I have this little electronic device that looks like a video game controller. It’s plastic and inexpensive, unlike some of the actual video game controllers we have around this house.
I hold it in front of me and push a button, and supposedly it shoots a low-level electronic charge through my body, whooshing through water and bouncing off blubber. It gives me a number that is, again supposedly, my body fat percentage.
As if mirrors don’t exist.
This morning it says I have 16.3% body fat, which sounds like a lot. It’s not, though; it’s perfectly OK for a 53-year-old guy. I thought maybe it would help motivate me to eat better, but the truth is I’m way past turning into some sort of physical specimen. I forget sometimes how old I am.
But I had to calibrate it first, and it refused to be realistic. There are two settings, Normal and Athlete, and it was stupid. You answer questions about your activity level and it tells you which category fits, and it refused to let me be Normal. Frequency, duration and intensity of exercise all play a part, and this dumb machine says I belong in Athlete.
I am not an athlete. I pleaded with it. I cheated a little. I rationalized. What, I walk a little in the morning for mental health. I get on the stationary bike for a few minutes while I watch last night’s Jon Stewart. I do a few yoga exercises, a couple of push-ups, some stretching. I lift a few measly weights. I’m just an older, irrelevant American male, trying to slow his descent by doing a minimum of movement, but this piece of plastic wants to up the ante and make me an athlete, just because I spend a couple of hours a day exercising.
I didn’t see that coming five years ago.
That was the summer I didn’t mow the lawn, not really. I sat on the front deck early one August morning and tried to imagine it as it was when we’d moved in, 18 years before, weeds and dirt. I had planted grass and dug and mowed, tossed baseballs with my daughter, ran with my dog and other dogs, and had watched my son roll in the grass, my grass, tended and taken care of, and now it was me. Life as an unmown lawn, wild and crazy as a bedbug.
I wondered for a moment if some neighbor would take pity on my poor wife, notice that I was gone and mow the grass. Probably not; neighbors were out of the loop by then.
I was no longer 29, of course, holding a 3-year-old by the hand and following a realtor into this odd house, moved onto an empty lot, jacked up so a basement could be built, remodeled and reworked and then left alone when the contractor ran out of money. I was dubious back then but it was big, this house, and we liked the neighborhood. The basement was unfinished and the landscaping was nonexistent, but it was a house with possibilities.
Now I’d used up all the possibilities, and I sat out front and waited for my ride to Drunk Camp, and I noted that my suitcase wouldn’t…quite…close.
I must have known how to pack a suitcase at some point, I thought, surely. Still, as hungover and sleepy and scared as I was, I knew a shoddy suitcase packing job when I saw one. Clothes were sticking out, and a pair of shoes refused to play nice. My suitcase looked a little chaotic there, as if packed by a crazy person, or someone who wasn’t all that sure he wanted to leave in the first place and was trying to discreetly point that out.
I decided this morning that five years is a prism, all about diffusion and refraction, a different effect depending on how I hold it. I don’t really understand the physics of light very well.
But I can entertain myself with relativity. Five years is nothing, a little calendar manipulation, only 10% of my life. A drop in the memory bucket. I could do five years standing on my head.
And then, suddenly, it stretches out into a series of moments. I came home from treatment calmer and less bloated, abstinent and batshit crazy. It took me a year before I started to settle down, during which I time I bounced from compulsion to compulsion, watching hours of TV, baking like an imaginary 1950s housewife, constantly cleaning or cooking or staring at the walls, wondering.
I got better, eventually, and I didn’t drink.
Twist it again and I see everyone else. I see John and Julie. I see Beth, so many changes, love and marriage. I see new friends, and a few I’ve lost.
I’ve also lost some hair and some flexibility. Getting older is weird.
And I can see the drunk very clearly. I make a point of it. I have a theory that the further I away I get from him, the closer I approach again, so I try to stay opposite, watching, keeping an eye on him. He gets up early every morning to begin drinking. His hands shake like crazy. He resembles me only barely, now, but I remember and I know him. I want him to stay in my line of sight but at a distance, so I can see.
I can’t begin to estimate his body fat percentage.
This is not a big day for me. Some people like to celebrate these anniversaries; I celebrate with them, and have, but for me? Naw. Just worth noting, and moving on. The drunk will never go away, and will never give me a break, so it’s unwise for me to assume that 60 months makes much of a difference.
There is a difference, though, and if I celebrate anything today it’s that. A difference. I know that five years will blur memories; life is complicated and things happen, and even Julie and John, who lived with the daily chaos, probably don’t remember it well.
But I do. I have no choice. And while I don’t celebrate, I will be grateful. For love and concern, for help and understanding. For tolerance, for sure.
And for time, and how glorious it can be. I still get up early, when the house is quiet, although I drink nothing stronger than coffee. I take the dog out and look over the lawn, always mown now, an amends to my neighbors.
This summer is cooler than normal, and at dawn it can even be cold. As I watch Strider wander through the grass, if I stand there long enough I’ll start to shiver. It’s a good feeling. I know why my hands are shaking, and I know how to make them stop.