That Perfect Woman
I ran into my worst nightmare today. Maybe you're familiar with her, too -- she was your high school's golden girl, the one with the perfect blonde hair that never performed other than as requested. The one with the knockout figure that looked perfect no matter what she draped on it.
The one with the honeyed skin that wouldn't dare to pimple up, even if slathered in Crisco and baby oil. The one who wasn't a cheerleader but surely would have been if she hadn't been too busy with her part-time modeling assignments to commit to attending every football game. The one who wasn't a brainiac, but who had enough to keep her from being classified as a dumb blonde. The one who was as nice as she was beautiful -- a rare commodity at any high school.
I saw her at my son's karate studio. She was deep into a kickboxing class, hidden behind a chest-high punching bag and a pair of boxing gloves. But at some visceral level I must have ID'd her instantly. After all, she's been lodged in my psyche for the entire 15 years since we graduated.
She's who my internal critic reminded me of each time I'd venture to the community pool without shaving my legs. She's who I'd measure myself against when I'd look in the mirror and note the new patches of cellulite sprouting on my thighs like plots of subcutaneous lichen. She's who I wanted to be.
She was also the one I hoped -- in my smaller, meaner moments -- had suffered a severe case of middle-aged spread and maybe a bankruptcy or two in the intervening years since I'd last seen her. After all, I'd reminded myself repeatedly, God didn't play favorites. And if he really loved us all equally, then something had to have gone wrong in her life.
Well, I don't know about the bankruptcies, but the middle-aged spread was conspicuous only in its absence. In fact, as she punched and kicked in her teeny-tiny tank top, I was in awe of her rippled stomach and molded biceps.
Whatever the Almighty's idea of divine retribution and fairness, it obviously didn't include unwanted poundage. I calmed myself with the fact that six-pack abs and childbearing were an unnatural pair, much like Heather Locklear and Richie Sambora, or black socks and athletic shoes. Some things just weren't meant to go together.
Or so I thought. After class when she came over to say hello (I told you she's nice) and she told me about her three-year-old daughter, it was all I could do to keep from bolting to the nearest Krispy Kreme Donuts for comfort as fast as my stout little legs could carry me.
As she introduced her husband and kickboxing partner, I hunched over to hide the oatmeal stains on my sweatshirt and the Blues Clues sticker adhering to my left thigh. We exchanged pleasantries and then she walked away, hands on her waist. Another woman stopped her and made a comment about her great abs. "Just don't look back here," she laughed self-consciously and patted the Band-Aid-thin layer of flesh over her hipbones that her hands had been covering. And then she was gone.
I shook my head in disgust. "C'mon, God, you can do better than that!" I wanted to complain. "Where are the boils? The destitution? The female pattern baldness?"
I spent the day pondering justice unserved, but then the possibility occurred to me that growing older must be harder for the Golden Girls of the world than it is for us mere mortals. To see the new wrinkles invade a face that used to be smooth as the curve of a peach. To find a gray hair in what used to be a perfect cascade of molten gold.
To sense a thickening -- however slight -- of a 24-inch waist. Yeah, the rest of us go through these humiliations, too, but no one expects us to be perfect. We're used to falling short of the ideal standards. But when you are the ideal, there's only one direction you can go.
I periodically console myself with thoughts like these, and they
help -- momentarily. Then I find myself -- my smallest, meanest
self -- wishing desperately for a divine bankruptcy or two.