For someone whose diet is mostly sugar and tobacco, it was no surprise that I found myself awake at 4am, cradling my jaw from intense pain. Except I live most my life in denial and was actually surprised. Maybe I had some food lodged between some teeth or maybe I had bitten down on something hard. It never crossed my mind that I could have a cavity. “Why do my teeth hurt so bad?” I asked my sleeping husband. He didn’t respond, but he did snore. Discouraged, I grabbed a handful of Sweet Tarts from my night stand and went back to sleep.
The next day around two, which is when I wake if my sleep goes unchecked, I laid in bed with an achy jaw. I stared at the ceiling fan whirring above and tried to recall how I could have possibly gotten lockjaw. My neck, jaw, and cheeks throbbed when I tried to open my mouth. This kept me from my morning rituals of a cigarette and loud obscene name-calling. It was a welcome change for Kenneth who works from home and well into his work day.
My stomach growled and I had to eat something, proving that food is the only reason I ever leave the bed.In the morning or after 10 to 11 hours of sleep, whichever happens first, I really do try to make sure the first bit of food that goes into my body is healthy. I do this even in spite of my morning cigarette. In the kitchen, I stood at my pantry, unable to decide between the raspberry or strawberry PopTarts. I decided to have both and save the self-hatred, which was inevitable, until after dinner. Waiting for the first set of PopTarts to heat, I leaned against the counter and stretched my jaw. I could taste blood, even through the forced post-sleep cigarette.
Panicking and getting lost in “what if’s” I swiftly walked to the bathroom. In a moment of panic, I never allow myself to run. Running means the situation is real while walking quickly means the horror is safely confined to my imagination. In the mirror, I stuck a couple of freshly washed fingers in my mouth. I pulled at my lips and pushed my tongue aside but I couldn’t see anything. No signs of blood. The fear subsided at the sound of the toaster from the kitchen. “Bleeding teeth or cold PopTarts?” I weighed in my head. “Maybe the hot raspberry filling will cauterize any possible wounds in my mouth.” I decided on breakfast.
It’s raining again here in Dallas. Not just a light trickle either. A real thunderstorm with house-shaking thunder, crackling white stripes of lightening, and flooded streets. This kind of weather always, always makes me sentimental.
I feel slightly cautious saying this, especially now in the aftermath of Moore, OK, but destruction fills me with a warm sensation that I can really only describe as joy. I’ve always thought that, as cynical as this may be, that nothing brings people together the way death and chaos can.
Sure people get their spirits warmed around the holidays, but I never could. Like some, if not most families, holiday get-togethers always end in tears and regret. My family would bicker from Christmas all the way to Easter. The three months until the 4th of July is always a period to let our throats rest and look for more ammunition.
I’d be a fool to think that misery is just confined to household holiday celebrations. Even in the work place, people would balk at company-supplied festivities and fake their way through to the end.
Anarchy, however, always brings people together. It’s the only time, that I’ve experienced, that people show actual care towards one another. A day after the tornados leveled Oklahoma, we had an emergency meeting to discuss precautionary tactics should the building become under threat. We all listened intently as the CEO and head of security cruised through details. Except for me. I missed most of the directions because I was too distracted by my own giddiness. Looking around the office break room, crowded with furled brows and wringing hands, I felt a squeal of delight rise in my throat.
I had just gotten my brand new black Honda Fit. I hadn’t even had it a week and already I was putting some serious wear on the machine. I’d drive all day and night, with the windows down, smoking cigarettes, and listening to music. It must have been close to 2 am when I found myself on near vacant streets of uptown Dallas.
Coming upon a red light, the Garbage song “Special” started pumping through the speakers. Many times before I’d reenact the flight sequence from the music video. I’d get on the freeway and mercilessly weave between cars, going about 80 miles per hour, pretending I was in flight and battling my way through the crowd. It was pretty dangerous stuff, but I was a teenager fueled by feelings of invincibility. Something I’d never do now.
To say that getting old is a surprise is a flat out lie. People always talk about how old age just crept up on them unexpectedly, that they didn’t see it coming. But to them I say, no, diarrhea creeps up on you unexpectedly. Not getting older. Birthdays at least happen once a year and if you’re ever doubtful of that, you can just check your moms’ calendar.
While I don’t agree with those people, I do understand their perspective. When I attended college at 27, I didn’t think of myself as old despite the 18 year olds milling about. A more secure person would never let the age difference bother them. I’ve never been mistaken for a secure person, but I’d like to think I am when it comes to my age. I’ve never lied or denied my age. In fact, since turning 21, I have always rounded up. Since turning 28 two years ago, I have told people that I was 30. I do this not only to become more comfortable with the idea of turning 30, but also for the resulting compliments of how “good I look for my age.”
My security in my age was once and only once ever been weakened. By the time I was 27, I had been called “sir” plenty of times, although it had mostly been from police officers returning my drivers license or baristas politely handing me my drink. But on a college campus, “sir” takes a different meaning. That was a word reserved for professors, so when a teenager called me “sir” it was a bit of a jolt. I had to take a moment, and a deep breath, to thoroughly examine the boys usage of the word. Was he just being polite? I recall the boy was Asian, like, a real from-the-continent-of Asia kind of Asian. The kind that, stereotypically, had exceptional manners. Not the American-born kind of kid raised on Youtube and Jersey Shore where the most you can hope for is a “please” and maybe a “thank you.” So, perhaps his use of the word “sir” was just a formality instilled by strict parents to be used on anyone older than they. Or maybe the closer I got to 30 the more of a stink of death I emanated and his “sir” was just mournful. Whatever his intention was, I felt old.