to the nursing exhausted from a life well-lived. If I’m breathing, I will always strive to do more. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is that I control my own life story. My life story shouldn’t control me. So I try to write new chapters as often as I can.

That’s why I went by myself on a 40th birthday trip to Dublin. I wasn’t going to let money, or a lack of traveling companion, or fear, or whatever, hold me back. It was something I wanted to do for myself, needed to do for myself. I could see with my own eyes the cost of not following my dreams.

That trip, incidentally, changed the course of my life. I came back from it super glued back together, my spirit restored.

Aunt Rhonda also struggled mightily with her weight, while always saying she was dieting, but not dieting really. As my weight began to creep up, I would look in the mirror and see my body carrying weight like hers had. I saw all her struggles, saw all the ways her weight gain held her back, caused her pain, and made her life harder. Toward the end of her life, she seemed resigned to it all.

I’m not going to let what happened to her happen to me. As I’ve written before, I’m determined to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and get back to a healthy weight, even if it means I can’t eat the foods I love.

My elimination diet has revealed that I have some food intolerances that I wasn’t expecting and there are foods I have to cut out of my diet permanently. I’m sad about it. But I want to feel good more than I want to eat ice cream. I’ve been at it for almost 2 months now and have already lost a clothing size. I have a much better idea of what is safe for me to eat and knowing my body better makes me feel so much stronger and more in control of my health.

Because so little available in stores is safe for me, Jeremy and I bought a food dehydrator and a chest freezer so I can start stockpiling foods that are healthy for me. I spent the weekend making banana and strawberry chips. It’s good to feel like I’m making healthy decisions and moving in the right direction.