Desperate Times-Drastic Actions

by Cynthia Shaw

March 20, 2020

I feel so fat!  Every time I walk down the street my legs rub against each other.  Ugg.  This is awful.  And my stomach has this below the bellybutton bump that is so embarrassing when I sit down.  I can feel the fat sitting on tops of my thighs.  When I get dressed, I look at myself in the mirror and my hips have taken on this bizarre shape somewhere between a mangled pear and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  How did this happen?  It was only like ten years ago that I lost all that weight.  I had given up bread and pasta and stopped eating pecan sandies before bed.  And suddenly my clothes were too big.  My pants were hanging off my hips and my shoulders were smaller than my shirts.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on or conceive that I might have lost weight.  Now, I may look smart, but I can also be totally clueless.  It’s like when I was younger and would get my period.  Every month I was surprised.  I’d feel sick and my stomach would hurt, and then a day later it would dawn on me: “Oh yeah, it’s my period.“ This went on throughout my teens, 20s, 30’s, 40’s.   And even when menopause started, I didn’t notice when I missed my period for a couple of months and my bedtime blanket had suddenly turned into my mortal enemy:  blanket on, blanket off, blanket on, blanket off.  Why am I so hot every night?  Who keeps playing with the thermometer?  You would think I would have put two and two together.  But I didn’t.  

 

Getting back to ten years ago and my shrinking body.  I was always afraid to own a scale, but not my health-conscious friend Peggy, who diligently weighed herself every morning as she again reminded me as we ate bland tofu and veggies for lunch.  She said, “Are you dieting or something? You look smaller.”  “No, not really.  I just gave up some things,”  I didn’t want to admit anything to her because her obsession with health kinda scared me.  But I snuck away to her bathroom, got on the scale and, amazingly, I’d lost 15 pounds.  I couldn’t believe it!  Fifteen pounds!  I was so excited.  I shopped for new clothes, bought a slinky black dress, and gave away my fat clothes to Goodwill. “No more,” I said.  I even dared to buy a bikini, my first ever, and wore it on the beach at Cancun that Christmas.   I was at 135 pounds and was going to stay that way.  Forever!

 

So, now it’s ten years later, and pound by pound, inch by inch, the weight has gradually come back and I just feel like a blob.  I don’t want to give away my smaller clothes, like that slinky black dress hanging in my closet or the bikini that is forlornly forgotten at the bottom of my drawer under my large size t-shirts.  They're my just-in-case clothes.  So rather than freak out, I start easy.  Nothing drastic.  I take walks every morning and count my steps trying to reach that magical number, 10,000.  Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t.  At my yearly gynecological checkup my doctor looks at my chart and says, “Oh, I see you’ve lost some weight.”  I’m flustered, but hopeful.  “Really, you think so?” “Yes,” she replies, “your chart shows last year you weighed 175 pounds, but now you’re down to 150.  Good for you.”  I’m so embarrassed that I’ve hit 150 and I cry out, “No!  I never weighed 175!”  She looks puzzled.  “Oh, the nurse must have made a mistake.” 

 

It’s now January, 2020.  A new year full of resolutions and promise.  New beginnings and hope.

 

Enter Facebook.  There’s been a lot of discussion recently about people being targeted by Facebook ads.  You know, it’s late at night, I’m brushing my teeth, washing my face, getting ready to go to bed.  And out of the blue I think about Barcelona.  “Ah….it’s so pretty there.  Right next to the beach. The warm sun.  Fragrant orange blossoms.  Tapas bars.  I’d love to be there right now.”  Next morning, I’m drinking coffee and absentmindedly scroll through Facebook to see what’s going on.  And there’s an ad for a beach hotel in Barcelona.  How did Facebook know?  This is kinda creepy.  I finish the cup, pour some more coffee and add a little extra half and half.  “Oh, maybe I should put skim milk in my coffee,” I think as I touch my blobby hips.  And then I see it.  A Facebook ad for kickboxing!  Special rates. Click here to sign up for a consultation.  Now.  And I do!  Without even a second thought, I click and sign up for a 3pm consultation the following Monday.  As the week progresses, I start getting worried and consider cancelling the appointment.  But I don’t.  I get email reminders about the appointment — “Monday at 3 pm has been set aside just for you.”  I feel strangely special.  Now, just so you know, I barely know what kickboxing is.  I have never worked out in a gym and only see young, fit people in their skimpy outfits walking in and out of these temples of fitness.   I’m a little jealous of them, but can’t imagine myself going to a gym.  So I’m mildly curious and on Monday I find myself walking to the kickboxing gym.  Inside there are people like me.  Plump women, super overweight women, thin women, all of us in our late 40’s early 50’s.  Facebook has targeted well.  And I can see we all want the same thing:  to feel pretty.  The man is nice, comforting and speaks of the benefits of kickboxing, eating healthily and drinking lots of water.  I understand this and echo my support to the other women.  He says, “You might not lose weight, but your body will shape up and get more muscular and, trust me, by summertime you’ll be able to proudly wear that swimsuit to the beach.”  I think about my bikini sitting at the bottom of my drawer.  I believe him.  He continues, “It’s a 16-week program and you have to go three times a week. After that you can cancel if you want.  But trust me, you won’t want to.”  He passes out the contract. I speed read it, and without even thinking, sign up.  I pay my money.  I encourage others to sign up, too.  I am suddenly a convert.  I have never kickboxed!  I leave and walk home with a smile on my face.  But as I near my apartment building, I start to uncontrollably sweat and my stomach churns.  I think I’m going to throw up.  “What have I done?  I’m a classical pianist and I’ve signed up for kickboxing.   I’ll be wearing gloves and hitting a bag with my hands.  My precious hands!”  I try to calm myself down.  “I’ll only go once a week.  That won’t be so bad.”  But when I get home I really read the contract.   I have to go three times a week for sixteen weeks or the contract is null and void and I will automatically have to pay for the entire year.  No exceptions.  I’m stuck.  I have to go.  

