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Cinderella Arches

This is perhaps the greatest risk that any of us will take. To be seen as we truly are. - Fairy Godmother (Cinderella, 2015) 

Wendy and I were typical college girls in the 80s. We advised each other on relationships, clothes, and our appearance; I always admired Wendy’s comfort with her body. She was trim, but she didn’t exercise, nor was she a perfectionist. If the outfit was cute, then she looked cute in it.

I envied the comfort Wendy had in her own skin. On a hot day, Wendy wore shorts because it was hot. She wasn't overly concerned if her legs were white or untoned. In a bikini, she’d walk confidently and shamelessly to the water, looking over her shoulder at me, “Aren’t you coming?” I needed a minute to adjust my swimsuit, then I’d walk gingerly to the water trying to minimize body jiggle. I was a prisoner. Wendy was free.

One time Wendy and I were shopping for new bathing suits. She liked a powder blue and white two-piece. The colors and cut of the suit were pretty, but the fabric was unconventional and thick.

Wendy stepped out of the dressing room and looked at me for approval.

“That one looks like it’s made of flannel,” I said.

“Flannel? No, it doesn’t,” she said.

Wendy bought the suit. It looked nice on her slender, imperfect figure; but then, the moment of truth.

We went to a friend’s apartment pool. We laid in the sun for a bit, then Wendy announced she needed to cool off in the water. She trotted to the pool stairs with ease and conviction – or maybe it was childlike unawareness.

She entered the pool, swam around a bit, then exited, hair slicked back, a smile on her face. Only her swimming suit was hanging heavily from her frame. She may as well have worn a suit made of Turkish towels.

Wendy looked at me, knowing what I was thinking. I shrugged.

A few weeks later we headed to a popular creek for swimming and a picnic.

“Can I borrow one of your bathing suits?” Wendy asked.

Wendy [a.k.a. Em] and me in Sedona, Arizona, circa 1986.

I don’t think she ever wore the flannel suit again.

As time moved forward, Wendy lost the comfort with her body. She struggled with her weight for a decade or two but enjoyed purchasing ‘cute’ outfits regardless of her increasing size or what the scale said.

Although life separated us proximity-wise, Wendy and I remained close. We managed to visit a few times a year, stealing long conversations over lunch, coffee, or wine.

“I’m fat,” she’d say.

“You’re beautiful,” I’d say.

But I sympathized with her struggle. I told her if I lived closer, I’d be her exercise partner. Although she hated to exercise. Other than a brief roller-blading phase in the late 80s and early 90s, I never knew Wendy to move fast or sweat.

Wendy died on April 18, 2011. Ovarian cancer killed her. She would have been 52-years-old this year.

Before she died, I had the privilege of spending time with her during some brief visits. I traveled from Utah to Arizona when I could to see her in the last few months of her life.

Wendy hated the way she looked when she was dying. She said some cancer patients lost weight, and their faces looked naturally beautiful – ethereal almost. Wendy was grey, carried a little extra weight, and was self-conscious of her skin in general. She was really only comfortable with her immediate family seeing her at the end.

On one of my visits, I went with Wendy and her mother to a chemo treatment. When we returned to Wendy’s house, her mom and I helped her to bed. We noticed her feet needed a pedicure. Wendy’s mother said she’d make a mental note to bring her pedicure tools so we could work on Wendy’s feet.

“Your heels need some attention,” we teased her.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. 

The last time I saw Wendy before she died, it had been several weeks since her chemo appointment. Wendy’s mother and I were standing together, looking at Wendy as she rested. Her feet were kicked out from under the sheet. I noticed they looked soft and smooth. I asked her mother if she’d given Wendy a pedicure. “No,” she said, “her feet buffed and softened on their own. I think because they haven’t been used much.”

The reality of calluses self-healing due to a person’s bed-ridden state was sharp. Wendy had lovely feet, I thought. They were small, with nicely shaped toes and toenails, and graceful arches. Her feet reminded me of Cinderella’s in the scene where the prince slides the glass slipper on her foot. Wendy had Cinderella arches.

