by Connie Compton
I've only been married to my high school sweetheart, Jack, for 10 months, and he's trying to kill me. I know this for sure. He just doesn't accept the fact that at age 51, having given birth to and chased after seven kids, I deserve every ounce of this fat I'm carrying around. I didn't ask for this mid-life metabolic change, but it's here and I intend to go along with it. Heck, I earned it! Jack thinks I should want to lose all this blubber. He actually thinks I should exercise. And he wants me to enjoy it, no less. Enjoy it! He really just wants me to die.
"Aw, come on. Hit the stupid snooze button just one more time, please, please, please," I whimper as I roll over and plop the pillow over my head.
"No way. You've hit it three times already," Jack says, yanking the pillow off my head and throwing it on the floor. He's begun calling me Quick Draw McGraw because, like a pooch sensing the vibration of the dog whistle before he hears it, I'm getting rather speedy at anticipating the first hum of the snooze button.
Always zealous about getting himself up in the morning, Jack has a laborious time getting me to budge at the unearthly hour of 6 a.m. Sometimes he has to threaten me with death or tickling. Death doesn't sound like such a bad thing to me. I'm not a morning person. I'm not a night person, but I love a good nap in the afternoon, if I can get away with it, so I guess that makes me an afternoon person.
Jack's developed an exercise routine for us. He's relentless, and this morning he's not letting me get away with anything. He jumps out of bed, whips the warm, comfy blanket from my still sleeping body, and then turns on the light over the dressing room sink. It's bright; way too bright. I can't open my eyes. Maybe I'm blind. But, ah ha! If I've been blinded, I wouldn't have to get out of bed this morning, would I? I moan something about Helen Keller and laser beams and grab at another pillow.
Jack's merciless, so I give up and plop my feet on the floor and drag myself to the bathroom. I'm sure that I could sneak into the bathroom, curl up on the floor, and fall asleep again without Jack knowing. But it isn't very comfortable in there, and I decide that maybe, if I can just hobble to the sink and force the toothbrush into my mouth, I'll wake up. I always buy toothpaste that makes me gag. That helps.
Before I'm even done brushing my teeth, Jack's out in the driveway, loading his stuff into the truck and warming up the engine. He wishes I'd warm up that fast. I'm still in the bedroom putting on my sweat pants and sweat shirt and looking for a pair of socks. I'm looking in the wrong drawer and wondering why all the socks look like undies. I'm sure none of this underwear will be comfortable on my feet, but I can't quite figure it all out.
I sit on the end of the bed to put on my shoes, but when I perch at the foot of the bed, the mattress is a little high off the floor, and I have a hard time reaching down to tie my laces. Jack wanders back into the bedroom, wondering where I am, and finds me sitting on the end of the bed, sniveling.
He glances at me a little pathetically and suggests, "Do you want me to tie your shoes, Sweetheart?" He acts like he really means it, but I know it's just a ploy to get me going.
I wipe my nose on my sweatshirt and muffle, "Only if you ever want me to move from here." Jack is so patient. Once my shoes are tied, Jack doesn't leave my side, afraid he might lose me again. He bounces around like Tigger on his way out to the truck; I straggle behind. He knows how much I loathe this morning routine, not to mention our destination: the dreaded school gym.
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we arrive at the gymnasium, and Jack hauls me toward the weight room. On the way up the little hill we have to trudge up to get to the gym, I plop a mint into my mouth, "Ah breakfast," I hum, as I perk up with that minty fresh feeling before reverting back into my morning stupor with that startled-deer look. Once in the weight room, I do a few stretches to keep from collapsing into a snugly puddle on the floor, and then Jack helps me lift weights. We have an exercise routine for upper body strength. Jack performs many exercise cycles and can bench-press his body weight 12 times (this is a good thing). I can bench-press the bar. That is my routine. Jack is out to kill me.
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Jack drags me out to walk. We hold hands while we march along the campus road, watching the bunnies and squirrels sporting their little morning games. Today, there is also a little piece of bunny road pizza. He's flattened into a perfect pizza shape with his little bunny tongue hanging out of his little bunny mouth. I feel just like that. Jack grasps my hand a little tighter as we continue our trek up the dusty road leading to the trails. I hate the trails.
A little farther up the road we arrive at the fork-in-the-road and Jack proffers, "Choose your poison?"
I think that phrase is appropriate. I have the choice of climbing Mt. Everest, Mt. Rainier, or Mt. St. Helen's. Did you notice the word "poison?" Jack is out to kill me.
Mt. Everest: To our right is a two-mile trail that rambles up and down through the woods running along the side of the freeway. Jack loves the crisp morning air and the smell of carbon monoxide. I feel faint when I inhale the morning rush hour exhaust fumes. Half way along this trail is a 45-degree incline, very aptly named Killer Hill. There are bodies strewn everywhere. Well, I swear I can hear them calling to me as Jack tugs and hauls me up the hill. This hill goes almost straight up. I'm sure I hear angels calling me.
