Bite Your Tongue!
My mouth is full of scar tissue. It was crammed with sharp metal braces during the 70s. I’ve received blows to the head while playing sports and drinking at university beer bashes. I’ve escaped screaming nightmares by biting myself awake. Sometimes the simple reflexive action of chewing food gets complicated. Worse, I’ve eaten my words many times and serif fonts tend to go down like glass shards and razors.
Late last month I turned up at my dentist’s office one morning for my regularly scheduled scaling and cleaning. I was no sooner reclined in the chair with my back already becoming sore and my jaw unhooked like a snake who’s about to swallow a rodent when the hygienist said, “Oh.”
I said, “Umgh?”
“I’m going to take a picture for Doctor to get a second opinion but I think you’ll have to see a pathologist. You appear to have a pre-cancerous lesion on the floor of your mouth.”
I thought: Swell. And wasn’t the graphic warning on the packet of cigarettes in the pocket of my leather jacket the oral cancer one. Was this irony or mere pathetic fallacy? Coincidence and probability more likely, a random carton of Player’s from a random convenience store.
“Have you eaten any sharp foods lately? Potato chips?”
Meanwhile, would I like to watch the skinny television mounted on the ceiling? No. No, thanks. I’ll just stare at the Philips Econ-o-watt logo on the fluorescent light tubes and count the baffling number of holes punched through the t-bar ceiling panels. “We’ll just continue with your appointment.” And I’ll just live with the stuff you’ve sent reverberating through my head, listen to the noise of your tools and my silent voice. Fair enough?
So, I had 30 or 40 uncomfortable minutes to endure in a place I hate to contemplate cancer. The disease is slowly killing my mother. It killed my big brother. I believe cancer killed my father too in a way: Dad, a Second World War air force veteran, had his own health issues but to live longer than his first born child even as he himself was nearing the end of his life was just a little too much more to bear.
I thought: This could be bad, some sort of head cancer or something. The doctors will have to saw off my jawbone, remove my neck, cut out my tongue and extract my esophagus. They don’t do skull transplants. Maybe the cancer has already metastasized into my lungs and brain? And probably some organ around my stomach that I’ve taken for granted. What does a pancreas do, anyway? Fuckit, they wouldn’t even operate because some medical bureaucrat would sniff that I was a poor patient: “He smokes, he drinks and he likes deli food, pizza and hot dogs. He’s not proactive about wellness. Never ate kale. Can you imagine? Sad bastard deserves everything that’s coming to him and I hope it hurts.”
I thought: Everything’s fine until it’s not. I just wanted the black coffee stains on my teeth polished away. As for dying, a cardiac keel-over shoveling snow would be a blessing, no disfigurement and minimal pain. Death itself isn’t scary but the Reaper’s method can be terrifying, torture, drawn out.
I thought: This is just great, me dying of cancer in the dentist’s office. If Mom has to bury both of her sons that would reduce the family to just our sister and Mom, and they’ve been butting heads since 1954. Don’t want to leave a legacy of conflict. All right, at least my will is up to date and The Great Big Book of Very Important Documents, housing certificates of baptism and birth (in that order), insurance policies, copyrights, computer passwords, investments and other notarized documentation detailing my time on Earth is on the floor of the closet in the spare room. The paperwork is done except for my certificate of death. It’s all good.
I thought: Stick with the original cremation plan because who wants to view a decapitated cancerous head in a very small open casket or an Amazon shipping box? Organ donation for sure, but my lungs and liver have been heavily used, not my call. I offered my brother a kidney toward the end of his life, but he already had two and they seemed to be working okay. Other internal bits and parts had failed him before their warranties were due to expire. I would have exchanged my existence for his but that’s an impossible deal to broker with another’s indifferent malignant disease.
I thought: My death will be a hassle for Ann. She’ll have a lot on her plate following my departure. I know she loves me and will miss me but she’ll have to get on with things. I better formulate a play list; help her out with some details for the biggest day of my life, my end of life celebration which I don’t believe I’ll be able to attend. Ding dong! Geoff is dead! “Pow! Right between the eyes/Oh, how nature loves her little surprises.” Joe Walsh’s Life of Illusion, good one, “Wow! It all seems so logical now.” Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill: “Son, he said, grab your things I’ve come to take you home.” The wistful wisdom of the Faces’ lovely Ooh La La will be apropos if a little late: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” Oh, and Springsteen’s Better Days, this one’s going out to you, my darling Ann.
I thought: Since I won’t be able to talk I must write it down for Ann: don’t forget that fabulous Rolling Stones boot of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away on YouTube. “Give me the beat boys and free my soul/I want to get lost in your rock ‘n’ roll and drift away… Thanks for the joy you’ve given me…” A good note to go out on minus my head and sundry organs, says it all about everyone and everything in my life, really.
“Okay, we’re done. Doctor’s just going to examine your lesion.”
“Geoff! Nice to see you! How’s Ann? I’m just going to have a look.” He got his fingers, his instruments and a bit of cotton into my mouth, manipulated my tongue, peered around, checked his computer screen. “Yes, yes… No, nothing’s changed since you started coming to see us five years ago. I’ve been monitoring it. There’s some scar tissue but your gums are pink and healthy and your teeth are strong. You have good genes! Have a great day!”
I thought: Well, it’s off to a great fucking start. Here it is, not even noon and I’ve already died and risen. Thanks for that. Christ.