About noon on Thursday, pain stabbed through my kneecap.
Oh crap! What's that?
I tried to shake it out. Walk it out. It wouldn't shake.
My mother has terrible knees. She's 76 now, with two artificial knees. My mother has not ever been the picture of vigorous or active. She loves sewing, painting, good conversation, and a good book. She also loves to cook, and eat, and has the body to show it.
Just like mine.
I broke my leg six years ago, and twisted the hell out of my knee. (It's a long story.) During endless hours in physical therapy, the therapists tsked at me, and said my knees made far more noise than they should at my age. They raised their eyebrows at me, in their thin thighs and tracksuits. With oppressive cheerfulness, they said the best thing I could do for my knees is stop carrying extra weight. Especially given my mother's bad joints.
They told me this would happen.
I spent the rest of the day going down the stairs one-footed. Testing it out. It hurt. It could go up, not down. Sitting down hurt. Getting up hurt. Getting in and out of cars hurt. It all hurt.
I know enough biology to know all the dreadful things that happen to a person when she eats too much--cancers and cholesterol and heart disease and things--all on the inside, quietly percolating away where I can't see them. Out of sight, out of mind. I'll lose weight later. Pass the fries.
But this, this, dammit, this hurts.
Friday morning, I went to the gym. The gym that I picked, because it's right near our house, because it has a pool. I love to swim.
The gym where I haven't been in a month.
Up and back. Up and back. Flutter kick, freestyle, breaststroke. It's quiet in the water. The bubbles whoosh past my ears, the water is cool. Up and back. My knee doesn't hurt in the water.
What if swimming is all I can do?
What if I go to the doctor, and he says what I've been dreading? This is the beginning of the end? Something worn away, bone on bone, nothing to do but replace it. I watched my mother's rehab--six solid months of therapy, and it's never been the same again. She had to use a walker for a while. A walker! This can't be happening.
In another life, in a younger, thinner body, I spent a summer teaching backpacking in the Cascades. I walked across the Lake District in England with a backpack. I climbed mountains, I rode my bicycle to the coast, I hiked through Thailand. I hiked through the Tetons with my husband, watching birds, bears, and endless stars. When I'm not looking in the mirror, I'm still that person. My soul is in the woods. I'm happiest on cross-country skis when all I can hear is the sound of the snow and the birds. I love squirrels, birds, and frogs, I love ferns, trees, and quiet forgotten places. I remember the freedom I felt, being on my own, knowing my body brought me there, that I could go anywhere.
What if I've loved cookies more than I love the woods?
My youngest, my baby, is in sixth grade now. She plays the violin and wants to wear lip gloss. These pounds of mine, they don't count as baby weight any more. I own them.
I know how they all got here. Two babies. Bread, pasta, cheese, wine, and did I mention cookies? Piecrust. Oh, piecrust. I learned to make fruit turnovers last year, and a cheese and onion quiche, and I love to bake bread. All kinds of bread. Quick breads, yeast breads, wheat bread, soda bread, plain white bread. And years of a job where I don't get paid unless I'm sitting down. Baking is therapy, stress relief, losing my hands in dough, flour on my nose, listening to the radio in the kitchen while I roll and knead and shape, far from the pixels on screens that are my work.
What if the price isn't just my waistline, but my mobility?
Up and back. Flutter kick, frog kick, breast stroke. Flutter kick again, until I'm out of breath. One more length. Then another. And another.
To the grocery store after, new recipe book in hand, looking for odd ingredients I've avoided in the past. Whole wheat things, low fat things, things in odd corners of the supermarket.
Back to the pool Saturday. And Sunday. New food. Weird food. No butter, not much bread, lots and lots of vegetables. Trusting this damn recipe book to help me not feel like a rabbit.
I've been down this road so many times before. Pounds off, pounds back on. Here we go again.
My knee started feeling better Monday morning. A little. Still more by Monday afternoon. And I haven't had a cookie, a muffin, or a slice of really good white buttered toast since Thursday. And I've been to the pool every day.
The recipes aren't that bad, if I stop resisting them.
If looks can't do it, health articles can't do it, cheerful physical therapists can't do it, maybe fear finally can.
I'm afraid I'll end up like my mother.
Because she hasn't gone further than a paved sidewalk in a park, now she can't go anywhere else. She limited herself to the living room and a good book, and now she's stuck there.
I still have time.
I'm almost a little sad. My knee feels better today.
I hope I can remember the fear.