Catudal, Steph. Everything All at Once. Harper Collins, 2023.
Reason read: Team Rivs!
Celebrity is a weird thing. I first learned of Tommy “Rivs” Puzey when my husband bought me a new treadmill and it came with a free subscription to some training thing called iFit, a catalog of pre-recorded training/workout videos. I was a once-upon-a-time long distance runner, sidelined by injury and in desperate need of a comeback. Running was my therapy, truly the only way I could clear the mental fog caused by the everyday world that could cloud my wellbeing. One of my first workouts was with a strange, very tall, bearded man who walked and ran on tiptoe and called himself Rivs. He always wore a hat, tripped a lot and had many sayings that would soon become mantras (don’t get dead being one of my favorites). In addition to giving great advice about getting back into running, Rivs talked geology, anthropology, architecture, physiology, linguistics and history like a soft-spoken nutty professor. He couldn’t run by a plant without naming it or sometimes tasting it. I learned more about Portugal by running “with” Rivs than had I been there with a flag-yielding group tour guide. Aside from his didactic nature, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by Rivs; a guy who tries to eat an unripe olive straight from the tree (bitter!), or licks rocks to taste for salt, or is humble enough to not edit out the part when he falls on his ass while running down a steep hill. (Stay vertical!) Kind and considerate. In one session, calling himself rude, he actually apologized for eating a persimmon he knew his viewers could not taste. Who does that? I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I tried to finish every series Rivs shot (except Japan eludes me to this day). So, when I got the news Rivs was deathly ill (good old Instagram) I was floored. Like millions of other avid fans, I followed his case and condition as best as social media would allow. Once he was well enough to reach out to the world, we all, from every corner of the earth, anxiously awaited the words “not today.” We willed the words Not Today to show up every. single. day. I know I would feel a sense of despair when a few days would go by without those two simple words that held so much weight. I found myself praying for a complete stranger. And I am one of the faithless.
Then came Steph. Beautifully broken but brave Steph. As his wife, she became the lifeline for us Rivs fanatics. Team Rivs. She filled us in on treatments and prognosis. Her words were the balm despite the potential for permanent bruising. I fell in love with her lyrical fragility. Her words were at once stark and orchestral. A single cello note held low and sweet in orchestral medical chaos.
But, oh how I digress. Steph’s book, Everything All at Once, is what I’m here to talk about.
Reading Everything All at Once, it is as if Steph Catudal takes off all of her clothes, stands before you, and shamelessly points out every emotional battle scar she has ever acquired over the years. In the vehicle that is Everything all At Once and without fear she describes the historic places where her childhood cut and coming of age left invisible burn marks. With total honesty she appears to leave nothing out. The rage, the rebellion, the overwhelming urge to self-destruct. She courageously shows you her biggest wound: how she coped with the pain of losing her father to cancer. She embraced drug-fueled recklessness as a mechanism to forget; a secret seething rage. She didn’t know who she was without the destructive behavior of addiction. Her healing is a story in itself but wait, there is more. Her youth is only a preface to a bigger disaster of the heart. When her husband of twelve years develops a cancer so rare only ten other people had its diagnosis (and didn’t survive), Steph acquires the ultimate damaging scar only love can inflict. He is expected to die. How many times can medical professionals and hospital chaplains tell you this before you believe it? Expect it? Steph had to wish end of life in order to be in the same hospital room as her husband. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the book. I spent way more time explaining its importance than reviewing it. In a nutshell, Steph is a rare bird, rising from the ashes of a past that should have killed her. Instead, she emerges stronger, more resilient, and dare I say, even more badass?
As an aside: as soon as I read these words from Steph, I knew I wasn’t crazy for having a connection to Rivs, a complete stranger: “Once Rivs let you in, it was almost impossible not to love him. To not be changed by him.” I want to tell Steph this: you don’t have to be let in. You don’t have to know Rivs at all. You can be a stranger, a nameless and faceless fan on a treadmill, listening to him babble on about bitter olives and basalt tile and it will have an inexplicable impact on your life. Losing weight, trying to get fit, recovering from illness, striving for mental health, keeping the demons at bay. Whatever the reason for getting on the treadmill, it’s personal. Rivs somehow reaches through the technology with humble grace and holds you up, keeps you going. Eyes Up. Without telling you he tells you; you are not alone.
Playlist: Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and Mason Jennings