I don’t really do Valentine’s Day. I never have, for the most part—my husband finds the whole thing to be consumer-driven and I think I was only in a relationship for 2 Valentine’s Days of my life before him. It was kind of a big deal when I was younger—I will never find love! If no one gives me chocolate, I will die alone!—and even worse when I was in elementary school and all the kids in my class made “mailboxes” out of construction paper and then delivered those little 20-to-a-box valentines to everyone in the class. Those boxes were kind of fun—my mom and I would pick out the right assortment, and I’d spend some time deciding who would get which version of basically the same card. At some point, Conversation Hearts would be involved. It was fine.
The thing is, if you bought an assortment that involved animals, there was always some kind of huge cartoon animal in there—an elephant (“I could never forget YOU, Valentine!”), a whale, a hippo…something. And those were the cards that I got. Because kids are assholes. You get one of those cards in your cardboard mailbox, you don’t think twice about it. But when you're seven or eight and probably half—or more—of the valentines you receive are calling you fat, you don’t tend to grow up to have fond feelings about the day.
The other thing is that I wasn’t a fat kid. I was a giant kid—I stopped growing in 6th grade, and I am almost 5’8”, and I hit puberty in 4th grade and let me tell you there’s nothing so fun as being a 9-year-old with boobs who starts bleeding from her crotch at what were at the time basically random intervals—but I look at pictures of myself from then, and I simply was not fat. It didn’t matter. I was not athletic. I was way too smart to be cool. I had a limited understanding of social skills, especially with kids who were maybe not as sophisticated as I was (my parents pretty much always talked to me like I was an adult; other kids didn’t know what to make of me much of the time and I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t understand me). It didn’t help matters that my brother, who was just one grade above me, was a ridiculously skinny kid.
(That's me, on the left, at about the same time other kids were calling me a whale.)
Reading this over, I realize I sound bitter. I’m not. Kids are assholes—we’ve established this, yes? And I was an asshole, too, in different ways, because really, who wants to befriend someone who makes them feel stupid all the time?—but the fact of the matter is that they’re kids. They don’t know any better, and while some of them will grow up to be adult assholes, a large proportion of them will grow up to be kind, thoughtful individuals. Those kids are now fathers who carry their small children to bed after a long car ride home. They’re mothers who put notes in lunches or spend their evenings fixing bicycles. They’re husbands and wives and all the rest, and they carry with them their own damages, all of them bigger than what kind of animal they chose to use for my valentine. They should be damaged by the knowledge that they all thought they were being not just hilarious but original—every one of them—but they’re probably not. So, no. It’s not like this causes me pain as an adult, except for a sort of generalized ache I have for the kid I was—a kid so very different from me now that it’s like we grew up in different universes. I feel sorry for that kid, but not for myself, if that makes any sense (which it doesn’t. But not everything in the world does. So there).
But today is the 13th, anyway, not the 14th. It is the (pause for mental math…amuse yourselves for a minute…) 20th anniversary of my husband’s marriage proposal (spoiler alert: I said yes). We were on a beach. In Rhode Island. In February. I’ll let you paint your own picture on that one, but I’m certainly never going to forget it.
It also happens to be the first anniversary of the first time I stepped on our brand-new treadmill. It’s a lovely creature, with a quiet, 6-foot bed and a fold-up feature that we never use. It’s compatible with approximately eight million gizmos. It comes with a bunch of pre-programmed workouts and its incline goes up to 15, the treadmill version of turning an amp up to 11. It has a built-in fan and built-in speakers. It’s got these big air-spring things that cushion the bed. If it were white, it would look like something astronauts would use (why is everything white in astronaut movies, anyway?).
And on that first day, I walked for maybe 20 minutes. I played with the speed. I ratcheted up the incline to two, then four, then six. I walked incredibly slowly. I wasn’t trying to work out—even in my worst shape, I could walk distances at reasonable speeds, so it’s not one of those Biggest Loser stories where I was getting out of breath walking up a single flight of stairs or walking from my car to my office. I was in terrible shape, but not like that. I was just testing the waters. I’d never really been on a treadmill, and I wanted to play with it a little bit. And even then, the muscles in my ankles were shaky, and when I stepped off, I felt like I’d just stepped onto a boat. I needed treadmill sea legs. Luckily for me, I gained them quickly.
So where am I now? About 75 pounds lighter than I was a year ago, for one thing. Five dress sizes smaller*. I can run a mile 2 minutes faster than I ran my first mile (which happened sometime in June, I think...ironically, I’m too lazy to go figure it out). For that matter, I can run a mile. I can run SEVEN miles. This coming Saturday, as part of my half-marathon training, I’ll run eight. Last Saturday, after a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on my driveway and everything else in the immediate vicinity, I ran seven miles AND THEN WENT OUT AND SHOVELED SNOW. I didn’t get winded. I didn’t feel each shovelful in my arms the next day. That’s the part I’m excited about—not the weight (although, hello there, smaller jeans. How nice to see you again) and not even the distance, but the strength. I am mentally strong (because if you think that running for distance is just a physical effort, please let me know so that I can nod knowingly and then laugh and laugh and laugh). I am physically strong. My husband came into the room at about the 5-miles mark of my run on Saturday and I turned to him and very casually said, “I’ve just got 2 miles to go and then a cooldown and then we can talk about lunch, OK?” That blew him away.
And that’s where I am now. Seventy-five pounds is a little more than half of the weight I needed to lose. Seven miles is a little more than half of the distance of my upcoming (theoretical? We haven’t yet heard if we were chosen in the lottery for slots) half-marathon. It’s not a bad place to be, really. I'm going to keep getting faster and keep getting stronger and keep seeing just what, exactly, I'm made of. At the moment, I feel like I'm made almost entirely of possibilities, with a healthy dash of awesome and a glug or two of mighty.
*Do not believe the hype about a dress size equaling 10 pounds, by the way. First of all, sizing is nowhere near that accurate. Secondly, the size differentials seem to be greater in the larger sizes—the size difference between a person at 300 pounds and that same person at 290 pounds is way less significant, percentage-wise, than that of a person at 150 pounds and 140 pounds, for example. Also, the jeans I’m currently wearing are big enough that I can take them off without unbuttoning them. When I go to buy new jeans tomorrow—same brand, same cut, just one size down—they will be difficult to button. What is UP with that? At any rate, a pair of jeans, for me, is comfortably wearable (neither too big nor breathtakingly small) for somewhere between 15 and 20 pounds. This is, I am sure, more information than you wanted to know. So I’m not sure why you’re still reading. Shouldn’t you be out buying someone chocolates or something? It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, you know.