I sat across from her on the twinkle-lit terrace outside the restaurant. We had a view of the entire glimmering bay from our table, as well as the lush green mountain tumbling down below our perch. It was hard to imagine a cause for her knit brow in this setting, but as she looked down at the menu, there it was.
“I’m having soup”, she said.
“What???” The chorus rose up from around the table.
“It took me almost two months to lose two kilos and I just can’t forget all of my hard work”, she said and then grabbed a handful of her belly flesh to emphasize. “I can’t stand this! It’s summer and I have to be in better shape...my tennis skirt...”, she trailed off.
I didn’t want to be rude, so I tried not to react. This was not exactly news to me anyway. Every time I see her she talks about her weight, her size, her diet. She asks me for weight loss tips, not quite understanding that my emphasis on nutrition is the opposite of what she thinks. I smile and tell her she’s beautiful, ask her what movies she’s seen lately.
It’s becoming worse, to be honest. Not satisfied with scrutinizing her own diet, she has begun food shaming everyone around her. I can see her frustration when people push back on her, when she pushes back on herself. She will swear of dessert, but then ask for a bite, her face twisted. I wonder if it even tastes good or if the emotion turns the cake to sawdust in her mouth, as useless as regret.
She is 78 years old.
This should be a story about how awesome it is for an almost-octogenarian to still be playing tennis. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale about pain and perspective. How many more nights like this, filled with good food and cool air and sunsets and family, would she actually have left? How many meals were “too decadent” and had to be skipped when you are in your 8th decade of life? At what point does the pursuit of a “looking good in my tennis skirt” reveal itself to be the most pointless waste of brain cells, breath, and time?
Sometimes, I am hard on myself. I have a bad body image day here and there. I might throw myself a great, big pity party over not being able to run. I get annoyed with myself for those things. Jeeze, Jill...you should know better. After that night, I have to remind myself that I actually DO.
And that night, she provided a reminder.
I will savor every sunset on ever terrace. I will never frown at a menu. I will love that I have legs that work, in and out of tennis skirts. I will always enjoy my dessert.