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“And you can change in here,” said the director, her curvaceous body and shocking pink nails unnerving me as I stepped inside the locker room with my new leotard and tights.

It was a rainy autumn afternoon, 1970, following the failed synovectomies of my knees. My surgeon had regretted the outcome, but recommended total knee replacements when the technology was further refined. In the meantime, I was to exercise, keep my body strong. For some reason, I complied—even received my superior’s permission to join the First Lady’s Health Club on St. Charles Avenue, just down the street from our convent in New Orleans. I was thirty-six years old.

Inside the cubicle, the curtain pulled behind me, I grunted as I pulled on the skimpy outfit, black like the habit I used to wear. Whining saxophone music further undermined my resolve to go ahead with this venture. I abhorred exercising, yet I kept moving toward the workout room with mirrored walls and cherry carpeting.

Fluorescent lighting momentarily crazed my vision. In front of me stood a tall brunette looking back at me. Stunned, I touched my waist. She did, too. I smiled—My body was different, with the twenty-five pound weight loss from the surgeries. Smiling again, I greeted the trainer approaching me. I would do this.

From that afternoon to the present, exercise has buoyed my spirit, kept me functional, and cleared out low moods. It also enlisted Spirit’s love and protection to support my efforts in becoming woman.

It’s never too late to start, no matter the stiffness or pain. It worked for me, and still does.

As I flipped through Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, it felt like I was being mesmerized by a kaleidescope: at its end, another rotated the wheel and produced a succession of actions, each containing bits of earlier ones that produced some continuity. A tough read, at the start, but its sheer absurdity kept me involved.

The centerpiece of Slaughterhouse-Five was the Allied firebombing of Dresden, a world-renowned cultural center in Germany, which the author survived as a POW in the larder of that building. This occurred in April 1945, weeks before the end of World War II. So psychically scorched was he that the novel only appeared years later: after the trashing of multiple outlines and drafts and fifteen thousand words. Only with the invention of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, his doppelganger, did the novel take shape; he would tell Vonnegut’s story, but with embellishments. 

Following his Dresden experience Billy became “unstuck in time,” and subject to the whims of extraterrestrials living on the planet Tralfamadore. Whenever stressed, he could also time travel to another time/place that soothed his chronic anxiety and introversion.

His anemic world, like out own, was filled with undeveloped characters that go through the motions of living, until swallowed by death and the author’s often quoted comment, “And so it goes.” the scene-changer that alters the story line toward another manifestation of destruction and death.

Curious that Slaughterhouse-Five still sparks moral dread, though composed decades before our own. On a feeling level, I sense the present global mayhem: the prevalence of denial, escalating power grabs, minimizing of values, and the garble of speech. The killing of psyche and body continue, perhaps more cunningly now than the 1960s.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five has held up a mirror to our times: its reflection demands change, and it must begin with me.

Sunshine streaming through the Christmas holly shrub outside my bedroom window enlivened the wing back chair with sprightly shadows, on holiday. It was seven-thirty, morning. I blinked hard, checked my watch again, and grinned. Only moments before had I turned out the lamp and snuggled beneath the flannel sheets and comforter and began my mantra, “Passion of Christ, strengthen Malaysian women sexually abused on palm oil plantations.” Then, it had been nine o’clock.

Methodically, I began stretching exercises, upon my back, while reflecting upon this marvel of marvels: I had slept through the night. No dry mouth, no bathroom breaks, no hunger spells, no strong dreams, no elbow or foot pain, no worries about tomorrow—above all, not scrutinizing the hours of the clock, like the watchman in the psalm yearning for dawn and release from the menacing dark. Only flitting dream of helping others flitted in and out of awareness.

I recognized the gift of sleep and gave thanks for last night’s willingness to exercise, despite blithering fatigue. Perhaps, that’s what made the difference, or thrilling to Jules Massenet’s incidental music, or perhaps taking the “Cocktail,” for months, the same dose: 0.3 Morphine and 0.3 Lorazapan.

Whatever it was, I slept, and the sun seems brighter today.

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