Tell me if this ever happened to you: Someone in your life asks you to live a very long time. It had not happened to me but once. Most of the people in my life take me for granted, expecting me to outlive them. Or they wish that I would disappear off the face of the Earth. Or they wish that they would never see me again. Even employers have asked me to stick around a while, but I know that at some point, any employer would see me as furniture and not productive. I would be asked to retire.
When my partner’s daughter asked me, “Now that you broke up with Mumma, are you breaking up with me, too?” my answer was an unequivocal “No.” I did not need any prompting from that scene in the movie Clueless where the lawyer father says, “You divorce adults. You don’t divorce children.” I just knew that Bridgette and I had gone through enough of getting to know each other that she was important to me. More than that, she was key to my life. And she is my sole heir.
Bridgette admitted a few years after she moved out of the house that she used to put sand on my side of the bed. “Oh!” I spouted. “I thought the cats were filthy.” And we laughed. After years of fighting over whether I could convince her to finish the dishes instead of spending all day negotiating it, whether her calling my name over and over constituted her leaving me alone for a half hour so I could get something done, whether I was on her “side,” and whether I loved her despite her testing of my patience, we have become close friends.
We tried truces, discussions, and even personality analysis. It all came down to my being the only person in her life who did what I said I would do, every time. I once caught grief for following through on my threat to put her “in the drink” if she did not leave me alone. You can imagine the startled look on her face as she tumbled into the lake, and the look on her mother’s face when we had to dress her dry clothes again.
But consistency is what Bridgette is always asking me for. And one day, visiting me in my new apartment with two bean bag chairs, a coffee table and a TV as my sole pieces of furniture (I slept in my sleeping bag until my next bonus check came in), she said, “I want you to get healthier. Lose some weight. Take care of yourself.”
I gave her my wry look that I give anyone who nags me to lose weight. At the time I weighed twice as much as I should have. But Bridgette loves my stubbornness because she is stubborn – winning hour-long “Last Word!” contests pretty consistently. She persisted, “I want you to live a long time. I need you in my life as long as possible. I want you to take better care of yourself so you can come take care of my children.”
My throat closed up. Imagine all the loving things anyone has ever said you. Did any of them ask you to live? I think we assume that the people in our lives want us to live. But this woman asked me to stick around as long as possible.
“Okay,” I said. I had just made a promise.
Keeping this promise is more work than one would think. Any skinny person that says to me, “All you have to do is….” Does not know all I have to do. At the time, I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition where cysts live on my ovaries because of the excess estrogen from my body fat. I was on stomach drugs for my reflux. I took allergy medication, and I was on birth control pills to regulate my cycles. The pills added water weight to me, made me thirsty and hungry, and the PCOS made me constantly hungry for carbohydrates. I could down two pounds of spaghetti in a sitting.
I went to my doctor. I told the doctor that I needed to do better. The doctor referred me to a gynecologist who put me on glucophage, a drug that is used for diabetics, to manage the sugar in my body. I was angry to have to take another prescription.
The new drugs made me dizzy at first. The dose had to be escalated from one pill to four. By the time I got to four pills, my digestive system could not expel anything solid. I was officially one of those people who talked enthusiastically about my bowels. My daily chats with my sister got shorter.
The gynecologist also referred me to a nutritionist. I resent the idea of nutritionists, and dated one later on. But I had made the promise. So I went to the nutritionist, envisioning diet sheets involving cottage cheese, melon, and 1,200 calories a day. The nutritionist explained to me carefully what was going on in my body, with my blood not being able to handle the sugar and my body then excreting too much insulin, which would later exhaust and then I would be diabetic.
I got mad at her later when she suggested that I have only a half bagel for breakfast. I had cut down from eggs, bacon, a bagel, 12 ounces of orange juice, milk, and coffee to having a bagel and the juice. Now she wanted me to cut back on the bagel.
But the drugs also reduced my hunger. I could control my eating finally. I complained to the gynecologist about the effects on my colon, and she directed me to take three pills one day and four the next.
Then all of them – the gynecologist, the doctor and the nutritionist – suggested that I exercise more. I traveled for work, and spent hours strapped into plane seats munching something to stay awake. They did not know the suffering I went through at Chicago’s O’Hare airport walking by the Cinnabon counter, whose smell called to me as soon as I got off a plane. They had no idea how exhausted I was when I arrived at hotels.
But I was dutifully learning how to treadmill, putting up with the disorienting experience of getting off the treadmill and actually moving when I made steps, and then taking the elevator back upstairs one floor to my room, feeling virtuous for being so athletic. They did not understand the joy I had when I could go through an evening without wanting a pizza.
But my promise stayed in my heart. Acquiescing to the demand that I do more, I went to see a therapist, the one that had given me and my partner couples counseling. It had not worked, because she had asked my partner to take specific steps to make the relationship work, and that is just not acceptable to the universe. But maybe her help would work for me.
We talked about weight and safety issues. We talked about depression. She was bored with me. Apparently her other clients were more interesting, because after a while she pronounced me fine and hoped not to see me again.
Another part of the process was going to a massage therapist. This woman worked on loosening my muscles, including the tense ones across my back which made me wince and bark. The massage therapist told me that I was holding a bad memory in there. “I’ve been through therapy and Al-Anon,” I declared. “If I haven’t seen this memory by now, then I don’t want to know it.”
She laughed at me, coaching me to “breathe through the pain” as she worked out the tightest muscles on my upper butt, right across my tailbone. Apparently my tailbone had gone askew when I fell off my bunk at nine years old. She worked on that and I hissed my breath in and out.
And I saw the image that she was opening up. I was seven years old, outside of my house. It was getting dark. Nobody was looking for me. I told the massage therapist.
I moved to Pittsburgh soon after that. My new life included a bicycle. By this point, I had discovered that drinking alcohol was no longer fun. The new drug processed my sugar so fast that I went from slightly buzzing to hungover, skipping the good buzz altogether. I was bored from not being able to gorge on plates of food. I was listless, sleeping badly, and not getting enough exercise.
It was time to reconstruct my coaches. My five coaches in New Hampshire had an effect on my success. It took a little while to get coaches in Pittsburgh. But I made friends with a gym teacher who is now retired. She took me on bike rides. We got up to twelve miles on one ride. My new bike, a Mother’s Day present to myself, was heavy because I wanted a heavy bike. But my friend was wonderful. And my new therapist’s assignment was to help me deal with my issues over safety and abandonment, brought to light by my tailbone revelation.
My new massage therapist was my friend. My new doctor an osteopath. I told them both about my promise to Bridgette. They liked the idea. My doctor took advantage of that to withhold prescriptions to make me get tests. By the time I dated the nutritionist, who was depressing me like crazy by showing me what proper portions look like, I was learning that I wanted to go back northeast, where people understood me. In one year there, I saw my darling Bridgette once. I did not even see her often enough for her to notice that I was losing weight.
I reminded her on my one visit about my promise. “I said that?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, surprised. I had spent over a year working on this promise.
“That’s a good idea,” she said. “I would mean it if I said it today.”
Now, living in Upstate New York, I still keep the promise. Yoga, a weight loss challenge, therapy (again!), physical therapy to make the walking easier, and I even try to date women who are healthy. I just joined an outdoor women’s group. I finally took the sleep test to sleep better. I said to my new doctor, “I need to feel better.” That is a translation of, “I made a promise to my daughter. I promised I would live as long as possible.”