A tooth! A tooth! My kingdom for a tooth!

I recently went in for a full dental x-ray. As usual I was asked to fill out a questionnaire with all sorts of personal questions while wondering how in the world they could possibly apply to what I was in for. You know the ones. The ones you’d like to write NOYDB: none of your business. But at this imaging place was a question I’d never before come across. The question was, “would you be upset if you lost all of your teeth?”

Hmmmmmm. Was that a trick question? I mean . . . really? Who wouldn’t? Was this one of those passive-aggressive tactics our mothers used to use when trying to manipulate us into changing our behavior? “Do you want me to march into your class and tell every one that you wet your bed last night?”

It really had me stumped and I had to sit and think for a few minutes. If I answered no I would be lying but would it show that I’m tough and can handle depressing situations? If I answered yes does that mean they need to watch me carefully, hiding blunt instruments, putting me on suicide watch, making sure I don’t follow other patients that have a full set of teeth out the door while carefully concealing a pair of pliers?

I literally got up out of my chair, walked up to the receptionist, pointed at the question and asked her, “Has anyone ever answered this as a ‘no’?”

What would a person like that say? What would a person like that look like??

Which comes to the reason for this particular visit. My periodontist (yes, I have several specialists in regards to my dental health. You could feed a third world country on what I’ve spent on my teeth) announced that there was nothing he could do for one of my teeth and that it would have to be extracted.

As in pulled.

As in yanked.

As in a hole and space between two perfectly healthy teeth.

“But the good thing,” he hastened to add, “is that you are a great candidate for an implant.”

Okay, now when a gal hears the word “implant” she’s not going to get that excited unless it involves bigger boobs.

For those who are not toothing impaired, a dental implant involves putting a metal post in the hole where your tooth was and then a fake tooth–much like a crown–is screwed on top. Voila. This new tooth won’t be distinguishable from the others. The only difference you will notice is that sucking noise coming from your wallet.

I was a bit worried the night before my surgery. What if I wasn’t the prime candidate my dentist had hoped I would be? I was having nightmares of Jack Nickolson holding a spinning dental drill and screaming, “You can’t HANDLE the tooth!”

I’ve recently realized I’m fast approaching the age where more and more things are being yanked out and bionic parts are being shoved in—but the only special powers to show for it are crankiness and a full-blown snarky attitude. When I die my kids will be able to strip me like an old car and sell my parts for scrap metal. Which is only fitting as they are partially responsible for the current state my body is in.

To go back to a time when knee caps actually looked like knees, when socks could be pulled up to said knee without fear of gangrene settling in from the elastic cutting off my circulation, when I could wear a swimsuit that didn’t have a skirt attached to cover thighs, and more money was invested in the stock market rather than in my mouth.

I suppose getting older isn’t all that bad. Social filters are slipping enough to allow me to not really give a hoot when I express an unpopular opinion. And enough fatigue is settling in that I don’t feel like I always HAVE to express an opinion. Someone thinks it’s abhorrent to have kids sleep with parents? I don’t really care anymore. MY kids are happy in their own beds–and in their own houses–while I blissfully slumber with earplugs and an eye-shield.

So, I have to admit I’m grateful to live in a time of dental miracles, bypassing those of George Washington’s wooden teeth days. It might not always be glamorous growing old but at least now I have a greater chance of not losing all of my teeth.

But just in case, I think I’ll keep a pair of pliers in my purse . . .

To be Invisible: Part II

In my last post I shared Jennifer Seale’s blog about invisibility and the dehumanization of the human soul. She speaks of running to the mirror to check on her hands and face, certain she was “not real.” I too would spend what seemed like hours in front of the mirror, looking into the face and eyes of a child it seemed no one else bothered to see or hear.

I vividly remember sitting and listening at the kitchen table where many adult discussions were held. Some situations and conversations were set down and picked up day after day and I would return each time, “tagging” along, quiet and unobtrusive. It wasn’t uncommon for the talk to cease and someone to suddenly ask, “How long has she been there?”

