I was bowling down Jelly beans like a 10 year old, lost in the sugary bliss. In an instant, this childhood act steered me directly to adulthood. Mixed within the goo was a shattered tooth, large, hard chunks amidst pure sugar. A mouth full of irony. I instantly ease off the gas- no more chomping, rolling my tongue over my bottom set of teeth, and bring my hand to my mouth to reveal what I’d crunched upon. I size up the sticky wad. My eyes look at the tooth as my tongue laps over the sizable void in my mouth. For a moment, I like the feeling of having sharpness in my mouth. I fell predatory, as if I’m the top end of the food chain (as I suppose I am). And yet- right there and then, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I was breaking down. Literally, weakening from within.
The following day I’m looking up at the light. I wasn’t drugged, nor dying, and more relaxed than I’ve been in a long time. Deeply reflective forces were at hand. I couldn’t talk, and being coerced into submission, I didn’t want to. The dentist and the nurse pushed along a conversation about nothingness. It was hub-hub. Nice, and company I suppose. I was stuck on the fact that it had been a full generation since I’d last sat in a dentist’s chair. Lost in the math I let the British light- branded with the Queens crescent, lull me into full surrender. My last check-up was grade 5, chaired-up in a Melbourne suburb close to my third primary school. The clinic, a retired house, was rendered gray, with a tiled roof. I don’t recall anything particular about the inside. Nothing happened really, just a few ahhhs. An obliged visit through a school dental program. Outside the clinic was a Camellia. I know this because it’s the first tree I knew by sight (other than the obvious gum, or pine- although I knew nothing of the individual types of either). Waxy, dark green leaves and plump flowers were the give-away. The fat red flowers were heavy on the branches and rotten petals were slippery on the patio entrance. Mum taught me about the Camelia, the popular Sasanqua Camelia.
That was 22 years ago, 3 years after my only, and last, paid-for haircut. The haircut was a bastard of an experience. Poked and prodded, hair everywhere- far worse than any dental experience. What a load of nonsense I’d thought, getting your hair done. What the heck does an 8-year old care what his head looks like? Shit, it grew like wildflower- what a waste of time being careful about it. And being curly, who damn cares? I certainly didn’t then, and I suppose, not much has changed. The Dental visit in Kew a few years later was a soda, and seemed far more reasonable, if forgetful. Maybe (and what has me writing this now), it all hints at tasting, touching, feeling and being mortal. Swayed back in the business-class sized chair, I was tapping into what it feels to be vulnerable, not just to hear about it, or read about the degeneration of age- as a scientific, factual, biological cycle, but to succumb to it. To feel it. More so, to feel it eating away at me, weakening. Having being born, then grown to adult size, to develop my greatest strengths and now, at a tipping point, where this growth and development slides towards degeneration. Not just a tooth rattling free, but 12 months of my body and mind falling apart. A year, ultimately, of feeling sub-par. Multiple doctor surgery’s, needles, thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles in place of running; promising mum I get some Zen, downtime and repair. Of getting better, but not quite. Being questioned by caring practitioners amidst what seemed like phantom symptoms. Weak leads to health cures encouraging self-witchery and conspiracy. I was crook, then ok, then poor again. Deficiencies in vitamin D? Iron? Sick in the head? Too many apples? Broken heart? Just plain lonely? Did I subconsciously want to be sick? To stop and question being hell bent on being physical. To just be? Be in one spot and not darting elsewhere, forever not home? Was I self-sick? Vagaries were everywhere. Nothing has been quite right; mind, body- the combined two. Hell, you can’t separate them, try as we might. My fire burned cooler, less intense. I was able to talk myself down. What was once a easily stoked fire of bridled motivation, as a ‘doer’, was being doused with subtle excuces and neutrality. Walk instead of run, sit instead of walk, stay instead of go, rot instead of grow. My pep, Jesus- I, was lost. I lurked in my own shadow wondering when the light would return.
Warm hands of health professionals started to appear in abundance (surely a dot point of health care 101). Yet the clinical world of vaporised rooms and uniforms meant much of it was faceless. Eye contact was often void in the relationship. Being contrastingly clean in its delivery, rarely is eye contact a pre-requisite in question time. Supine aloft a 4ft high, 7ft long bench, slabbed with an oversized disposable chamois and shoved against a wall is a lonely place. Desks have oversize plastic organs on upright skewers and pens with drug company’s logos stand upright in a coffee mug, also emblazoned with a logo. The doctor, often not my regular, tries to get to the bottom of things in the quickest possible time. I fancy he’s Googling my symptoms as I describe them. I throw in ‘I run a lot’ to see if he takes notice. How far, he should ask? What do you regularly do? What are the abnormalities in training etc? Quiz me. Process a path of reduction, as I do when trying to find single-track instead of a main road, side road, dirt road. Whittle it down. Nothing. No leads. Blood a bit limp, but ok. Chest, wheezy and not quite right, but ok. Head, un-fun and boring, as limp as my blood, but ok. In a year of mortality you become familiar with the lights, the craftsmanship of ceiling cornice and the difference between the flat ceiling white and off-white walls. The lighthouse genius of the armed, bending and articulated patient light with its centre filled-in like an eclipse. It makes you think of death, being beckoned. I thought this on one occasion and smiled, then got promptly growled at for gagging on wintergreen air and jets of water. I like the heavy drill. It gently rocks my head with high revs and makes my gums shake. I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth with expert tools.
My dentist has the most beautiful skin. Barely exposed to anything but the off-white walls, cleanliness and a 22 degree building- and Indian. How I’d love to have that magnificent outer- the lovely wash of perfect hue; strong coffee/weak chocolate. No doubt she works more hours in the week than she cares to admit. And my surgeon, before being gloved, has remarkable hands. Fine and blemish free, worked and refined in a different way to the barked, gripping and gnarled hands of a farmer. Both masters of fixing things. I began to compare the work spaces after several visits. The doctor’s surgery is similar, yet different in so many ways. For a start the ceiling is higher- as if a symbol of the physician being higher in the doctor ranks. A doctor of all, instead of a doctor of the mouth requires a higher ceiling and wider architrave. But no, the house is merely older, and colder. More expensive to heat no doubt. The light is the same. A blotted out middle with spiraling bevels of glass radiating light with cleaver angles and trickery. This is my most serious visit. I’m having a skin caner cut from my forehead. A 20 cent piece from above my left eye. I don’t mind the pain, or needles. The sharp pain is such a jolt, and real. I like the reminder of the acute response, my mind associating the sharpness with the sound of cutting, the hum of the surrounds, the warmth, and absence of words. A complete sense of reality. I lay there and lose a part of myself, literally I suppose. It’s the most wonderful time to think. Freedom in where the mind might go. Pondering the big questions in life through succumbing to larger forces, smarter hands and new physical worlds. I imagine why the white light calls people. The lure of freedom, of indulgence into an imaginary, perhaps real place where time doesn’t exist and we’re forever ageless. This is, my year of mortality. Where age no longer plateaus. I degrade. Sliding ever so subtlety- heck, even beautifully, towards old age.