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The Middle-Age Spinal Curve

by A. Frank Bower

I first saw differences between the sexes at a young age. Hold on; doesn’t sound right; trite; inaccurate. Let me start again. My parents were beach-aholics. Whenever possible they baked on the sand at the shore. Children came along; they dragged us there, too.

Every weekend, like clockwork, we spent all day at Myrtle Beach. The little one in Connecticut, not the big one. Mom worked on her tan. Dad swam. My older brother tried to pick up girls while my two older sisters tried to be picked up. Those lessons, however, are for a different story.

I’m the youngest; I was dumped on by my siblings. I withdrew and became inward oriented, curious about everything I observed. I saw many things to think about on the beach. My brother’s eyes guided me to a concept of feminine pulchritude. My sisters showed me what attracted them to boys. Physically, I mean; behavioral lessons are a separate issue. So, when young, I appreciated the slenderness of youth.

Summer brings a wide variety of people to beaches. I paid attention to my surroundings, not just to youngsters. I once commented to Mom about a short man, “He looks like an ape.” She shushed me, of course, but I was amazed by his hair. Little skin showed. Another time, I pointed out an obese woman in a bikini; again, I was told to be quiet. In short, I learned to keep my observations to myself.

Sometime during the summer of my eleventh year, I first noticed differences between backs of men and women, when viewed in profile. I do not refer to thin and youthful people. I needed to learn to distinguish between middle-aged, older and elderly; they were all old to me.

Overweight women tended to protrude between their shoulders, as though their heads were slid forward. Men wore most of their excess weight at the abdomen: the traditional ‘beer belly’; it pushed their lower backs forward. It’s common knowledge male and female systems gain mass differently, not what I refer to. That’s just the genesis of my theories.

The summer I turned fourteen I saw a man at Myrtle Beach who looked cocky. He was about six feet tall, fortyish, with an extra thirty pounds in front of him. There was the indented lower back; it compensated for weight in front of it. I watched him walk by me. When the word ‘cocky’ hit me, I asked myself what gave me the impression. He was the origin of my psychological presumptiveness. He looked cocky because he was. Mentally, I flogged myself for exercising a faulty leap of logic. Countless factors could account for his braggadocio. I was being a silly kid.

A woman passed by. Her spare forty pounds were distributed more evenly. She was about the same age as the man; her head was somewhat forward and a bit downcast. I concluded: She’s oppressed. I stopped myself from the line of thought until I saw and heard the man next to her be gruff. “Tina! Pick a spot, for Chrissake!”

Maybe I had something.

Over time, I made thousands of such observations. While I sat on the beach at age fifteen, I first asked myself: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the body develop due to internal processes? Or, did development of the body determine parts of human character?

In high school, these questions were relegated to mere meanderings of the mind. They went onto the back burner while my hormones did their thing.

I started college at eighteen; never mind my major. I minored in Theatre. I tried acting. The Method fascinated me. Thank you, Stanislavsky. To make myself cry, I learned to think about when my dog died. I dredged similar feelings from my guts to achieve an outward behavior.

Until I got assigned the role of a man in his sixties. I asked the director how to age myself from inside.

He said, “It’s beyond your experience. Figure it out.”

On my own, I tightened my foot muscles and counted vertebrae. I walked slow and hunched over a little from my mid-back. I was told it worked.

Flashback: those ponderings from Myrtle Beach returned. I looked at my professors through different eyes. All adults were grist for my mill.

I didn’t spare my parents. Mom stayed slender; her spine was fine. She was a confident lady. Dad, on the other hand, had a basketball belly. His lower back indentation was slight. However, his upper vertebrae protruded out like a mini-hunchback.

I knew he led a pressured life; he had bosses. The Dad I saw was self-assured, but I decided he was different at work. Because of his back. After all, clichés become clichés for a reason: Where’s your backbone?

My many observations reinforced the key question, the chicken-egg thing.

I was unable to draw conclusions from most elderly people. Too many variables, like osteoporosis. Young adults had not progressed — or digressed — enough for me to make decisions about them. My obsession was about middle-aged adults.

I watched men and women; I saw many without weight problems with spinal anomalies — to me. Men with aligned spines do well with women. Women who stand erect have self-esteem and are often labeled ‘bitches’ by men. Adults who hold their heads up a hair too high condescend; they ‘look down their noses’ at us. Their spines are indented at the neck, pinched; they tend to have frequent headaches.

Be straight with me. What does that mean? The concept of causation drove me for years. In negative ways, it affected my relationships throughout college and my first two jobs.

At age thirty-three, I met my wife. She’s a Registered Nurse; a hard-working, caring lady. Her spine is straight. She looks directly at everything and sees the ups and downs of life.

When I realized I was in love, my honesty kicked in. I told her about my spinal observations. She laughed. She called me a strange man. I suppose she’s correct.

But she took it seriously enough to talk about it. “If,” she said, “you stub your toe, you react. It’s automatic, built in. It’s how the body gives environmental messages to the brain. If your mind feels sad, you cry, and your body reacts with tears and, maybe, sobs. So, you tell me: do you think curvature of your spine causes who you are?”

It took somebody outside myself to answer my question. It’s called communication. My wife tells me all the time, “Keep it simple, stupid.” I hope I do, now.

By the way, I have the mini-hunchback thing — just a bit. From looking down for too many years.

The day I proposed marriage, I stopped doing that.

Copyright © 2009 by A. Frank Bower

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