The magical, symbolic Starman, David Bowie, once said, “Turn and face the strange (ch-ch-channnges!).”
I heard this at such a young age (mom is a huge Bowie fan), but it took me 15 years to take it to heart. It took more loss than I care to admit for me to realize that it was time to take a look in the mirror. It took until about a month ago, at my Aunt’s funeral, when this Bowie song was quoted, to realize I needed to take control of my life, and it had to be now.
Growing up wasn’t easy for me. I was the smart kid, the nerd, the kid who loved Star Wars (still do), the teacher’s pet even. I was bullied at the bus stop and in class. Children would say snarky things about me behind my back, and I was always a little bit chubby, so it made it even easier for them. But I never cared. My mother was so dedicated to not letting us enjoy normal snacks that American kids got, so any chance I got to have soda, or chips, or candy without her knowing was a win in my book.
Come high school, I got in great shape. My mother got me a personal trainer between the summer of my sophomore and junior year, and I ran a five-minute mile that year. When I went back to school that fall, everyone noticed the difference. I became the popular girl, the captain of the soccer team. I was the girl always wearing the most in style Abercrombie and Fitch polos and torn denim I could get my hands on at the time (it was 2005, throw me a bone here, okay?). My family grew up in the nicer part of town, and at the time, I had no idea how privileged I was to have had the things that I did.
My mother has always been the type of person to comment on my weight. She has never really been happy with my appearance since those glory years of my youth (which quickly led to my deterioration). There was so much pressure that she put on me, because I was smart, I just didn’t “apply myself,” among other typical mom things that she would say when she knew, early on, that I was not living up to my full potential. I was always her strong willed, “I’m going to do things my way or no way” child. I was born in Germany, after all.
I must say, I love my mother. My mother has taught me a lot of things about life, even if they were the hard way, because I made them that way. She moved here from Germany, started her own company, didn’t kill me as a teenager (somehow), and still manages to always be there to tell it like it is, even (especially) when I don’t want to hear it. I never really knew how much I would appreciate that about her, until recently.
Fast forward to September 2017, Labor Day Weekend. It was a Sunday. I was sitting with my older sister and mother at my aunt’s funeral. Aunt Pam was diagnosed with stage four Gastric Cancer and died just five months later. The funeral started at 1:30 p.m. My Aunt Pam, since before we even moved here from Germany, was always this happy-go-lucky, welcoming, radiant woman. I knew that if I grew up to be half the woman she was, I would be doing all right for myself. This showed at her funeral; the turnout was incredible. Her husband gave a speech, where Bowie was quoted (Aunt Pam loved Bowie too), and my mom and I lost it. As tears streamed down our face, we held hands tightly, and we knew that we would never see my aunt, or her friend, ever again.
It was at this moment that I realized that I needed to take control of my life. I am 29 years old. I have been through things that most normal people should never have to endure in their lives. I have watched my best friend’s cousin die from leukemia, and held his hand as he went. I watched that same friend lose her dog unexpectedly three months later. I had a toxic relationship for three years because it was comfortable when I was 25, where I lost a child, and fought with my mom and didn’t talk to her for years on end at one point.
I’ve read books saying that there is some greater reason that we take these paths, and I guess I will still find out if that is true in time. We can talk about paths, but at some point, we’ve got to realize that there is only so much we, as single human beings, can control. That is what I struggle with. I struggle with not being able to cure cancer (ridiculous). I struggle that I couldn’t have saved my best friend’s dog (ridiculous). I struggle that I never got to tell my Aunt Pam one last time that I loved her (not ridiculous).
Everyone handles grief differently, and I have found an outlet with a multitude of things, writing being one of the less toxic. It has been 12 days since my aunt’s funeral, and I already feel like I have started to take better control of my life. From that day on, I promised myself to always just be present for those that I care about, and it is so easy to do if you think about it. I can’t count the endless amount of times that I have missed a family holiday at my grandmother’s house because I simply could not put my own pride aside, and just show up.
As you get older, you realize it’s important to keep people around you that will always have your best interest at heart, and will love you unconditionally. Sadly, it takes some people (like myself) to realize that you are lucky enough to get that with family, but you must be open and willing to accept that love. Others are not as fortunate to even have family.
I’ve also started a rigorous diet and workout plan, and hope that by my 30th birthday (December 18th), that I will feel amazing about myself again. It is incredible how different I feel after even just 12 days. I went from girl who drank every night and stayed out until 2 a.m. (and still going into work at 8 a.m.), to the girl who is constantly logging every single activity to stay active. I went from getting drunk, going to Taco Bell, consuming close to 12,000 calories unknowingly at 3 a.m., to measuring out the cups of almonds I can eat in a day. I’ve started playing tennis two-three times a week, and hiking on the weekends to clear my head. I live 1.83 miles away from work and have also started walking at least twice a week. The change had to start within me, and I knew it all along. Sadly, it took the devil named cancer to realize it, but it was the swift kick in the butt that I needed.
The speech that my cousin Alyson gave at my aunt’s funeral was what really hit home. Alyson said that Aunt Pam would not have wanted us to sit around and be sad, mourn for a little, because we are human, and allowed to feel emotion, but Aunt Pam would have wanted us to go out and live our lives, and spread love whenever and wherever we can, especially to ourselves. Aunt Pam loved traveling and hiking (she hiked the Grand Canyon, twice). My cousin also said that up until her last days, Aunt Pam was always getting up and moving around whenever she could, because she knew how important it was for her health in general.
If you can ever love anyone else, you’ve got to start with yourself. As cliché as it sounds, it has taken me 29 years and some significant loss to realize it. It took cancer for me to realize that I’ve got to love myself, and that I am the only one in control of making this change. I’ve turned to face the strange, and while I know it’s going to be a long road, I will not, no I cannot, give up on myself this time because I am worth the fight. It’s not easy. It’s an entire lifestyle that I am altering, but one day, when I am hiking, the wind will blow, and the sunshine will fall upon my face, and I will look up and I will know it is Aunt Pam saying that she is proud of me, and maybe that could be my moment of closure for not being present for all those years.
“Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” -David Bowie, 1971