Author: Susan Ito

I Got in the Best Shape of My Life at 50…And Then 55 Hit

At forty-nine, I was resigned to being over the hill — an overweight couch potato who avoided exercise and ate pastries with abandon. Walking up a flight of stairs left me winded, but I attributed that to middle age. I was getting old, after all. Then, seven months before my 50th birthday, I got the wake-up call that changed my life: A routine lab test revealed that I had Type 2 diabetes. As a physical therapist, I knew what havoc this disease could wreak on a body. I’d treated patients with diabetes-induced neuropathy, blindness and, in severe cases, amputations that began with an infected toe and led to bilateral lower-leg prostheses. I was shocked and terrified and suddenly determined to beat this condition back with everything I had. I downloaded the Couch-to-5k running app on my phone and started. Designed for couch-sitters like me, it started out so gently it was almost laughable. “Run for 60 seconds,” the voice intoned through my ear buds. A minute? Who couldn’t run for a minute? As it turned …

Almost Paradise: My “Perfect” Small Town Wasn’t So Perfect

The author (second from the left, waving to the camera) and her Girl Scout troop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Ito) When I was growing up in the 70s, the kids in my New Jersey suburb ran unfettered through interconnected yards and played until the fireflies came out. At dinnertime, some were called home by cowbell or whistle; my mother stood on our back porch and walloped an iron Japanese gong that reverberated through the neighborhood. I rode my bike with the gold-speckled banana seat and high handlebars to the town pool; we’d go there of our own volition, without parents to drive or supervise us. This was freedom: to take our dollar to the snack bar and sit on plastic chairs, dripping pool water, eating baskets full of French fries spattered in ketchup. To jump in the deep end and play Marco Polo until our fingers wrinkled. Our neighborhood was, in so many ways, idyllic. My one-block long street was unpaved until I was 10, and I remember the gooey, sharp tang of fresh asphalt …

How I Came to Love Shipping (and the Hot UPS Guy)

I was fifteen years old, answering phones in the main office of my high school. “Good afternoon, Park Ridge High School, how may I direct your call?” I’d look up the extension on the printed sheet and punch the square plastic buttons for HOLD and TRANSFER. My best friend had a work-study job in the guidance office, and I put in a few hours a week at my floating desk in the front office. One day, I was answering phones and a tall, handsome woman in a pantsuit pushed open the glass door. She introduced herself as a small business owner from down the street, and said she wanted to post a help wanted notice. “I need someone to work in my business, doing office work after school hours.” I took the index card from her and read the typed requirements. Typing, filing, something about shipping. “I’d like to apply,” I said. I put the card in my pocket, as if to say, I’m not posting this on any bulletin board. “All right,” she said. …

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Dreaming My Way to The Other Place

“She had always lived her best life in dreams. She knew no greater pleasure than that moment of passage into the other place, when her limbs grew warm and heavy and the sparkling darkness behind her lids became ordered and doors opened; when conscious thought grew owl’s wings and talons and became other than conscious.” ― John Crowley, Little, Big That other place. When I first read these words, I gasped. I have often felt as if I lived my best life in dreams, too. A life that I sometimes believed in more intensely than my waking life. I have always been a dream machine, spinning worlds both wondrous and terrifying. My childhood nightmares came from fairy tales, of trolls under a bridge or witches with eyes the size of dinner plates. These morphed into wartime survival epics, escaping and hiding from menacing men in uniform, perhaps drawn from the Nazis in The Sound of Music. I also have a recurring nightmare in which I am driving a car straight up a vertical road and …

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Death of a Salesman’s Samples

Back when I was growing up, we didn’t call it clutter. Or hoarding. It was just “the basement,” and most people thought of it as our subterranean treasure cave. When relatives came over for holidays or my friends visited for play dates, they’d be delighted to be invited downstairs. They’d make their way down the matted, pastel-colored rainbow steps to the lower level of our New Jersey ranch house. This was where my salesman father stacked his towers of cardboard sample cartons. My father would ceremoniously open one of these boxes with a utility knife. The thick strapping tape unfurled and revealed a mind-boggling array of wholesale items wrapped in brown butcher paper. He sold miniature antique dollhouse furniture. Cloisonné jewelry from Taiwan – necklaces with miniature scaled fish in every color. Almost everything came by the gross, which was not gross at all but, rather, the magic number 144 – a dozen dozen. My friends and I dove into grosses of faux birthstone rings, a dollar a dozen. They winked on our fingers, glass …

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The New Man in My Life — My Retired Spouse

“What are you up to today?” This is the question that my husband and I often ask each other over our morning coffee. For most of our 28-year marriage, I knew what my physician husband would be up to — he’d been doing the same things since the day we met. He would be running miles through hospital corridors, performing colonoscopies and liver biopsies. He’d be delivering good news as well as life-changing-in-an-instant bad news. He’d be awakened from a sound sleep and summoned to the emergency room to deal with a “bleeder.” He was dealing in life and death, every day and night. But for the past year, since his retirement, his agenda has taken an almost unrecognizable turn. Now, when I ask that morning question, his answer will startle me. “I’m going to meditate. Do my stretching routine. Maybe go for a bike ride up in the park. Take a nap. Go to the aquarium shop. Read a little.” Who is this guy? I barely recognize him. But I like him. Before he …