Ummmm . . . about a week . . .

I have another memory of sitting on the gymnasium floor with a group of girls filling out a paper for an assignment. I turned to the girl sitting next to me—we’ll call her Lebbie Dusk—and I calmly asked her a question about the assignment.

No response.

So . . . I tried again.

Nothing.

Odd. Maybe she didn’t hear me. So I gently leaned over, put my lips to her ear and . . . yelled her frickin’ name at the top of my lungs.

But there was a problem. (Despite the obvious one that you as a reader and me as a [cough] mature adult recognize at this point: I may have been a bit of a pain in the butt-ox). The problem–at the time–was that it does no good for an invisible person to yell. I didn’t exist.

My sister and mother would often have conversations in front of me and, if I asked for clarification or additional detail about the subject they were discussing, it would be a surreal experience as I watched their eyes look down, to the side, up at the ceiling, at their fingernails, at the cat; every where but at me. They knew that there had been a psychic shift, a strange presence that had stopped their conversation but neither wanted (or dared?) to acknowledge it. So they simply didn’t.

Where was my Haley Joel Osment [I see dead people] when I needed one?

Speaking of dead people, I knew I was really out of the loop when I walked into the mortuary to dress my mother for burial. Laying on the table was this woman with blonde hair. For all of my life my mother had jet-black hair (granted, most of those years were from a bottle.)

“When did mom become a blonde?” I asked my sister.

“Oh, awhile ago. She heard blonde’s have more fun.”

This woman was 68.

I will concede that part of this issue may have been my doing. Maybe I was normally too quiet. Maybe I needed to express my views or opinions more. Maybe I just simply needed to speak up.

So I did. I realized I had a voice and in a moment of epiphany I decided it was time I tried to use it.

It wasn’t as successful an endeavor as I’d envisioned it to be . . .

It was the late 70’s, I was in Junior High and once again I was engaged in my favorite spectator sport, that of studying and analyzing the conversations of the adults around me. My dad was having a chat with one of his buddies in our living room (to this date I cannot even remember what the topic was). I’d taken seriously the internal challenge to get more involved, to speak up, let my voice be heard. I was up on my current events. I read the coolest magazines. I was an intelligent girl and now was my chance to prove it.

I waited for the perfect opening, screwed up my courage, took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet. I nearly exploded with:

“I read an article that in 1984 space aliens are going to invade the earth!”

The room went silent.

All eyes were now—finally–on me.

Wow. I wasn’t invisible anymore.

Not sure how much I liked it.

I sensed my dad was thinking something along the lines of, “I knew I should have had a vasectomy earlier” or “Is it too late to put her in that ‘special’ class at school?” His friend had the look of, “If I don’t make any sudden moves . . .”

I don’t think either one really knew WHAT to say so, after a reasonable amount of awkward staring, they turned back to each other and picked up their conversation, giving no more heed to me than a mental note to nail shut some drafty window.

But hey, I may have struck out but at least I swung the bat.

This is why I love being a writer. Writing gives me the venue for others—and me—to hear my own true voice (whatever truth is at that moment, aliens or no). Part of being a writer is being able to sit still, listen, and watch the world unfolding—and at times unraveling—before you. And I can do that in spades.

I see now that I have the best of both worlds. I can be in a room listening to a conversation, very much incognito, gathering information for articles, characters, and scenes. I then go home, sit at my computer, and bring into form first the skeleton, then skin, bones, and all sorts of sinews until I’ve a nice plump story. My words become the trench coat, glasses, and fedora of the invisible man.

So I suppose, being invisible had its moments. It’s been great fodder for blogs and blackmail, not to mention great scripts for creepy movies.

So now when I glance in the mirror I worry more about the growing number of laugh wrinkles than about an unseen child.

And that . . . makes me smile.