 

The night before my first session I can’t sleep.  My brain is going round and round.  “What if I break my knuckles and can’t practice the piano? Or even worse, I’ll be never be able to play the piano again!   What if I’m so exhausted after the class I pass out and I can’t make it home and they have to call an ambulance and take me to the hospital?  Then, even if I do drag myself home, I’ll sleep all day from fatigue and won’t be able to get  any work done.  And this happens three times a week for SIXTEEN weeks.  WHAT HAVE I DONE????”  In my terror, I shake my peacefully snoring husband, David, and I tell him my fears.  He looks at me through groggy eyes and says, “I don’t know, you might like it.  It might be fun.”  That had never occurred to me.  That I might like it.  

 

And I do.  I like it.  A lot!  I love my teachers.  They are fun, athletic, intelligent and physically fit.  And boy can they punch that bag. Hard.  And I learn how to kickbox without breaking my knuckles, without hurting my hands.  “Jab-cross-hook-round house kick, upper cut, upper cut.”  Repeat.  “Jab-cross-hook-round house kick, upper cut, upper cut.”   Sometimes I have to stop during the workouts, take a sip of water and sit down for a few minutes.  But then I’m back, renewed, and I keep trying.   I make friends with other people in the class and we commiserate with each other, laughing at our frailty and weaknesses.  Which teachers we like, which ones are tough.  And of course our favorite, Coach Wade, who had served in Afghanistan and knows how to shoot a gun, is the kindest, funniest and most understanding teacher.  He has the longest, strongest legs I have ever seen.  He can literally kick the top of the bag, over and over.  And he makes us work!  I take selfies with him and some of the other teachers and post them on Instagram where we follow each other.  My hips are slimming down and by week 7, I proudly wear my slinky black dress to a film opening.  By the beginning of week 9, I know I will continue after the 16 week contract is over.     

 

And then the Corona Virus!  Thankfully, the gym is still open and I go to the last class of week 9.  There are fewer people, but we hearty types are there and it’s ok because we can have more space.  We can easily keep the recommended 6 foot distance between us.  The great thing about kickboxing is that you have no contact with other people.  It’s just you, your gloves and your bag.  You punch your bag, you kick your bag, you do sit-ups, jumping jacks, crunches, pushups, running in place.  It’s very aerobic.  After class everyone wipes down their bags and the floor with antiseptic wipes provided by the gym.  We always do this.  I feel safe.  I walk home satisfied that I will still be able to get my workout.  But Sunday night while watching ‘God Friended Me’ on TV, I pick up my phone and check my email:  the gym is closed.  All gyms in the city are closed.  I should have figured this would happen but at the same time, I’m so disappointed.  Of all the the things that have been taken away, and this even includes going to concerts, the movies and theatre, kickboxing is the most upsetting.  I had finally found an exercise that spoke to me and challenged me in a beautiful, holistic way.  Made me feel better about myself and more positive about life.  The email said the gym would continue to pay their free-lance instructors.  I write back and thank them for that and say I’ll be back the moment they reopen.  They reply that they’re grateful.  Coach Wade is now posting daily video exercises on Instagram, determined to keep us all in shape.  I haven’t joined in, but I will.  Soon.  Today I walked to the gym and looked through the window at the empty bags just hanging there, waiting to be punched and kicked.  I took a picture, posted it on Instagram and tagged Coach Wade, the gym and the other teachers.  They all liked my post.  

 

I can’t wait for this virus to be over. 

Me and Coach Wade

Cynthia Shaw | New York City

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