Maybe it’s the irony of life or the universe thumbing it’s nose at me, but with each passing day I’m truly feeling that expiration date on my existence getting closer and closer. Getting closer to death as we age isn’t ironic, but the fact I keep getting more content in life and happy within it while my joints, limbs, and extremities seem to turn to compost is. I was a disgruntled youth, a pessimistic young adult, and a parent of young kids in existential crisis. As a middle-aged guy I feel emotionally and mentally in the best shape of my life. Physically? Man, I don’t know.
I spent Saturday mowing, pulling weeds, and then cleaning the house. I felt pretty damn good. By Sunday my left knee was clicking like a Timex, my lower back was screaming like a wolf in a bear trap, and my neck felt like someone had cut four inches of muscle out of it while I slept. I was hobbling and mewing around the house wondering how I got here, and I’m still wondering.
I was never the athletic type. I was always the “big-boned” kid, wearing Husky jeans and usually growing out of the cool Mork and Mindy t-shirts I’d get from 3-D within a couple months. My mom had to tell me to stop wearing the Snoopy t-shirt I kept pulling from the basement “to Goodwill” basket because she nearly decapitated me pulling it off me since I couldn’t get it over my head. I got my physique from my mom’s dad and his brothers. Big-boned, German-blooded with chiseled brows that came up in the Great Depression. Not strong out of exercise and diet, but out of being workhorses their whole lives. And good old-fashioned DNA. After an awkward few years of elementary school and junior high I eventually grew into my big bones, and by senior year I was what you’d call lanky. I stayed that way pretty much till I reached adulthood with responsibilities like truck payments, utilities, rent, then mortgage.
At some point the weight returned, and with it a stagnancy that would hang around till we went through our second miscarriage. By then I just felt bloated and weak, like I was causing these blighted ovums to happen because my sperm itself was sporting double chins and high cholesterol. I changed course, joined a fitness center, and spent from 2002 to 2004 changing how I ate and getting an exercise routine going. I went from 264 lbs to 217 lbs in just over two years. Slow and steady wins the race, ehh? In that time we had two more kids and no more miscarriages, so maybe even my sperm got more svelte. Or maybe not, but something changed in and out of me. For the first time in my life I felt pretty amazing. But I was also still relatively young with a lot to figure out emotionally. A husband, father of three young kids, and still trying to figure out who this new me was. I may have gone down a couple pant sizes, but I still felt like that kid with the two sizes too small Snoopy t-shirt screaming for someone to help him take it off.
There’s a settling process in life. Most people think that settling is a bad thing, but I don’t. Until you’ve settled, there’s that chance of movement and damage. Like a house sinking into its foundation, until it’s settled in completely things shift, crack, creak, and tiny fissures appear in the form of spidery lines on the walls. The veneer buckles until a peace is reached. I had plenty of shifts, cracks, creaks, and buckling the last 15 years. I had to find common ground with all the “me’s” inside me; from the little kid in Husky jeans to the awkward teen in junior high to the mulleted high school senior to the unsure young husband and father not wanting to see his wife crying in the OB/GYN’s office again. We all sat down together and talked it over around nine years ago and came to an agreement. We’re all the same person. There’s no compartmentalizing and there’s no denying all these facets. We’re all those things at the same time, and once that agreement was reached I finally felt my life settle. No more shifts, creaks, and cracks in the wall. No more buckling veneer or shaking chandeliers in the dining room. A kind of mental peace was reached and life got better. Sure, there’s always bumps in the road. But when you’re in a good, healthy place mentally the bumps aren’t nearly as jarring.
I did continue to workout, though. I’d had a fitness membership since 2002 and continued to have one up until a couple years ago. I may have gained about 15 lbs back thru the years, but I remained relatively comfortable in my own skin(and jeans.) But back in 2016 all the years of dumb, caveman lifting and working on concrete floors for 25 years caught up with my spine and I’d ended up with a herniated disc. It happened so fast and I’d gone to the doc in such quick time that I’d had surgery to fix it within a month and a half of the diagnosis. Three weeks at home, then another month of weight restrictions and I was back at it, with almost 100% recovery. But the thing about back surgery is that it does lessen your flexibility. You’re not as limber, and you’re a hell of a lot more iffy on weight lifting. My exercise routines got less strenuous and I was counting mowing the lawn as an exercise. I dropped my fitness membership and just walked after work at home. It wasn’t Olympic training, but it was something.
This past February my wife decided she wanted to get a YMCA family membership. I’d secretly wanted one for awhile, as I was just feeling stagnant, stiff, and immobile. There was also a mental aspect to exercise that I’d greatly missed, and that was the stress relief that came with it. I feel that anger and stress builds up in the body and eventually manifests itself in physical maladies like headaches, pulled muscles, mental fog, and, well death. Exercise works those mental kinks out, and while I was good on the home front work was causing me to be on edge all the time. At least if I could have a place to go and decompress in a healthy way(as opposed to drinking to numb the stress) I could deal with the work junk. My wife coming around to getting healthier was the push I needed.
We both started going, her in the mornings with a friend and me after work on my own. I workout better by myself. I lock into music or a podcast and power through. It’s been my process since the early days. We had a solid three weeks of going four, five times a week and started a routine. I was feeling pretty damn good, running and lifting and feeling stronger. I was down 12 lbs and then along came the Coronavirus and the world shut down.
I’m now anxiously awaiting for when I can start going again. Hopefully by the end of the month. I’ve been walking, but not as much as I’d like thanks to Indiana weather. Started mowing, so that’s something. But then the knee, the back, the neck, and I’m reminded of my mortality and my middle-aged disadvantages physically.
I find myself wishing I could go back in time and tell my younger self the importance of exercise, or even just regular movement. I’m not talking Mr. Universe here; like popping veins in my neck doing dead lifts or running marathons through the streets of Chicago. Just balancing good habits with not-so good. Sitting down and signing an accord between the angel and devil that sit upon everyone’s shoulders. It would’ve made middle age so much easier. Hell, even proper lifting techniques and more supportive shoes might’ve saved me a trip to the spinal doctor.
I guess if I’m going to struggle with something I’d rather it be with a trick knee and lower back pain, as opposed to trying to figure out who the hell I am at 46-years old. I do know who I am, and I’m pretty good with who that is. My wife seems to like me still, so I guess she is too. And my kids have turned into people I like to be around and they seem to still find me entertaining.
Beyond that, it really doesn’t matter to me.
I suppose I’ll just not worry about the expiration date. I’m not like milk that’s gone bad. More like that bottle of mustard in the fridge with years worth of crust and age. It may have gone bad a year ago, but I think it’s still good. It’s mustard, what could go wrong?
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger