Thursday, November 22, 2007

Saltless tears

from The View From Mrs. Sundberg's Window
background reading: Keep a Short Story Short & Your Life Does Have Meaning

November 19, 2007

Grief and Novocain

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was radically not bad, to be honest. I found myself cleaning the pantry this time around, radio plugged in and door shut and all. I didn't want to miss the show for a moment, despite the kids' hollering for me to come watch them do jumps on the rollerblade ramp they built out in the driveway. It'll have to wait, I told 'em. I was still feeling a bit raw from Dolores' passing, so when they sang "I'll Fly Away" on the show I had to stop dusting and rest a minute on the old milk stool I inherited after Uncle Ray died. Funny thing about grief. You think you've got a grip on things and then you smell lilacs or hear a song or see how light comes down through the clouds and you come undone all over again.

I'm not sure grief is what Friday's episode was all about. I'd had that appointment on my calendar for months. Three hours at the dentist, six new crowns, front and center. Not an emergency thing, or cosmetic, or even really necessary. But important. When a person begins to hide her smile, it's time to get down to business with the teeth.

So there I was, bibbed and reclined, enough Novocain in my face to bring a galloping horse to a standstill. I don't have much of a problem with the whole dental experience. My dentist is kind enough to let me bring in my own ceiling pictures, so this week I chose Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" and a photo of the holiday cheese display at my grocery store and a photo of a lake somewhere in Canada at sunset.

As the dentist began the second half hour of drilling, I focused on the cheese and thought about a series of colorized black and whites of the domestic ordinary. Mr. Sundberg will think I'm crazy, of course, but I've had it in me lately to help my fellow grocery shoppers see again the landscape of the produce aisle and reconsider the cultured vitality of the dairy section. Of course, then my thoughts wandered to vacuum cleaner stores and spatula factories and I had to have sip of water.

That's when the tears started up. I wasn't sad, nor was I aware of any pain. I don't know why they came, but they did. I lay there, now with closed eyes, and the tears rolled on out, down the side of my head and down behind my neck. The dentist asked whether I was alright and I nodded and the tears kept comin.' "Must be the light," she said, referring to the lamp shining in my face. "Lots of people have tears in bright light."

I gave a little nod with my eyes closed and thought how silly I must look — my mouth clamped open with what looked like a jar opener, and drool all over the place, and tiny streams of mascara heading for the hills.

Someone told me recently that tears of real grief have no salt in them. You can actually do a grief check by tasting your tears. I never did get around to it after Dolores' funeral. I didn't think of it until the dental visit, and by then my tongue was too numb to be of any use. But no matter. Grief or not, it's time to move forward. Thanksgiving is at hand, and I'm thankful as all getout. Lord knows I have all I need, and enough to share with my friends, and a stranger or two along the way. I've got Michele the dentist, and the smile she gave back to me. And my kids, of course, and a man who hears every word I say and holds my hand during thunderstorms. And then there's the pantry, and the tractor, and the fact that I can still climb a tree without much trouble. Life's a good thing to be aware you've got. Sure is.

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