Tag Archives: divorce

Thinking, Again…

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Do you think we’re a little weight-obsessed?

Several years ago, a man working with the public here on the island went – over a period of several months – from a sturdy and strong but a little-bit paunchy middle-aged person to a lean, if a bit haggard-looking one. “You look great,” he heard time and time again. “What are you doing to lose all that weight?” It turned out, he had an aggressive cancer, and only a short time to live.

My daughter, who was always just plump enough to frustrate her, slimmed down over a difficult period that included a pregnancy plagued with gestational diabetes, a divorce, a move, and caring for a newborn. She ran into an old friend, who had also recently been divorced after a long marriage, and suffered all the trauma usually associated with it. As they hugged and exchanged pleasantries, they admired each other’s sleek figures. “No doubt about it,” my daughter said, “divorce looks damn good on a woman!”

I have a friend whose mother struggled with her weight for most of her life. She regularly attended a weight-loss support group, where the participants were put on a scale each week, to note pounds lost. They recognized the biggest loser by giving them a crown to wear during the rest of the meeting. When she got sick, she swore her daughter to secrecy. She wanted the members of her group to think she was dropping pounds due to determination and hard work, not from the effects of cancer and chemotherapy. She carefully dressed and did her make-up, and covered her bald head before each session. One day, when my friend picked her up from the meeting, she grumbled, “I’d have gotten the crown today, if it weren’t for the weight of this damn turban!”

I went sailing once, as part of a three-person crew in a 29-foot sailboat, in late October. We traveled from Beaver Island’s harbor in Lake Michigan, through the straits of Mackinac, and down the length of Lake Huron to Port Huron. There were a million things to marvel at and leave an impression, from the big bowl of stars that was the night sky, to the quiet and calm taking turns with raging waters, to five days of seasickness. When I tell the story, though, I always mention that I lost two pounds a day.

Similarly, when my sister died suddenly, and I went down-state to help take over her job of caring for my mother at the end of her life, the emotions and experiences altered my life and my way of looking at the world. I could go on and on – and probably have – about that precious and awful time. I always note – as one good thing in the midst of so much sadness – that I lost ten pounds in two weeks.

I know of two women, beloved by all for their kindness and generosity of spirit, beautiful both inside and out, who see their weight as a big failure in life. And I know they’re not alone. I remember the old experiment that asks participants to not think of an elephant; suddenly, they can think of nothing else. I don’t think weight is unimportant; general health and overall well-being are directly related to the weight we carry. I just think we need another obsession.

More of Charbridge

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Jennifer, summer, 1975

“Pivotal,” I said, regarding the not quite four years I lived at Charbridge Arbor.

Many things contributed to the impact those years had on my life. Few were directly related to this address.

My daughter, Katey, was born in December of 1974, less than two months after we moved in. Having a child is life-changing. One would think that having a second child was more of the same…but, no. A second child changes everything: the worry; the work; the family dynamic; the love. It’s much more than double…it’s more like one hundred-fold. So, that was the first big change in my life during the years I lived at Charbridge.

I started college. I was not one of those people that thrived in high school. I was smart and capable, but hated almost everything about school. I couldn’t wait to graduate, to be done with that forever…but, I found, forever is a very long time. Once I was married and had children, I had fulfilled every goal I was brought up to reach for. What next? First, my friend Linda and I took a couple evening enrichment classes at the high school. My sister Brenda enrolled in classes at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, and suggested that I do the same. I was terrified; I would have never done it without her encouragement. I may not have anyway, but…

Because my daughters were born via caesarean section, and  Kate was born with pneumonia and other complications that required a ten-day hospital stay, and we had no health insurance, we had racked up a very large hospital bill. Once hospitals cure you…or deliver your baby…they have little recompense to get you to pay the bill. For this reason, it is my theory that they hire the vilest, cruelest, most demeaning bullies they can find, to try to collect. One day, after a particularly harrowing conversation with one of those gentlemen, our telephone service was turned off for lack of payment. Inconvenient…but a relief, nonetheless. A couple hours later, the electricity was disconnected for the same reason.

Now, with a six-month old baby and a three-year-old, I was getting concerned. Where was my husband, anyway? It was hours past the time he should have been home. I had no car, no telephone and no lights. I fed the baby and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Jen. My husband came home after dark. He had quit his job, he explained, then went to the bar to get up his courage to come home and tell me about it.

Looking back, I can think of several different conclusions this scenario could have brought me to. Many of them even make sense! At the time, I thought, “Obviously I cannot count on him to support our family, so I’d better plan to do it myself.” To that end, I did not intend to go out immediately and get a job. No, that would have been far too practical. Instead, I enrolled for classes at the community college with my sights set (I was just so unbearably naive!) on an Arts degree!

Finally, Charbridge Arbor changed the view I had of myself. It’s a testament to how very young and insecure I was, that a nice home could bring up my self esteem…but it did. It changed me from the inside out. I tried out different things. I permed my hair; I pulled it back into a bandana (“She looks like she could tell fortunes,” was Grandma B’s assessment of that look!). I bought Puma running shoes and tried to take up jogging. I piled my daughters into the stroller and walked all over the town. We went visiting: we’d stop in to see Terry’s Uncle Chet and Aunt Ada, or we visited my sister Nita on Court Street (she lived in the same apartment I had started out in!). When Jen started kindergarten, Kate and I would walk with her to the door, then we’d often get in the car and go to see my Mom and Dad. We went to the park so regularly, Jen thought it was hers. I enrolled my daughters in swimming classes, and then took them myself, too. I taught myself to cook Chinese food. I baked fancy sweet breads for holidays. I started collecting baskets, and books. Many of these patterns have stayed with me, and help define the person I’ve become.

When we left Charbridge Arbor, it was for the adventure of moving to Beaver Island.

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Katey, Easter morning, 1978