I don’t usually name summers, but sometimes they name themselves.
Summer 1997 was the Summer of the House Guests — a season of a seemingly endless procession of people who came and stayed, then stayed some more. We didn’t know why. In 2007, we had the Cool, Wet Summer — and we’ve been paying for it ever since. I knew that would happen.
This summer, 2011, had already named itself when I made my emergency trip to the dentist and heard all sorts of grim and threatening news. This was going to be the Summer of the Tooth — or maybe it would be the Summer of Paying for the Tooth. I hadn’t decided. That’s what happens when you find out you’re a candidate for a tooth implant.
“Guess we’re going to be firing up the blender to make your food this summer,” my husband said, chortling. He seemed to have forgotten all the long lectures I’ve given him over the years to be sensitive to my needs.
“Don’t be an asshole,” I said.
He went on cracking a few heartless, toothless jokes. I ignored them, since I have the deeprooted belief — stemming from a highly religious childhood — that suffering will make me a better person. Conversely, I always assume I will pay for good luck. (See Summer of 2007, above.) You can take the girl out of the Old Testament, but the Old Testament’s the kind of book that has a certain staying power, even when the girl gets old.
But then, out of nowhere, something happened that made me think there might possibly be karma in this cruel world. A few days later, my husband developed a roaring toothache of his own.
He took to walking around the house, holding his jaw and moaning. He was in more pain, he announced, than he’d ever been before — except for the time he had a bad earache in his 20s. (Since men don’t go through childbirth, it seems, their relationship to pain is pretty distant. An earache? Oh, please. Don’t bore me. Let me tell you about my labor pains.)
He complained nonstop. He called the dentist’s emergency number. He picked up a prescription for pain meds. When I came home in the afternoon, he was stretched out on the couch, looking surprisingly content. “I’m treating my toothache with bourbon,” he said, pointing to his empty glass.
It might have been time to make another crack about firing up the old blender — ha, ha, ha. But, as usual, I was trying to find a little meaning in our problems. (I spend half my life poking around for symbolism. This is probably what happens all the time when a religious child becomes an agnostic. She also becomes a nut case.) Anyway, the point was, I was kind of impressed by the synchronicity of our bodies.
“You know,” I said, “I think it’s kind of sweet that our bodies are in sync. And symbolic, too — like our both having bad right shoulders. We’re exactly the same age — and our bodies are crumbling apart at the same rate. It’s practically romantic.”
We sat there and contemplated the fact that his bad tooth was a lower and mine was an upper and decided this meant we were still individuals. And, just like that, the Summer of the Tooth had become the Summer of the Teeth. Two people who spend a good part of their lives making wisecracks as often as they can had something else to joke about.
That’s what we do — summer, winter, fall, spring — as the years and decades pass. Sometimes, I wonder about it. We’re pretty good at laughing at our problems, our aches and our pains. But how long will we be able to keep it up?
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes — I got that all from my childhood, the beginnings and endings. As in writing, it’s the vast middle that mystifies me. The Bible, as I recall, said very little about humor and people who make jokes.
You’d better pass the bourbon, baby. This is too deep for me.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
To read about marital trials and tribulations that do not involve teeth, please see Shut Up, She Explained