“Is there a place to stop for a bite that’s not too out of the way?” asked my customer. Noreen and I had just left the airport en route to a yoga school in Stowe, where she was taking a one-week workshop. She was perhaps 30, with short, black hair and a warm smile. “I know it’s late, but I haven’t eaten since lunch.”
“Gosh, at this hour, we’re probably looking at a fast-food joint. I mean, unless we go into downtown Burlington, and that would be out of our way. Would Burger King or McDonald’s work for you?”
“Yes, Burger King would be fine. They offer a veggie burger.”
“Really?” I said. “A veggie burger at a fast-food restaurant? That sounds like an oxymoron.”
Noreen chuckled and said, “Unless things are different here than in Austin, Texas, I think I’m right. I normally don’t eat fast food, and I’m pretty much a vegetarian at this point.”
I waited in the parking lot while Noreen went inside and did her thing. She returned to the shotgun seat with an orange juice and, yes, a veggie burger — demonstrating once again how little I know. As we both rebuckled our seat belts, I told her to feel free to chow down in the car.
Except for the road surface itself, snow was piled everywhere; it’s been that kind of winter. As the cloverleaf deposited us onto the highway, I asked my customer about the weather in Austin.
“Not much snow down there,” she replied. “But I’m used to this stuff. I’m a Rhody. I grew up outside of Providence.”
Watching her take another bite of her burger, I said, “Hey, tell me about this vegetarian thing. I mean, has your diet changed?”
Noreen’s response was more than I expected. She wiped her mouth with a napkin and said, “Everything has changed for me over the last few years. The foods I eat are just one part of it.”
“Do you want to share anything about that? I mean, the ride’s at least another 40 minutes, and I’m nosy by nature.”
Noreen smiled, took a sip of her juice and placed it back in the cup holder on the dash. “So, I guess what you’re saying is, we have time for the long version.”
“Go for it,” I replied, and reached down to lower the volume on the radio.
“Well, here it is. I had two kids as a teenager. Their father is now long gone — no surprise there. Through my early twenties I grew really depressed and ballooned from 120 to, like, 250 pounds. I must have gone on every diet in the books, but nothing really worked. Then, a few years ago, I was at nursing school and nearly flunking out, so I decided to go for gastric bypass surgery. This was, like, a really extreme step, but I didn’t see any other option.”
“I’ve heard about that,” I said. “It’s a very complex procedure, and I guess there can be severe side effects.”
“Yeah, I knew that, but, as I said, I felt like my life was, like, totally out of control. So, I’m in the doctor’s office — the final pre-op checkup — and I’m lying there gazing at the walls and the ceiling, and I’m thinking, How on Earth did I get here? Then, out of nowhere, a certainty came over me that I would not be having this operation. So I got up, got dressed, apologized and left the office. I rode home feeling a little disoriented but totally solid in my decision.
“Not two days later, at the nursing school, I saw an ad posted for a yoga class. After I took the first class, I knew my life would never be the same. It all made complete sense to me — the practice, the philosophy, everything. Within a year, I was nearly back down to my teenage weight. But that was the smaller part of it. The main thing was, I now had purpose in life. I did complete the nursing degree, but now I’m mostly teaching yoga, and I also do counseling.”
“I bet your personal story is quite compelling for your students and clients.”
“It is. I’m, like, ‘If I can make these changes, you can, too.’”
We drove along in comfortable silence for a while. The snow blanketing the mountains and fields glowed in the moonlight, as if illuminated from within. There are times I feel like my life in Vermont is one extended dream from which I never wish to awaken. Perhaps heaven comes with its own Green Mountains, but how much better could it get?
We exited at Waterbury and drove north on Route 100. Passing the Ben & Jerry’s factory, I asked, “Well, do you have a new man in your life, or are you just consumed with your career and being a parent? I’ve got to believe there’s some Texan down there who would appreciate a woman like you.”
Noreen placed her hand on her forehead and let out a big laugh. She said, “Well, here’s the thing about that. My mother is an Irishwoman and my dad’s a Mexican. OK? So, I would say that I’m pretty darn fiery. You dig?”
“Oh, I dig,” I said, and we laughed together.
“So, when I love, I love with all my heart. There’s no halfway. And, when I’m angry, I am angry. There aren’t many men out there who are ready to deal with that. Plus, I come with a 12- and 14-year-old. That’s quite a package, if you see what I mean.”
“I do see what you mean, and that package looks pretty great to me. Don’t settle, Noreen. I’m sure there’s a guy out there with the eyes to see it and a big heart to match.”
Noreen smiled and said, “Well, that’s sweet of you to say.” Sighing, she added, “Maybe I need to go back to that doctor’s office and lie on my back again, staring at the ceiling.”
“That sounds like a plan,” I said. “And if that doesn’t work, you could always move on to blind dates and the personals.”