In the summer of ’79, I was sitting in my girlfriend’s kitchen chain smoking Winston Lights and perusing an AA meeting book on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. I was 32 years old and sober about two months.
I weighed approximately 230 pounds and I was reluctant owner of the same cigarette cough that killed my father. My band was still upset with me for not showing up to an all day gig on Sunday, May 20, and they were withholding my equipment. I had hit a bad bottom.
I was still shaky as a newborn colt. I simply had to quit my drinking and rampant drug use this time. My hangovers were becoming unbearable. They were a mix of migraine and mental illness. I couldn’t take another. So I had resolved to make an AA meeting a day so I wouldn’t have a slip.
It was then that life handed me a face push when my girlfriend’s oldest son and two of his friends came in the back door. Three 21 year old Italian men with white T-shirts, a full head of shiny, healthy hair and eyes that were clear and full of life.
I sat there in a cloud of cigarette smoke, slack-jawed. I immediately became aware of the weight of my belly on my lap and sat up straight. As much as I could.
I was needing a reason to stay sober and start working out and it just walked in the back door. They made me feel, even at my young age, washed up and old before my time. Her son was an avid runner and high school football star. At 21, he had everything, I thought.
And the contrast was killing me.
It was like they were in color and I was black and white. I started asking her son questions about getting in shape.
He gave me an old pair of sneakers and I headed to the YMCA in a garish old sweatsuit I had in my closet. I went all out to beat that “old before my time” feeling.
I lost 55 pounds and became a track star myself. We used to run together. I never forgot that day. It is still clearly lodged in my mind. Those young men walked in that kitchen at just the right time. It was a watershed.
As we all know, life happens and my friend lost interest in running and taking care of himself in general. He became portly and started experiencing health issues. He developed apnea and couldn’t sleep without a Cpap machine. He was running a successful business, got married and took his eye off the ball.
The last time I saw him he could barely make it down the stairs. He was at least 50 pounds overweight and recuperating from a bowel obstruction operation. When he listed all the maladies he was enduring, I couldn’t help being transported back into that kitchen 40 years ago.
I saw a photo of him recently and nothing has changed. It’s sad to see someone who most considered “beautiful” get old before their time. It doesn’t have to be this way.
“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, And we never even know we have the key.” – Already Gone, The Eagles