b ~ (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

When I was little I lived next door to Dana and Anthony. She was his
second wife, closer in age to his son than her husband. Thinking back
now I wonder how that age difference must have been for them, I never
gave it a second thought when I was 10. All I really knew was that
they were a childless couple who loved to have us over. Anthony was a
large man, who lived up to his Italian nature; Dana a petite woman who
longed to have someone to nurture. I remember her helping to pin my
Halloween costume the year I went as a mummy. Getting ready to go
trick or treating that night, I stood for a long time while the strips
were attached to me. It was a great costume, too bad no one
anticipated that at some point during the evening I would need to go
to the bathroom. She vowed to help make the next year’s costume the
best ever. Soon after she was a bit busier with her own life, it was
around this time that a young girl named Sally showed up next door. On
one of my afternoon visits to chat and have a snack, I learned that
she was going to be staying there as a foster child. Sally was a year
younger than me in school, but we still had a great time together
climbing trees, decorating cookies and running around the
neighborhood.  I seem to remember Dana crying when she found out her
little girl would be staying permanently with her biological family. I
can only imagine it was like a papercut to her heart, but maybe that’s
my coloring the past with my assumptions.

When I think back on our neighbors, I see a vision of Jack Sprat and
his wife– though it seems unfair to reduce them to nursery rhyme
figures. Yet I would argue it was an accurate depiction. Years later,
Anthony got ill and one day I saw them out. It seemed like he had
wasted away to nothing. It was a struggle for him to walk, and Dana
supported him every step of the way. I couldn’t believe how much of
him had fallen away, he was not the strong stout Italian man I once
knew. It happened almost in a blink. But maybe to a teenager busy with
other things it’s easy to overlook what’s going on right next door.
Focusing on friends, football games and studying doesn’t leave much
time to see the trajectory of our lives, or notice how Dana ended up
with someone to mother after all.

A few months ago Ursula Hegi stopped into my bookstore. I couldn’t
stop myself from telling her how much I loved her work. Unfortunately,
my mind went blank as if someone had emptied out all of her titles
from the drawer that is my brain. She was so sweet and graciously
accepted my compliments. It wasn’t until later, of course, that I
realized how much I wanted to thank her for writing that scene in
“Sacred Time.” It’s one of my all-time favorite passages and in quiet
moments my mind often revisits those words. It’s the part where the
Floria has been sick and has finally realized her life’s desire– she
is thin. She is a skinny woman being carried by two men to her waiting
bed, and some secret part of her is thrilled. But the reader is left
to wonder, at what cost. Now that she is dying, there isn’t much
chance to try on her clothes that have been gathering dust in her
closet. I have those clothes, maybe we all do. I wish and hope and
pray that someday they will fit. But I am not thin, I have never been
thin. I think thin and I are pen-pals who live on different
continents; we know all about each other, but we will never meet in
person. Being thin is like that elusive wish, the one you would surely
utter if you met a leprechaun or saw a falling star or knew that
blowing out birthday candles all in one breath would certainly make
something so.

I wonder if someday I will be like Floria and it makes me contemplate
what it will be like near the end of my life. Then I stop. I’ve got
two strong legs, people who love me, so what if I’m not skinny. I know
appearances aren’t everything, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
I’ve reminded myself of these phrases countless times. I honestly
don’t think people would think any different of me if I lost 100
pounds. Still I can only fantasize what it would be like to walk
around thinner and healthier than I am right now. And even though I
have other more important things to focus on in my life, I know “the
heart wants what the heart wants.” Woody Allen’s words keep me company
while I think about what I hold dear, and what really matters most.
Some days are easier than others.

About andi

Writer, editor, wrangler of small boys and dogs.


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