Fight to the Core

Happy First Anniversary, my Love 

It’s called the fight or flight response, and I have been reading about it in a book called “The Slow Down Diet.” I am currently on a health kick of sorts, doing Yoga, eating healthy and looking for more ways to reduce stress. The slow down diet explains the link between relaxation and diet, stress and digestion. It explores the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems, the calm relaxed body and the body that lives in a constant state of stress. It discusses the consequences of a life lived in the fight or flight response even when no real danger is present. I feel I am living in that spot and have been taking anti-anxiety medicine to try to get a grip on it.


I read the description of the response and marvel at the beauty of its functionality, at the utility of the human body to provide us instant armor at a moment’s notice. The book explains that fight or flight is an innate function of the nervous system designed to improve our senses and bodily functions during a time of impending danger.


Our brain releases large amounts of adrenaline which instantaneously increase our mental acuity. Our vision sharpens and we can see better in the dark. Our hearing improves. Breath and heart rate increase to push oxygen and adrenaline into our muscles and vital organs, our heart, our lungs and brain. We can run faster, think clearer and react in an instant. We are at a heightened state of being, and we are to remain as such until the danger has either passed us by, or until we ourselves have succumbed to the impending threat against which our bodies had mounted such a tremendous fight.


I sit on the couch and try to convince my tight shoulders and thudding heart that I am not in any danger. The life stressors that have amounted to this panicked state have passed. I am no longer the single mom and the lone caregiver to my ailing 70-year old mother. I know where my next paycheck is coming from. My daughter is safe, and I have found true deep love and the peace and joy of having a life partner and best friend. Yet the tense muscles and churning stomach have yet to get the message. Getting back to a relaxed state will take time and practice according to the book.


I was a full 15 pounds lighter a year ago when Jim and I got married. Returning from our honeymoon in Costa Rica, we promised each other we would stop smoking, eat better and exercise more. Having fallen in love with the Rich Coast almost as much as we loved each other, we vowed to save money, take care of ourselves and retire there some day.


Yesterday evening, a year later and just two days shy of our first anniversary, we sat at Mozart’s Coffee house, where Jim proposed to me, and we discussed our goals.


In honor of our life together we decided to institute the annual tradition of taking time to journal in our shared journal about the past year’s accomplishments, the parties, the trips, the house guests, the kids, the losses, deaths, difficulties and of course the goals for the next year. We sat in the exact spot he proposed and lit cigarettes and ordered lemon tarts -- and noted two honeymoon health goals that were as of yet not a bit accomplished.


After three hours of taking turns writing we were pleasantly surprised at how much life one tiny year seemed to hold. And the year and a half we had been engaged had even held more joy and accomplishment by comparison. We had made amazing progress in the three years since our lives had exploded together like two pinwheels in the sky on the fourth of July.


We had both found well paying jobs in Austin allowing us to keep Jim’s house, and within six months had established an apartment for my mother nearby. Later that year we bought Mia, my convertible Miata and gave Jeff, my old Jeep, to my daughter, Victoria. We had built our credit up and planned and carried off a spectacular wedding and dream honeymoon. We paid a year’s tuition for my daughter’s first year in college and invested two thousand dollars into dental work I had needed for many years.


We were excited by the stability of our life, and encouraged by Jim’s ex-wife’s plans to move his 8-year-old son Sam from Kansas back to Austin where Jim and I could share in parenting. We journal about being each other’s rocks and that although middle age lingered before us, together we were taking our first young steps in laying the groundwork for a splendid life ahead.


The sun had set mid-way through capturing our memories on paper and we moved to the upstairs deck where the light was better and where a cute blues trio of 60-somethings played tunes under the stars. Jim left to refill our coffee cups, and I took the opportunity to ask the little woman with the big voice if she knew “You Do Something to Me” by Cole Porter in honor of our first anniversary. She looked thrilled and said she would try to remember how it went.


Before the night was over, I was in Jim’s arms dancing and dipping on the deck under the stars. An array of tourists and coffee fanatics watched and I’m sure pointed at us remarking, “Yep just keeping Austin weird.” The singer saw us off with congratulations and remarked that this night was ironically her and her keyboard player’s 40th anniversary as well.


This Sunday morning I am drinking coffee, reading the local entertainment guide and trying to figure out exactly what Jim and I should do to officially celebrate our anniversary which is not until Labor Day (tomorrow). What ever we do, it needs to be stress free.


We had planned to have a nice dinner, but with finances dragged down a bit on car and home repairs we were working on a two-hundred dollar budget for the weekend. We had become very good at being practical, and I noted several things we could use the money on that would make it well spent but were unfortunately not things you could call relaxing.


We could refinish the cabinets in the newly painted kitchen. We could buy some tile for the living room floor. We could buy some shelves for all the toys in Sam’s room. Jim pointed out we could go shopping for some new clothes for me. I pointed out we could buy Jim the medicine that he needed to help him quit smoking. What better first anniversary present? We could both quit smoking and live healthy lives for many more years to come.

Forty-three and thirty-seven respectively, people would not call us couch potatoes. Jim’s six foot muscular frame dwarfs my curvy 5’3 stature, and no one ever guesses his correct age. Usually they put him around 35. The doc has him on blood pressure medicine, but that is it. Our cholesterol is just fine, but since heart problems and cancer run in his family, I nag him as does most of his family to stop smoking. But who am I for him to listen to? I smoke right along with him.


So I am sitting on the couch at an impasse trying to balance being practical with the understanding that a first anniversary only happens once. That it should be properly celebrated. A couple should do something memorable enough that years from now, when recalling it to grandchildren the couple can smile and tell some story proving that one of them can remember something about what they did.


Jim is being of little help because he can see the pluses and minuses of everything I come up with, and his general response is “that sounds like a good idea.” I know he really only wants to do what will make me happy, and while I appreciate that, what will really make me happy is to know we are doing something he wants to do too.


We always approach problems from opposite ends and it makes for a great balance most the time. Other times it just takes us straight to a stale mate. They say opposites attract and we fit the bill. Jim the ever logical one, I the pie in the sky intuitive; all together a nice balance of creative ambition and heady discipline but problematic at times.


Last weekend I watched Jim fiddling under the hood of my old Jeep. I had witnessed this intimate act many times before. He worked with his shirt off as usual, which I always enjoy. A cigarette hung from his lips, as he grunted and leaned in for a closer look. Then backing up, he’d wipe his hands on a rag, run greasy fingers over the top of his head and exhale a smoky cloud of frustration. I could almost see the images of systems and pressures and cycles processing behind his darting eyes. In these moments he was not even aware he was being watched.


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