Yesterday morning, I braved the scale. I stepped on, read the numbers, stepped off, then on again. No, the scale wasn’t broken. Whether it’s the extra morning caramel coffee runs to Dunkin Donuts, my inclination to snack while grading papers at home, or filling the cupboards for Charming’s visits and not wanting to see the goodies go to waste afterward… the digital response might as well have read, “Outlook not good,” like a magic weight-ball.
Is it vanity or something deeper and darker that stirs anxiety in the tummy beneath the pesky, ironic love handles when we realize the woman we see in our mind’s eye no longer matches the reflection in the mirror or the person captured in our photographs? We wonder how we let it get this far. We chide ourselves for our lack of discipline. We shut our eyes and can still see ourselves in our prime.
And our prime is typically when we were young. In my early twenties, I was something of a fitness nut with the worst diet you’d ever seen. It worked for me though. I could leave the gym and hit up McDonald’s with my boyfriend and fit easily into my size two slacks for work the next day. Modeling and personal training were my favorite side jobs during my early teaching years. Admittedly, I loved the camera and attention. (I reserve the right to characterize the peak of my own arrogance, but rest assured that it’s taken a justified beating since then.)
Now, I much prefer to man the camera than pose for it. I’d rather fill the frame with my nieces, my students, or my prince. Admittedly, I still enjoy the spotlight a bit too much, but I like to leave my current resemblance to memory alone. So is it vanity now, at size eight, that has me lamenting pounds gone by and questioning if I can persevere to right this health-wrong?
Yesterday’s weigh-in comes on the heels of what’s been a few weeks of toeing the line of a something akin to depression but not as eminent. Consider it a cautionary awareness of my disconnectedness with the rest of the world. For example, my students’ junior prom was on Friday, and I attended only to debrief with my yearbook staff who covered the event. I reminisced on my own sixteen years ago in my lavender embroidered gown lined with rhinestones and the boy I hoped I would marry someday.
I hoped that because I could then. You can hope for anything when you’re young and it’s rarely dangerous. The boy broke my heart later that night after the dancing was done. That was the first time that I had to learn how to move on. Young Beauty, my Student Life Editor, posted a blog entitled, “Songs You’ll Need Someday”. Teen girls know the power of the right song at the right time. Like Beauty, I turned to music to comfort me in the wake of prom night heartbreak.
I did that for years to come. And I still do. This disconnectedness that I sense beneath the surface, the awareness that I’m on the fringe is triggered primarily by families. Before heading over to my students’ prom, I had dinner at my brother’s. They fit together, the five of them. And later, Beauty’s mom arrived in her mini-van to pick her up from the yearbook gig and they fit together, mother and daughter. The reflection in the mirror matches the image in their mind’s eyes.
The weigh-in yesterday was a gamble, and my Blackjack profits are abysmal. I walked into my students’ freewrite second block on “life” with a hopeless outpouring of all the thoughts and feelings of recent weeks that I had yet to verbalize. The vomited verbiage also seemed to purge me of the pessimistic weight at the pit of my stomach.
A few hours later, another of my young bloggers waited patiently at my desk for me to read her analysis of the lyrics to Katy Perry’s “Fireworks.” A few hours later, those thoughts would inspire her latest blog post. Snow White has grown during our poetry unit, as anticipated. She wrote, “This song begins by having you imagine an old, used, meaningless, plastic bag floating through the sky on a windy day as maybe a person may feel after thinking a part of their life has come to an end and they must drift away…Comparing one to a ‘Firework exploding across the sky on the Fourth of July’ reveals a sense of self-pride and finding a (literal) spark of happiness in life! … there is a way to make your way back up to the top even after you’ve hit rock bottom.”
From the mouths of babes comes surprising wisdom. Could Snow have known how much her timely words would resonate with my inner struggle with time? Did she intuit that her teacher needed a reminder that she is just as connected to society as all the other disconnected people who at one time or another have identified with that meaningless plastic bag.
Maybe this time, it’s time itself that broke my heart, filling me with promise in my youth only to find me driving home to an empty house after sending Beauty off safely with her mom following prom. Maybe it’s not vanity that skews my interpretation of my reflection in the mirror. Maybe it’s the fact that the woman in the pictures doesn’t match the image of myself in my mind’s eye. Maybe like my best shape, I don’t want the best me to be left in my twenties, too.
After reading Snow’s draft for her blog, I left school and rifled through the old, burned CDs above my passenger side visor, protected from several years of dusty disuse. Enough of the flirtation with depression over the illusion that my life doesn’t look like I thought it would at thirty-three. My date for junior prom taught me a valuable lesson: how to move on.
We do it with music, like Snow reminded me with a gentle spark yesterday. I knew I’d made a mix in my early twenties after a man broke my heart. Inspired by Snow’s lyric discovery, I was keenly aware that if time had broken my heart, I needed to get passed it like any loss before. Beauty’s belief that there’s a musical soundtrack for life was put to the test when I rubbed out the scratches on the back of an old mix entitled “Learning how to move on…”
The first track wouldn’t play, but I coaxed the car’s stereo system with the fast-forward button. Before and after hitting the gym, I played the other sixteen tracks. Each one transported me to a different loss in my past, every time that I had to move on whether it was from a romantic disentanglement, a soured friendship, or an entire state. I was working through a second listen this morning driving to work and on my lunch break.
The timely tunes, I’m afraid, were sirens, tempting me into a nostalgia laced with brokenness and pain, eliciting thoughts about events that were forgotten for a reason. After school, my stereo told me, “Disk error.” The walk down memory lane was bittersweet and enlightening. But it was over. Considering the past has a purpose. Dwelling on the past rarely does.
It was in the silence that music convinced me it was time to move on. I drove home after the gym today to be greeted by my garden beds. On one side of the house, there are three bushes. Each is slightly different with varying shades of pink, and they take turns blooming. Right now, the one on the left’s magenta blooms have all but withered and died. The middle one’s pink starburst blossoms are still in their prime. The one on the right is boasting strawberry buds that are getting ready to pop like fireworks in unassuming tubes.
The bushes are a visual paradox. All three are azaleas, yet some combination of microscopic atoms determined that they would bloom at different times and of different hues. Magenta doesn’t envy Pink Starburst’s full blooms, and Strawberry didn’t question why her boughs were barren when Magenta’s were laden with color. My azaleas simply exist and please as they were designed to do.
I’m no longer young like Snow and Beauty. I may never fit my skinny skirts again. My first marriage might be the last. My students could be the only kids I have. Time might break our hearts, but like any unwelcomed severance with desires or dreams, we have to learn how to move on. When the music is halted, in the silence we hear the truth from some still, small crevice in our brains. We shake off the illusion of what should be and open our eyes to the azaleas that help us see the truth.
We’re human, but we don’t look the same and we don’t bloom at the same time. We can envy and wish and regret, but we can’t change the atoms and circumstances that merged to form us. A spark of hope shot through the depressive cloud as I ejected my heartbreak soundtrack in favor of a teen girl’s affirmation that I can still make it to the top, that the best “me” might not be long gone after all.