Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I was out for a long run along the scenic coastline in Montecito, Calif., where I was being put up for free at the Four Seasons Biltmore hotel. And still, I was mad, and maybe even a little bit sad.

I noticed so many little things that are so distinctly Southern California, it brings me right back to the time I lived here eight years ago: The smell of jasmine, the sound of the train as it goes whizzing by on the tiny sliver of land where the tracks are sandwiched between the highway and the sea. You can hear the freeway, too, the constant hum of traffic that never stops, even in Santa Barbara County, where the pace of life is only slightly slower than the horrific urban sprawl to the south. Then there’s the Pacific, massive and seemingly infinite, the autumnal sun low in the sky so the water sparkles with its reflection like a million diamonds.

And in the midst of all this, all I could think about was my body. I felt like it was working against me. It’s working against me, and it always has.

This isn’t about the usual body image stuff – it goes deeper than that. My legs hurt with every step. I could feel my Achilles tendons tightening and swelling as the ligaments become inflamed. I assumed it’s because I’m heavier than I should be and the extra weight was literally tearing apart my joints. I’m annoyed I couldn’t do the very thing that makes me lose weight because I’m too heavy. The irony is not lost on me. I kept going anyway, pushing through the pain.

I was in Santa Barbara last weekend for a media event hosted by Alaska tourism people, of all things. I honestly have no idea how I get invited to these all-expenses-paid events, with the free airfare and luxury hotel and amazing food. What journalists do not get paid in money they earn in access to things even wealthy people might not have time for.

The food at the Four Seasons was beyond fabulous, and we were wined and dined to the nines. There’s a three-course lunch of super-fresh organic salad (like, you can actually taste the vegetables) and a beautifully poached piece of halibut with fennel and some kind of sweet, cream-based drizzle that I’m guessing is made from mango. Don’t even get me started on the desserts unless you want to hear about coconut creme brulee with these delightful little crunchy goji berries and shaved dark chocolate over a lighter-than-air angel food cake.

So yeah, I ate a lot that day and felt the need to go for a long run, but that’s not what this is about.

It’s about peeing on that little stick and seeing one line instead of two. I tried taking a bunch of hormones this month to try to get knocked up and found out, per the doctor’s instructions, on Day 28 of my cycle that it didn’t work.

In the short run, it’s not a big deal. We can try again.

The long run is a different story. With every month that goes by, my chances keep going down. With every year that goes by, they go down exponentially. And as we go further with trying, the price goes up. We haven’t even done anything yet, not really, and already the bills are more than $2,000 strong. Unfortunately I can’t pay for that with free trips to California.

So I’m running along, barely aware of the palm trees and the brilliant tropical flowers or the small perfect waves I should be surfing because I’m thinking about how most people just have families, if by accident. They get married. They have kids. They get pregnant without even trying once, twice, maybe three times. It seems natural for most people.

So what’s wrong with me? Why won’t my body work the way it’s supposed to?

I start thinking back to when my gymnastics coaches put me on a diet when I was 10 years old because I had a bit of a pooch belly, the same one I’ve been trying to get rid of ever since. I think about the years I lived in California, in my 20s when the idea of changing who you are still seemed plausible. I think about all the exercising and dieting and striving for a certain goal or ideal. I got there, at times to the point where I was unrecognizable even to myself. But I can never stay there very long. It’s like hiking up a giant mountain only to tumble all the way to the bottom just a few steps shy of the summit.

I think about how many people have assumed I’m pregnant because of that pooch belly that has stayed with me all these years. I think about my Dad, who, in the most loving way possible, once said, “Gee, honey, if you ever get pregnant your body won’t change much at all.” I realize he was trying to make light of a heavy situation, but still. It seems like some kind of cruel joke that I might not even get to experience it.

After a fabulous dinner of Alaskan king crab and scallop risotto and a dessert bar that made my teeth hurt just looking at it, I took a hot bath in the oversized tub. I inhaled the delicious smells of the L’Occtaine bath products that came in my room and wondered, What the hell did I do to deserve all this?

But that’s how life works. Things always come your way when you least expect it. Maybe for now, I should just throw out the baby with the bath water. When the bath you’re taking is filled with scented bubbles in a marble, miniature swimming pool-sized Jacuzzi tub at a five-star hotel, it shouldn’t be that hard to do.