I used to get sluggish near the top of the hill, and Jack would have to let go of my hand, get in back of me, and shove my tush the last few feet up and over the top. But lately Jack jumps behind me at the bottom of the hill and pushes me along up the hill like The Little Train That Could. This prevents me from rolling down the hill, which I would rather do than keep trudging upwards. Jack tries to inspire me by telling me how fleetly he used to be able to run up Killer Hill. That only makes me feel like killing him. Today, as Jack was propelling me up and over, I slipped and started barrel-rolling. Jack stuck his foot out to keep me from sliding all the way to the bottom and snatched my sweat pants by the rear, pulling me up on all fours. I wanted to crawl the rest of the way to the top, but Jack wouldn't let me. He actually made my get back up on my feet, dusted me off, coughed a lot, and kept right on pushing. I am really worried about the name of this hill.
At the top of Killer Hill, we reach a narrow path that runs across the crest. Jack jounces around, bursting with energy, looking just like Rocky after he ran up all those stairs. Jack was shouting to the skies, "Isn't the country beautiful from up this high? Isn't it great to breathe this cool air. Isn't it great to be alive?"
I'm not sure I am still alive. I think, I could be happy buried up here. Just let me rest in peace, Jack. Your work is done. I'm huffing and puffing as Jack helps me plod along the trail until we reach another treacherous slope called Sneaky Peak.
Jack says, "It's really neat when you're running up this hill and you don't even realize you're on Sneaky Peak until it's over. It just sort of sneaks up on you."
I feels Sneaky Peak isn't sneaky at all. It jumps right out at me. I feel every inch of it. I'm breathing so hard, I can't catch my breath and I'm sure I'm going to black out. My life is passing before me. I hear those angels again.
As we top Sneaky Peak, it's all down hill, but now my knees are shaking so severely, I can't get my footing . . . and I meander. Jack thinks I'm admiring the flora and fauna. I'm just trying to get the feeling back in my legs. I know somehow I still have hold of Jack's hand, but I'm not sure which direction we're headed. I just keep my feet moving and hope Jack won't let go, or it's over the side of the hill for me. You know, like that rhyme about Jack and Jill? Well, I don't want to climb up that hill all over again! And Jack would make my do it, too!
But we're going down hill. Now I gather momentum, because I know that if I can only make it back to the starting point, I can lie down in the truck and take a quick nap while waiting for Jack to shower in the gym. The nap is my favorite part of exercising. That and the fact that Jack's so proud of me for not dying on him. I know he wants to kill me himself.
Mt. Rainier: Another of the three choices of "poison" is a quarter mile, continuously steep grade upward, upward, and upward called Heartbreak Hill. I think Heart Attack Hill would be more accurate. My calves cramp up into tight little billiard balls and my heart beats so heavily, I can hear it. San Francisco can hear it! This hill does not end. I'm not lying. It reaches heaven in about an hour. Jack thinks it's a neat trek because it's actually Old Highway 5, and he marvels at how those prehistoric cars actually climbed this hill without overheating. I'm an Edsel. I'm overheating. I need an overhaul.
Mt. St. Helen's: The third choice of do-me-in trails is the newly christened Switchback Hill. I think it would be better called the Switchblade Hill because of the piercing pain I get in my Achilles tendons. I suggest to Jack that he just slice my feet off at the ankles while we're still at the bottom of the hill and spare my the searing lung pain I'm going to feel while acquiring the heel pain.
But again he's pitiless and I persevere, and when we reach the top of Heartbreak Hill, Jack offers me a swig of water from the little water bottle he has with him. All I can do is wave my hands frantically, give Jack the Give-me-the-Heimlich-Maneuver signal and sputter, "Noh...nuh...noh... Fannnkkkew." My only concern at this moment is stuffing my tongue back into my mouth. It feels like a roasted marshmallow. All I want is for my tongue to deflate and implode, so I can get some much needed air to my lungs. They feel like they've been run over by a steamroller.
After I finally catch my breath, Jack picks me up off the ground, which I'm kissing, and we head away from the trails and back toward the gymnasium. As we near the truck, my sanity returns and I'm once again euphoric to be headed back to that short nap.
As I squeeze Jack's hand tightly in my own, to show him my love and appreciation, and so I won't fall down, lest he bury me on the spot, I ask, "What are we getting from all this? Why do we subject ourselves to this torture morning after morning? This exercise is torture to me and dragging me kicking and screaming out here every morning is torture to you."
Jack smiles sweetly at me and says, "Because you like the way my body looks."
I knew there must be a good reason, and hey, I'm still alive!
Connie Compton reflects that after raising seven children and two step-children, her head and heart are filled with stories. She is married to Jack, her high school sweetheart she rediscovered via the Internet, 32 years after she turned down his first marriage proposal. Becoming a professional writer has been a natural progression for her.
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