I recently spent a few days in Miami Beach, Florida. One morning I walked past Muscle Beach South Beach. Two very fit men, wearing matching black, thong Speedos, baseball hats flipped backward, and playful expressions were practicing gymnastic-like moves. One man would hold a hand-stand on a bar two feet off the ground, toes pointed, tanned body glistening in the humid morning air, while his companion watched and encouraged. “Looking good! You’ve got it! Perfect!” And they were kind of perfect, in an Artemision Bronze kind of way.

In contrast, while lying on the beach, I saw several people in string bikinis and thongs, who clearly didn’t devote as much time and energy to sculpting their bodies. Wendy would love this, I thought. She would have enjoyed Muscle Beach, and she would have enjoyed swimming in the ocean on a hot day with all the people. Young, old, thin, plump, pale, dark, smooth, wrinkled, but all comfortable wearing teeny, tiny swimming suits and freely entering and exiting the water.

I don’t wear a thong, but I do wear a two-piece bathing suit. The first day on the beach, I felt self-conscious of my aging, white body. Before leaving my lounge chair for the water, I triple-checked for exposed side-boob and picked my suit bottom out of my butt crack, pulling and snapping the elastic around my entire rear-end.

The more I thought of Wendy, our evolution as women, the pretty men on Muscle Beach, and the imperfect, near-naked people on South Beach, my confidence grew.

I walked to the water’s edge, sometimes running like Dudley Moore on hot sand in “10,” with my flat feet, man toes proudly painted navy blue, unconcerned with jiggle, side-boob, or ass-wedgie. The water was refreshing. I floated, swam, looked at the sky and talked to Wendy, informing her of my latest revelations and telling her how much I missed her.

If there’s a heaven, I know Wendy’s there. And I hope she occasionally rocks her flannel bikini and a pair of glass slippers.

The last photo taken of Wendy and me together, October 2009, 18 months before she died.



2016 Biggies: Fifty and College-Bound

I'm 50 now. Actually, closer to 51 as of this writing. My last post was about turning 49 -- simultaneously seems like 20 years ago, and 20 minutes ago.

Fifty isn't terrible, but it's definitely different. Yes, many people are living longer, remaining physically and intellectually active for decades beyond their 50th jubilee. We're a good-looking bunch...for our age. And examples of folks pursuing new careers and accomplishing amazing things only because of the seasoning that comes with years lived truly inspires me. But, it feels like a bittersweet graduation of sorts. Congratulations! You made it through life's undergraduate school! Graduate programs are highly individualized and length of study is unknown. Good luck! Commencement date for advanced life degrees varies. And, it's curtains.

In addition to being 50, I'm now the mother of a college student. My oldest son, Parke, graduated from high school and is studying something...somewhere. He's as prepared and ready as a young person can be in this fast-paced, competitive, complicated time. He left excited and happy!

My college transition experience was the antithesis of Parke's.

August 1984 -- Austin, Texas
I watched the rental car back away. My parents in the front seat, Dad driving, looking over his shoulder to avoid hitting something -- and probably avoid looking at me -- Mom sitting beside him, and my 15-year-old brother peering between them from the backseat. My family said goodbye to me, returned their rental car, and boarded a plane for Phoenix, Arizona. They moved for my father's job the same weekend I transitioned to life as a college student.

I stood in an alley adjacent to the women's co-op that was my new home as my family left, and cried. It was what I thought I wanted. I was three months beyond my 18th birthday. The boy I loved, and had planned to attend college with, had bizarrely been denied admittance to the large state school. He instead, was going to an even better private university in Dallas -- three hours away. I didn't have a car or much spending money, and neither did he. I was completely alone. My family, now states away, and a steady boyfriend, essentially gone.

Dad, me, and Mom -- Wakonda Women's Co-op, University of Texas, August 1984

Me -- Co-op Courtyard, University of Texas, August 1984College wasn't awesome for me. Confused, mentorless, heartsick, and homesick, I flopped around for a few years unsure of what to do or who I was. I only lasted in Texas for a year before transferring to a smaller Arizona school. In hindsight, the giant state school was a terrible fit for a young, naive, immature, directionless girl. There's no one to blame and there's much more to my story; my experiences have made me who I am.

