What were you doing in the fall of 1997? Maybe you were watching the final season of Seinfeld, or listening to Jewel’s “Foolish Games” on your Discman? Maybe you felt empowered by Demi Moore’s performance in G.I. Jane, or were eagerly awaiting a little movie coming out soon about the Titanic.
I moved out of the house in the fall of 1997, and, for the first time ever, I was living on my own – in a dorm room on the University of Michigan campus. I had scored a single room (woohoo – no randomly assigned roommate!) on the 5th floor of Couzens Hall. There were Bjork and Tori Amos posters on the wall, and the obligatory dorm room appliance tower: a TV/VCR combo unit stacked on a microwave stacked on a mini-fridge. I was happy to be starting a new chapter, forging my way.
When I moved into my dorm, I decided I would try to lose some weight. I had spent the summer listening to jokes (and cracking my own) about the dreaded “Freshman 15” – but as I started wandering my new college, finding my textbooks at the campus bookstores, learning where my classes would be held – I decided that I would buck the trend. I wasn’t going to let my new freedom result in weight gain. In fact, I would do the opposite – I would lose weight, and make this new environment benefit my health. The situation was ideal for weight loss: I was walking everywhere (a big change from high school in the suburbs, where everything was 20-minutes by car), and I could easily find healthy food options in the cafeteria: every dorm had a salad bar, and I started learning the secrets – like how the Betsy Barbour Dining Hall always had hard-boiled eggs, but you had to ask for them.
Both my older brother and sister were also students at the University of Michigan when I enrolled as a freshman, and my brother Steven and his friend/roommate Roger invited me to exercise with them on a regular basis. We would meet at the CCRB (Central Campus Recreation Building) a couple times a week, and spend an hour doing a little basic weight-lifting, and a lot of cardio: It was here that I first stepped foot on an elliptical and a stairmaster.
I bought a scale for my room, and, as the weeks progressed during my first fall semester, I started losing weight. Ten pounds, then fifteen, then twenty. I kept the weight loss a secret – I just wanted to see if I could do it for myself. Since I had a lot of weight to lose, it was easy to keep quiet, as ten or fifteen pounds is hard to notice on a guy that’s as big as I was.
I don’t exactly remember how much I had lost when my grandma Dorothy came for a visit. It was probably later in the fall, as I remember her wearing a big puffy jacket, and she came with my parents. My folks had seen my dorm room before (they had helped me move in), but Dorothy hadn’t, so I gave her the tour of my 8′ x 12′ room, which took all of 30 seconds, and I filled her in on my classes, how I was doing, and so on. I didn’t mention my weight loss, and if she (or my parents) noticed, they didn’t say anything. When it was time for them to leave, I hugged my folks first, who then stepped into the hall. Then I wrapped my arms around Dorothy, and when we were cheek to cheek, she whispered something in my ear:
“If you lose fifty pounds, and keep it off for one year, I’ll give you one thousand dollars.”
Our embrace ended, and without another word, she turned, walked out the door, and headed down the hall towards the elevator with my folks.
After they turned the corner, I shut the door and sat on my bed. A thousand dollars is a lot of money, especially for a college student, and my first thought was “Hot damn! She doesn’t know that I’ve already started!” I decided not to get all tangled up in the semantics – if the weight that I’d lost so far counted towards the 50 or not – and instead, I decided to focus on continuing to drop the pounds. I wouldn’t bring the matter up again until I had good news to report.
As the weeks progressed, the pounds continued to come off. I made it to 35 pounds before beginning to stumble and falter. I plateaued, and that lack of movement soon gave way to a lack of motivation. The weather grew colder, and I stopped meeting my brother at the gym. I discovered that the convenience store across the street sold Faygo Peach, a regional soda that quickly became my favorite beverage. I’d buy a bottle or three nearly every day (they didn’t make a diet version), usually along with some Pringles or candy. On the weekends, I’d ask my older friends to buy me Peach Schnapps, and I’d drink a third of a bottle of soda, refill it with the Schnapps, and drink it as I walked with friends to Nectarine, a local dance club that had a gay night on Fridays.
My grandma Dorothy lived on the other side of the state, which limited the times I saw her, mostly to major holidays. She never mentioned her offer again, or asked for any weight updates – not at our home at Christmas, and not at her home at Easter. By summer, all the weight that I had lost that freshman fall had returned, and I tried to forget that Dorothy ever made the offer to begin with. It was just another failure, another opportunity that I had blown.
In about a month, it will be the 4th anniversary of Dorothy’s passing. She lived a good, long life, and was independent up until the end, when she suffered a major stroke that she couldn’t recover from. During her last year, I began calling once a week, on Tuesday mornings, as I drove to work. She was still sharp as a tack, but her memory was starting to fail her, and often times, our conversations were repetitious. She’d reminisce about living in California as a girl – about 15 minutes from where I live now – and I’d give her the latest on my work, my apartment, my life.
Dorothy passed two years before I started this current weight loss adventure, and I’ve more than met the criteria to get that one thousand dollars: I’m down 166 pounds, and most of it I lost in the first year, meaning I’ve kept about 150 of it off for the required twelve months.
Do I want the money anymore? No. But I’d give anything for one more Tuesday morning phone call, one more chance to hear her voice and her laugh, while imagining her sitting in her favorite chair, with the newspaper at her side, opened to the business section. How I wish I had another opportunity to share the great things I’ve been doing, and the success I’ve had, and tell her that I love her.
Keep it up, David.