Sunday, July 23, 2006
By Rose Ross
A few weeks after my 55th birthday, I came upon the discovery that somewhere, somehow, I had lost my waistline. I had just finished my daily workout at the gym. I was feeling a glow and enjoying the sensation of beads of sweat trickling down my face. I had a rush of adrenalin pumping.
After working out for three months, six days a week, I was feeling, well, fit and fabulous.
To celebrate, I decided to stop off at J. Crew and buy a new pair of jeans. As soon as I walked in the store, a perky young salesgirl with a great big smile who couldn't have been any bigger than a size "0" approached me offering her help. With the utmost confidence, I asked her for a size 10 jeans, low waisted.
She looked at me with what seemed to be an expression of doubt.
"Let me see what I have, one moment please."
Within a few seconds she came back and handed me a pair of jeans and led me into the dressing room. I closed the door behind me and stared into the three-way mirror, giving myself a thumbs up. The jeans went on easily enough, over the thighs, onto the hips and then . . . the unthinkable happened: I could not pull the zipper up.
Something was wrong! I stood on my toes, sucked in my stomach, and tried several more times, exerting a bit more pressure with each pull to get the zipper to move upwards. Frustrated, I turned my head around as far as it would go and squinted my eyes to read the tag size on the back of the jeans. Perhaps the dubious salesgirl had given me a smaller size. Unfortunately, the tag did read size 10. Determined more than ever to get into the jeans, I tugged and pulled until, finally, I had to accept defeat. Feeling irritated and out of
breath, I looked into the three-way mirror one more time and thought to myself, enough is enough. The veil had been lifted. A size 10, I'm not!
When I walked out of the dressing room, there she was, waiting for me.
" Hi, how did it go?" she said with wide eyes and a sarcastic smile. With an even bigger smile on my face, I said, "Oh, they were just wee bit . . . a wee bit too big, but I do have to run, next time I'll try the eight, Ciao!"
By the time I arrived home I was physically and emotionally exhausted. All I wanted to do was get into my old faithful jeans and sweatshirt, make a cup of tea, (and forgo the cookies) and collapse in front of the television to watch Oprah. I dragged myself into the bedroom, got undressed, pulled my jeans out from the closet, put them on and to my horror discovered that I could no longer zipper those up either. All right, I thought, this was it! The time had come for a reality check.
Standing in front of my bedroom mirror, I looked long and hard and was astonished at the woman before me. During the last five years, my body had gone through a metamorphosis that I had obviously, failed to notice. I was realistic enough to know that the girl of 20 and the woman of 30 were images I could only recapture in old photos. I had grown into 40 comfortably and by age 50, even though there were a few extra pounds, I was happy with the rounded but firm body that had emerged. Up until now I had always felt a feeling of satisfaction and contentment, yes even pride, as I viewed the evolution of my female form. After all, after
giving birth and raising two children, the ups and downs of a 30-year marriage, three operations, the emotional toll of both my parents' illnesses and subsequent deaths... there had to be some wear and tear. I just did not realize how much.
So instead of spending any more time becoming depressed or frustrated, I decided to embark on a new path of self-awareness. It was time for me to become familiar with my new silhouette and learn to embrace it. To make sure that I was successful in this new endeavor, I created a ritual for myself.
On Sunday evenings, before retiring to bed, I pour myself a glass of Cognac and walk upstairs into my bathroom. Closing the door behind me, I turn the lock, and take a deep breath and slowly exhale. My arms reach over my head and stretch as far as they can go and then come floating down to my sides. All the tensions of the week withdraw from my body and fly out the open window into the night air. That first moment of solitude is always exquisitely tranquil. A sip of the smooth rich brandy slides down my throat and warms my body and soul. Feeling a little flushed but quite satisfied, I am ready to proceed.
My bathroom is designed to please. Lush and inviting, the pale blush marble floors and tiled walls, accented by cabinets of rich dark mahogany, exude richness and elegance. The lighting is controlled with dimmers, moving from bright and efficient to a warm, gentle and flattering glow. The mirror over the sink takes up the entire wall.
Stepping into the center of the room, I turn the lights on moderately low and gaze into the mirror. Slowly, I peel my clothes off one by one, letting them drop to the floor where they rest at my feet. Standing naked, my hands begin their journey and gently roam over my body, starting
from my shoulders down to my hips. Where there were once sharp curves there are now soft
but revealing folds. My hands then move toward my full breasts. Cradling them tenderly, lifting them slightly, I am always pleased that they are still somewhat upright. Slowly my hands find their way to my stomach, with palms down, my fingertips rest on the six-inch scar just below my belly, revealing an inch for each life altering cyst, and a pound for each year.
With my clothes nestled around my feet, I perform a pirouette and face my mirrored bathroom door (yes another mirror). I am now able to view my body from the back, and I then think to myself, as I do every week at this time, how silly this bathroom is, realizing that full-length mirrors are only meant for the young. Laughing to myself, I gracefully and respectfully bow to my image. My Sunday evening ritual has come to an end.
Finishing off the last of the cognac, I pick up my clothes and throw them into the hamper. Time to brush, floss and gargle. I remove my flannel nightgown from a drawer and feel its warmth and comfort as it slides down over my body.
Stepping lightly into the darkened bedroom, the sound of my husband snoring is reassuring to me. I slide into bed and back into him, feeling the hardness of his stomach. His still strong arms wrap around me, and his head rests on my shoulder. After a moment or two, my husband lifts my nightgown over my hips. With fingertips that feel like fine Chinese paintbrushes, he explores me as if it is the first time. His hands finally come to rest on my belly. "I love you" he says.
For that moment, every night, whatever frustrations or doubts I might have about who I am, how I look, disappear. Just as I close my eyes, ready to drift off into sleep I whisper to him,
"I love you too." Then our bodies become one.
Rosa Ross, a writer living in upstate New York, has completed a screenplay, "Tar Beach Memories," which was read at last year's Columbia Film Festival. She is now working on a full-length stage play about her mother's experiences in the Holocaust and the author's search to know more about her mother as a young girl in Europe.