getting my head together

This morning I got an email from a colleague that said “Happy International Very Good Looking and Damn Smart Woman’s Day” to which I thought “right on!”  The message went on to list a number of sayings and quotes about women and life in general – “inside every old woman is a young woman asking what the heck happened”, “the hardest years in life are between the ages of 10 and 70” and other similarly humorous phrases. It’s Friday, so I took the time to read through them.  They all made me smile, but then I read one that actually made me think:  “35 is when you finally get your head together and body starts falling apart.”   I massaged my neck as I stared at my computer screen and thought to myself, “too true”.

When I was 18, I fell in love hard.  It was on my very first day at college.  He was older and sexy and funny and charismatic, and cooler than anyone I had ever met before, next to my brothers.  For some reason he took a liking to me and put on the charm from the first moment I met him.  I distinctly remember my parents walking me into the admission office, and this very suave manlike boy turned around, and as his mouth slowly unzipped into a stunning smile, he said “you’re Kim Cullen?”   When we found out he was a resident advisor in my dorm, my dad spluttered something like “oh boy” (only, I think a bit stronger).  I instinctively sensed he was Dangerous, but I was already in – hook, line, and sinker.  We dated for a few weeks, until one morning, I walked over to his room, and as I raised my hand to knock on his door, I heard the sound of laughter… a woman’s laughter.  I was devastated.  I spent the next months avoiding him, crying in the bathroom, drinking too much at frat parties, eating a lot.  The rest of that first year was torture.  It wasn’t only about him – this was a precarious time in my life:  I was away from home for the first time.  I felt like an outsider among American kids since even though I was American by passport, I had grown up overseas.  I was struggling to redefine my relationship with my parents as I slowly began to exert my independence.  And to top it all off, I had had my heart ripped to shreds by a gorgeous older boy.  I returned home at the end of the year hoping to be able to piece myself back together.  I discovered aerobics, and found stability in physical strength.  It became addicting and I worked out daily, sometimes twice a day.  As the baby fat started to melt off, I realized that eating less would speed up the process.  By the end of the summer, I was eating less than 300 calories a day.  When I returned to school in the fall, people noticed.  I had never experienced such appreciation simply because of the way I looked.  Once, I was even approached in the dining hall by a senior who asked if I was modeling…  You can imagine the boost. 

Therapy helped me get back on track.  So did cigarettes and peanut butter.  I realized that eating was actually fun.  But with it came a swing back to being overweight, and a brand new cycle of feeling bad about myself.  For me, eating (or not) became my way of handling pain.  The deeper the pain, the more I damaged myself.  This continued for years, and riding the pendulum from healthy to unhealthy (both physically and emotionally) again and again left scars on my psyche – not to mention stretch marks on my body.   There have been many peaks and valleys in my emotional development, but when I was 32, I finally got mad.  The anger came out in all kinds of ways, and in the end, I found myself signing my divorce papers.  I remember talking to my brother on the phone the night before and asking him “what does one wear to a divorce?”  He told me to find something in my closet that made me feel confident but “hot”.  Oh, and definitely cowboy boots, he said.  And so it was that I walked into my lawyer’s office the next day wearing jeans, a tank top and a blazer, a sexy tiger-striped scarf, and cowboy boots.  I felt good.

It was during this time – at the height of my troubled adult life – that I met and started dating Dave.  Dave made me feel like a different kind of woman altogether.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to be thinner or fatter.  I didn’t need to worry about how I looked because he thought my MIND was sexy.  It didn’t matter if I had bed head, or bad breath or a pimple, or if I was bloated…  he loved ME and that was enough.   When I turned 35, he joked about how it was all downhill from there, and he’d soon be looking for a newer model.  The glimmer in his eye as he said it gave him away, though, and last fall, we got married in Las Vegas.

The irony is this:  I’m 37 now and yes, my body sometimes hurts.  My back aches when I stand for too long.  My neck tenses if I don’t take breaks from the computer.  My hips and knees get gimpy on rainy days.   My recovery time after a workout is longer than ever before.  And I can’t drink more than a glass and a half of wine anymore.  But when my husband smiles at me, I feel younger and sexier than I ever have.  When he tells me I am beautiful, I know it’s true.  And when I feel his eyes follow me as I walk by him, I know that this Kim, the 37 year old one with the body that sometimes aches, well… she finally got her head together.

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