Anything but Perfect

Sheila sat at the small round kitchen table and stared down at the coffee and cream directly in front of her. She had put herself on a special diet and exercise regimen a few weeks ago, one that only she knew about, and one that allowed her to eat only meat and vegetables. She hated black coffee—couldn’t even drink it—but she loved coffee with cream, and there it was, just waiting for her to take a sip, its adorable steam swirls curling in exotic patterns before her very eyes.

Her diet forbade her from drinking dairy products, but she could feel herself breaking down. The stress of her new regimen was beginning to wear on her, and in the process, all sorts of other emotions had begun to percolate. This diet had become a game to her, a test to see how she dealt with the expectation of being perfect, knowing rationally that she was so far from being perfect that her ex-husband would remind her of it regularly, even in the quietest of moments. Perfection and failure were commingled in that coffee cup, and she thought about how she had decided not to weigh herself because she didn’t want to deal with the horror of standing on a scale three weeks into the process and realizing that she had lost only two pounds.

Still, she had made enough terrible decisions in her life to know that what was left should belong to her. She didn’t want to be another delusional forty-something pseudo-princess just going through the motions, hoping someone out there might take notice of her, rescue her from herself, and let her take care of his house and taxes. Her mother had sat at that very table for years, always late into the night, smoking Marlboro Lights and drinking gin, feeling sorry for herself over the loss of something she probably never had when she should have been living for the moment, if not for the children, then at least for herself.

No, no, no! Shelia thought to herself. No shame, no guilt, no expectations. No! This is YOUR life! These are YOUR choices.

She grabbed the cup in front of her with both hands and gulped down the coffee and cream in seconds. Then she hopped out of the chair, lay down on her back, and did fifty crunches, straining valiantly through the final ten. Then for good measure, she rolled over and managed five push-ups. Next, she walked into the bathroom, stepped on the scale, and saw that she had lost five pounds since starting the regimen.

She was just being responsible. This was her life, and she was beginning to really like being so thoroughly imperfect. The rest of the day belonged to her, and as she headed for the shower, she realized how important it would be to turn everything symptomatic of this attitude into habit.