Werds of Wisdum

Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

That was my Dad

I remember a niece asking my mother, “Why are we all just a little afraid of Grandpa?” I wanted to scream “Cuz he’s scary as [beeeeep!], that’s why!” Yes, that was my dad. A wiry little man that I think thrived on the smell of fear.

Perhaps a little background information on a man who fathered three girls and four boys, all of which have their own “fun” stories they like to tell about their dad. First, he was a WWII veteran, drafted into the army and shipped overseas to Europe where he ended up in a little skirmish we call “The Battle of the Bulge.” That and growing up during the depression in the United States shaped him in certain ways long before any of us kids ever came into the picture.

He never took guff from anyone. If one of us children witnessed another getting punishment we’d cringe and think two things simultaneously: “Was that really the BEST solution you could come up with?” and our ever favorite, “Man, I’m SO glad that’s not me.”

He rarely said much, he just did. He was an action man. It could be a belt across the britches, a room turned upside down for not cleaning it properly (including mattresses), or in the case of Ball vs. City Hall, taking matters of a sidewalk into his own hands.

Let me explain . . .

My parents’ house was located very close to two schools. Most people walking to and from followed a narrow alley that butted against my father’s lawn. City Hall requested and received permission from Dad to put in a sidewalk for these school patrons. Cement was poured. A nice, new, fully functioning sidewalk was set side by side the Ball property.

It wasn’t such a great idea. People, as people are want to do, ignored the shiny—albeit hard—new pathway and opted instead to walk on the much softer grass. My father’s grass. That he watered . . . wait, that was my mom. Well, he mowed . . . wait, I think that was Mom too. Hmmm, he OWNED the grass. And after a month or two of watching a well worn path developing through the middle of his lawn he decided that since the sidewalk wasn’t being used it he would just take care of it.

He didn’t say anything. He . . . just . . . did. Without warning he grabbed his backhoe and dug up the city’s cement sidewalk. Yep. That was my dad.

As I listened to my mother tell the story, you know what I thought? You guessed it. “Was the really the best solution he could come up with” and “Man I’m so glad that wasn’t me.”

His favorite pastime was watching old black and white WWII movies while lying on the couch. He’d invariably fall asleep and when we’d tip toe in to turn the channel we’d hear his deep voice behind us, “Hey! I was watching that!” We’d jump and scurry out of there like tunnel rats suddenly caught in the light.

If he thought we were doing something he thought was irritating or . . . hmmm . . . nah, just irritating . . . he’d march down to the basement and switch off the electricity to our bedrooms—without warning and without any explanation. Then we’d scratch our heads and try and figure out what it was THIS time.

Ask him? Are you crazy? Re-read the first line: he was scary.

Late one night I heard him marching down the hall, past my room, and down the stairs. I was up past his bedtime talking with my cousin and I thought, “Snap! We’re too noisy.” I held my breath waited for the lights to click off and for us to be plunged into dreaded darkness.

Nothing.

Whew! Maybe I had him all wrong. The next morning I hear my sister down tearing down the hall and cussing all the way to the bathroom. Dad had got the fuse box switches mixed up and shut off her electricity instead of mine by mistake. I kept my mouth shut and breathed a sigh of relief. I’m glad it wasn’t me! Fess up? Nah. Fear was a closer companion than guilt back then and I was just as afraid of my sister’s wrath.

My dad passed away with my mom over 15 years ago. The adult in me understands the logic of him not knowing they’d be in a car accident. The kid in me is wondering why once again he never said anything—he just did.

No warning. No goodbyes. No explanation.

Now when I see my friends getting a visit from their parents—even if its only one parent—I think to myself, “Man, I wish that were me.” And this time I ask God, “Was that really the best solution you could come up with?”

A farmer. A World War II veteran who never finished high school. A man who was just four months shy of his 50th wedding anniversary when he passed away. A man who unwittingly inspired all of his children to pursue higher educations so they wouldn’t end up on a farm.

That was my dad.

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