It’s been a long, hard, emotional couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I broke a tooth. Instead of driving down to Phoenix to see my regular dentist, I opted to call a recommended dentist up here in the mountains. The price was comparable to my dentist and I wouldn’t have to drive 3 hours down into the hot as hell valley of the summer sun, I could sleep in my own bed, and focus on the actual dental work.
And then, two days before the appointment, I cracked a different tooth, one that my dentist and I had been watching. The broken tooth was a no brainer – I needed a crown. But the cracked tooth was another story.
After much discussion, instead of doing root canal and a crown, with the understanding that it might eventually need to be pulled anyway, I opted to have the cracked tooth extracted. And get a crown on the broken one.
I don’t hate dental work. But lying in that chair, thinking about losing a permanent part of me, brought up all kinds of tears. The dentist was uncomfortable with my crying, but I told her it was just an emotional time for me.
I was numbed on one side of my lower jaw, and again on the other. The back tooth came out, whole, but it was cracked in many places. I was fitted with a temporary crown on the other tooth and told to come back in two weeks.
After the procedures I drove home, numb across the entire bottom of my mouth. I drank some water, had some of Marika’s matzoh ball soup, and got in bed for the rest of the day. I slept most of the next day too, waking only to rinse my mouth, eat a bit of soup and take my ibuprofen.
When you have a tooth extraction, you are told not to spit, drink from a straw, or smoke for two weeks, so that the blood can clot can seal the open hole in your jaw and heal. Suddenly I was on a forced no pot smoking regime. Mind you, I’d been asking the universe for some support so that I could quit, but this threw me.
But I had no choice. I was cranky and crying all day for no nameable reason, and just feeling all kinds of sorry for myself. Every time Marika offered up some help I pushed her away, until she finally retreated to binge-watching a new TV show on Hula all of her waking hours.
On the third day I woke up, still with a toothache and a tweaked back. Not sciatica, but enough of a torquing that I couldn’t stand quite straight or walk very far. The only pain-free position was flat on my back in bed. So now we were both TV binging, but with different shows. And we were hardly talking.
I ate very little, and cried a lot. And I felt myself spiraling down a dark, depressing hole, wondering why were we still together, and what options did I have for leaving if I have no car, no home, and no savings.
On Friday, we were still only talking about the dogs and the weather, but my back was better so I asked her if she wanted to join me at the art gallery. She said no, that she needed some alone time. “After the last 4 days of silence?”
I cried as I drove to the gallery, reminding myself that only I can bring light and vitality to my life, and that I’d have to find some joy for my own self if I was going to move through these feelings. The gallery was a fine distraction, but not very inspiring. I stopped at a thrift store and picked up our mail at the office and then went home. Marika asked how the gallery was, but I wasn’t in the mood to share. So the silence continued.
On Saturday I knew I had to take myself out again, and this time she said she wanted to join me. She was even willing to leave on my schedule. In the first half hour of the ride to Springerville, we drove in silence, with the radio on.
“Is that Adele?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Quickly. Abruptly.
Then I listened a little longer.
Yes, it’s Adele.”
And we drove some more, gaining 1000 feet in elevation, until we were out of the thick forest of pine trees and driving across the open plateau lined with fences to hold back blowing snow in winter. And then we lost the radio signal and there was nothing.
Finally, without crying, I was able to ask her, “So can you tell me what’s been going on?”
She shared that it’s hard for her to be around me when I’m in that place. And I shared how hopeless I felt. That I wondered what the point of anything was. And she offered that maybe in time, I’d start to feel alive again. I cried some more and then finally, I was ready to reach over for her hand that I had so missed touching.
We agreed to have lunch first, at a five-star YELP Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. I chose the softest thing on the menu – tofu with mixed veggies, and it was delicious. We explored the Heritage Museum together, learning about the native ancestors and their nearby pueblo.
And then Marika got a text from our friend in Phoenix who has been going through treatments for cervical/uterine/liver cancer this past year. She and Marika had talked about Marika coming down to help her out at some point, and now was that time.
Suddenly my tooth issues and our rough patch were so insignificant.
Marika was a hospice nurse the last 12 years of her working life. She is an amazing caretaker and medical advocate. On the drive home from the museum we talked about our friend’s condition, and options for Marika to get to the valley. We decided she could rent a car one way, then use our friend’s car while there. We talked about what things she might need to bring with her, not knowing how long she’d be gone.
And then, suddenly I was complaining about my tooth again. I’m sure Marika thought I was being petty, losing perspective about the gravity of our friend’s situation vs. my silly toothache.
But I needed to step back from the sadness of my friend’s incurable disease and refocus on something small and fixable. I held Marika’s hand the rest of the way home.
On Sunday we worked as a team to get Marika ready, making lists, gathering her things, reminding each other that she was the perfect person for this. She drove down to the valley on Monday and has settled in on our friend’s sofa bed. She went to Walmart to get some bird feeders and seed so she can entertain herself during the long, quiet, hot days while our friend does a lot of sleeping.
The dogs and I are adjusting to being up here in the mountains without her. Mabel continues to look for Marika at the door and the car. Cody is happy that we all get to sleep in bed. And I got together with “the girls” up here for lunch and a fun afternoon of Mexican Train.
There are moments when I totally freak out, because my six year old self is terrified that Marika isn’t coming back. That, because last week when we had our big silence and I was wishing that she wasn’t there for a while, that it would come true. That if I really wanted something different than this, I’d have to lose her for it to happen.And so she was going to die.
Because that’s what happened when I was six and my brother was sick, and I wished him dead, and he went to the hospital and didn’t come back.
And then I get so caught up in the story I’ve created in my head, and I feel all of the grief and loss of losing Marika, as if it is real, and happening right now.
Until I realize I am hardly breathing.
When I remember to breathe, I come back to my body. I’ll go for a walk or, if it’s too warm, I’ll take some steps inside, kiss the dogs, and sit and stare out the window at the trees and the forest until I am right here, right now, present moment, where I am able to trust that Marika will be back, and that all is as it should be.
Yes, our friend is going to die. But hopefully, Marika being there will help make the journey easier. And maybe this will remind us to cherish the time we have together, instead of sulking and retreating in hurt silence. I know that every time I roll my tongue over the empty space where my tooth used to be, I’ll remember all of this.