2000s Archive

Tough Love

continued (page 3 of 3)

Two days later we go back to see her again. She has come up with a brilliant reconfiguration of all the food, including the KFC, adding and subtracting things within the realm of what is reasonable to make Debbie’s diet healthy.

Between these counseling sessions, we go to exercise classes, sit in the steam bath, and hike up a mountain in the desert. At every moment I am filled with admiration for Debbie. Though she is at the back of the group, she never complains or asks to be excused. She simply pants and presses on.

“Look at the view,” she says, taking an opportunity to stop and marvel at the desert from our new, high vantage point. Three of the people on this outing have decided that enough is enough and have turned back with one of the guides. “I would have been with them,” Debbie whispers. “Six months ago that would have been me.”

“Six months ago,” I remind her, “you wouldn’t have gotten out of the van.”

We live from meal to meal. We are served delicate portions of steamed vegetables and grilled fish, which we fall on like bears just up from hibernation. When Debbie orders a sweet potato on the side, what arrives is about three inches high and sits flat on the plate like a small, brown stocking cap.

“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asks.

“The other half of her potato, maybe,” I say.

The young woman laughs as if I have just said something especially clever, but the rest of the potato never arrives.

In the restaurant, nutritionists with clipboards wander from table to table, asking if there is anything we want to talk about. In the gym, a whole host of genetically engineered young men and women are available to show us the proper form for biceps curls and triceps dips. In a cold neighborhood park at 6:30 in the morning, I am a perfectly respectable personal trainer because, let’s face it, I am the only thing available. But at Canyon Ranch I get to see what a personal trainer looks like, and it shows me up for what I really am: a moderately fit novelist.

After five days of having completely too much attention heaped on us (Would you like your massage firm? How well do you sleep? What vitamins do you take? Did you drink eight glasses of water today?), we are both thrilled to crawl back into the van for the airport. The visiting sexologist (who knew there even was such a thing?) is heading home as well. She leans over the back of her seat and says that if we have any questions, we should just fire away.

There are no 10K races at the end of this story. Our progress remains small and regular, and we’re proud of what we accomplish. Or I should say, I am proud of what Debbie accomplishes. Mostly, that she hasn’t had a cigarette since the morning we left for Canyon Ranch. She got rid of all ten packets of the Hawaiian Iced Tea mix she loves, which is something like 97 percent sugar, and the four jars of extra-creamy blue-cheese dressing. We are still at the park every morning. I am still telling her to breathe more deeply and step it up on the next lap. I know I need to keep my personal investment in her good health at a reasonable level, but really, what’s reasonable when you love your friend and want to make sure she’s around for a long time so she can do your taxes?

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