Sheila sat at the small round kitchen table and stared down at the coffee and cream directly in front of her. She had started a special diet and exercise regimen a few weeks ago, one that only she knew about. She was supposed to eat just meat and vegetables. She hated black coffee, 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.
She wasn’t supposed to drink dairy products, but she could feel herself breaking down. The stress of the diet was wearing on her, and in the process, all sorts of other emotions had invaded her daily routine. The diet had become a game, a test to see how she dealt with the expectation of being perfect. Her ex-husband reminded her regularly of how imperfect she was. Perfection and failure were commingled in that coffee cup. She had even 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 too many bad decisions in her life. A horrible marriage and the dysfunctional children that came with it had been all she knew for years. And now she was beginning to understand things on her own terms. She didn’t want to be a deluded forty-something princess just going through the motions, hoping some equally desperate man might take notice of her, rescue her from herself, and let her take care of his house and taxes.
Sheila tapped the coffee cup lightly with her index finger. Her mother had sat at that very table for years, always late into the night, smoking Marlboro Lights and drinking gin, mourning over the loss of an imaginary past when she should have been living for the moment. No, no, no! No shame, no guilt, no expectations. YOUR life. YOUR choices. She grabbed the cup in front of her with both hands and gulped down the coffee and cream. Then she hopped out of the chair, lay down on her back, and did fifty crunches, straining through the final ten. Then for good measure, she rolled over and managed five push-ups.
She got up, walked into the bathroom, stepped on the scale, and saw that she had lost a few pounds since starting the regimen. Not great, but not terrible. Imperfection was a very achievable goal.