I turned 59 on April 22nd. Still hard to say that number, “59”. And I don’t feel compelled to say it over and over again to desensitize myself. It stings every time I hear it. Why? I don’t know, exactly.
“Age is just a number,” my young men tell me. All of them say that. It’s quite flattering, and yet absolutely ludicrous. Age is just a number, until you hit 50. Then age isn’t just a number. It’s a marker of the places your body starts to change, visibly change.
It’s at about age 50 you begin to look in the mirror and what you see doesn’t line up with how you feel inside. I figure I’ll always be right around 36 years old inside. Imagine the shock when I’m going about the business of living my life in my forever 36-year-old mind and catch a glimpse of my 59-year-old self in the mirror. It’s a shock. Always a shock.
Sometimes I see my mother out of the corner of my eye and have to jerk my head around and look in the mirror straight on. Nope. Just me. It’s quite terrifying. Why? Because I’m 36 inside. The way I look in the mirror doesn’t match me. And yet, it’s an exact match.
Fifty is also about the time your body starts to betray you, to fail you. It’s about the time you start seeing the doctor more often, start adding in prescription meds, and start getting referrals to specialists for this or that new symptom. It's when you're supposed to have your first colonoscopy. Well, I slid on that one. I shouldn't have. I have to have one every three years now. But that is one nasty experience overall, no denying it. (Sorry, kids.)
It took a while, but I’ve had some pretty significant health scares in the last month, right around that 59 marker. I was in Texas with my niece, Jayne, and her family for my birthday. She’s 34, works as a nurse, and is a new mom to three young foster siblings. She’s always been the stable, mature, grounding influence in my life. We had some long talks about my health, and what my quality of life will be like moving forward.
“I knew it was going to get to this,” I said. “You can’t hover at 300 pounds most of your adult life and not have there be significant health consequences. I knew I was doing this to myself. I knew all along. I just didn’t know how to stop. Well, I’m ready to make some changes.”
We talked about how unlikely it is the damage I’ve done to my body will be reversed, although the body does have an amazing ability to heal and restore itself. But the ownness is on me, at this point, to get the weight off and get moving. There are no guarantees things will improve. But they most certainly won’t improve if I don’t make the changes I need to make in terms of aggressively managing my health.
My niece and her husband and I were sitting around the dinner table, and I made the remark, “It’s sad it takes a health scare like this to get me to a place where I’m motivated to finally make a change. I saw this coming. Why didn’t I do what I needed to do when I knew I needed to do it?”
Jayne’s husband is a paramedic. “Coco, you’re just like all the other people I pick up in the ambulance. It seems to take a major scare to get people on track. It’s sad that’s how it works, but I see it time and again.”
I’ve seen it time and again, too. I had a friend, Andy, a Lyft driver from Louisville. We dated a bit then became friends. It was January 2020 I checked in with him last. He was in the hospital. He’d had a heart attack.
“You’ve got to get on top of your health, girl,” he admonished.
“Andy, I’ve got no one that would miss me if I were gone. You have children. You have to fight. I have no one. I have nothing.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” he said. “I can fight this. I can do this. If I can, you can. Life is worth living, Coco. You know that or you wouldn’t still be here. You fight. You fight. You’re a survivor. Do it.”
I spent quite a lot of time thinking about what he’d said. He was spot on, of course.
I checked in with him a few days later. His ex-wife answered the phone.
“Andy passed away last night,” she said, calmly, kindly.
We talked for a while. I told her how Andy had taken me to the grocery store when I had no income, waited for me, took me to get my prescriptions, just went out of his way to help when I had no one to help. "Yep, that's Andy," she said.
I was shocked he’d passed, but not really. I like to think when bad things happen, we get a second chance. But not always. Andy got a few more days, but now he’s gone.
Two years later, it’s me with the health scares. I did nothing after Andy’s passing. I waited and continued down the path of self-sabotage until something terrifying happened inside of me. Why does the wake-up call have to come from within? Why can we not see the danger when it happens to others and make the change for ourselves? If only I knew the answer.
It appears I may be getting a second chance. But it’s time for change. What’s done can’t be undone. But I have full control of how I choose in the moment. I want to make better choices in the moment. And I am. And I will.
I Persevere. And life goes on.
[Original publication date: 5/15/2022]