antique dental tools – 1868 illustration
I have had a rocky relationship with dentists my entire life. I remember one appointment when I was a kid – I couldn’t have been more than five or six – when the number of tiny cavities found during one visit numbered in the teens. My teeth have extremely soft enamel, which has led to many fillings over the years, and some of the dentists I’ve seen have seemed more like sadists than doctors. So there were several years in my twenties when I just didn’t bother going to the dentist at all.
These days, although I have a great dentist and what I’m fairly certain is the world’s gentlest dental hygienist, and reminders about upcoming dental appointments no longer fill me with fear, those check-ups have come to symbolize something more melancholy.
In 2012, when I went in for my appointment it was after a three-year hiatus. The break hadn’t been intentional. I remember the conversation I had had during my visit in 2009, when setting a date on the calendar for a year out seemed ludicrous. It seemed then like just one more thing I’d have to cancel or reschedule, so I decided that not making the appointment was the smarter option.
See, by 2010, I reasoned, I would no longer be living in Oregon. I would be living in Italy.
Of course, by 2010 I was not living in Italy. Nor had I moved by 2011, or 2012. And not only did making that appointment last year come with a heavy sigh of recognition that I was not where I wanted to be, setting another for a year later sent me down a spiral I still remember a year later.
It takes nothing at all for me to go from marking a date on the calendar 365 in the future to thinking I’ve let yet another year go by when I haven’t gotten back in touch with the nice girl from the relocation office in Milan who helped me with all that confusing paperwork, because I’m embarrassed that I’ve made no progress toward actually moving, and in fact I’ve actually taken more than a few steps backward on that front. I try not to think of the money I spent on her services – money my father left me when he died – because then my stomach turns over a little more and sends a lump into my throat that I have to fight back down.
My life was supposed to be different by then, according to my “no, I don’t think I’ll make my next appointment” self years ago. The me who says yes to making next year’s appointment these days is – what is she, a pessimist or a realist? Beaten down by years of continuing to put off a dream that’s prepetually “five or so” years away, perhaps I’m finally resigned to the fact that I’m not moving to Italy – or maybe I’m just tired of sounding like I was trying to talk myself into it every time I told someone of my goal.
As she was finishing tending to my teeth last year, my hygienist pulled an angled mirror from my mouth and asked, “So, should we just send you a reminder in a year? Or should we not bother?” I wanted to tell her it wasn’t personal. I wasn’t avoiding them. But explaining my reasons for such a long time between visits was too complicated, too painful, and – most important – not her problem.
My 2013 appointment came up on my calendar last week, and with it a fresh round of sadness. Yes, there went another year of no progress toward Italy. And yes, I made an appointment for 2014 before I left the dentist’s office. But the sadness is more complex now, as I’ve rediscovered making music – something that makes me happier than I’ve felt in years, is very much rooted to where I am now, and that I can’t quite fathom giving up. Even for Italy.
Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s just one more piece of the upheaval that seems to be par for the course the last year or so. Maybe I’ve simply changed my mind. I don’t know. At the moment, what I know is that I have a dental appointment in April of next year, and that makes me less unhappy this year than it did last year. And I guess that’s something.