But, I want something different...better...for my kids. My husband feels the same and comes from a similar mentorless, freewheeling past. Some guidance, attention, and support within the education system would have been nice. However, as the saying goes...if things had been too much different, my husband and I wouldn't have met, fallen in love, and created our family. None of us can imagine not knowing our children.

August 2016 -- Malibu, California
So...my son. We attended a comprehensive new student/parent orientation program for a few days at his school before saying goodbye. Then we cried like babies. Parke's attending a school of his choosing (funded by a sizeable scholarship -- we're not fans of paying big money for undergraduate education), and we've done our best to ensure he's had, and has, the things we felt were lacking in our stories. Classic projection. But, projected with so much love, sincerity, and desire for our son to know he is supported. No matter what.

 Me, Parke, and Chris -- Pepperdine University, August 2016

Back to my 50th
June 5, 2016 was a beautiful day. My son had graduated three days prior -- an equally beautiful day -- and my family was happy and healthy. A 40-mile bike ride with my husband and father made me feel grateful for my health. A barbecue dinner in the backyard with my parents, husband, and sons left me feeling loved and celebrated. The simplest things are truly the grandest, and most memorable. For me.

Chris, me, and Dad -- Alpine, Utah, June 2016

I know my son's college commencement date -- May 2020. My advanced life degree commencement date? TBD. But, I intend to graduate with honors.


Turning 49

On June 5, I turned 49. Knocking on 50's door sounds old when I view it as a chunk of time; almost half of a century. Fifty, like every decade that seemed too old and impossible for me to enter, beginning with 30, becomes more youthful, appropriate -- not so old -- the closer I get to it. Looking back at the milestone years, especially viewing photographs, I think...Man, I was young. Why was I so self-conscious of my appearance? I also recall what was happening in my life -- the things that troubled me, left me feeling dissatisfied, unfulfilled. What could have possibly given me stress? I should have enjoyed more and worried less. Moved through the struggles and challenges, breathing, and knowing everything was going to be all right. Not easy, but all right.

I spent my birthday mostly solo. My teenage sons had long-laid plans with friends to spend the day and evening at a local amusement park, celebrating the end of the school year. My husband had to work; although he offered to do anything I wanted. I wanted to get my nails done, which I did at 7:30 AM. I wanted to see a movie that I knew neither my husband nor 9-year-old son would likely enjoy. And, I wanted to shop for and choose a new mountain bike. The time alone truly appealed to me.

The movie was Iris. With freshly painted red toenails and Tiffany Blue fingernails I made my way to downtown Salt Lake City, battling traffic generated by the Utah Pride Festival and a public funeral service at Temple Square for an LDS apostle who died earlier in the week. The contrasting attire and general energy contained within cars and spilling onto sidewalks amused me. Midday, at the Broadway Centre Theatre with seven other viewers -- all older than me by at least 20 years -- I was touched and inspired by Iris Apfel and her husband Carl. It was the perfect documentary to watch on a day that began with me baking my birthday cake (after returning from my early morning nail appointment), thinking about aging, and contemplating new boobs. All things I'm perfectly comfortable with.

I'm far from a fashionista like Iris, although I enjoy creating and playing with aesthetics and style. But Iris Apfel is more than her fashion icon label; she's a woman who's lived life fully, is intelligent, curious, and well-matched with her adoring husband, Carl. She knows who she is and is unapologetic, yet not nasty or unkind. I just love her. And Carl. Maybe you will, too.

One week into being 49, I've handled the mundane -- scheduled windows and carpets to be cleaned, received bids on house repairs, grocery shopped and laundered for the family -- and fielded a TB scare (yes, as in tuberculosis -- I don't have it). I've also laughed with friends, run on trails, worked on my novel, read entertaining fiction, and looked out very clean windows. All with brightly colored nails, and a renewed tenacity for life, dreams, and fluidity...

...while a sheepdog who loves me patiently waits for my attention.

John and my nails.