I stand in front of the mirror.
I go through the motions of the nightly ritual.
Contacts out, face cleaned, teeth brushed…
I stop myself as I begin thinking about my teeth.
The brush scrapes across my teeth and my gums and I’m harsher with my mouth than I probably should be. I recall the trip to Niagara Falls in 2009. My grandfather’s funeral on my brother’s birthday. Valentine’s Day in 2009. The flight into Buffalo, meeting with Susan, my father, and Paul. Staying the night in a hotel, giggling across the room in the dark with Susan almost certain I could hear the eye rolls coming from my brother who had been sharing the bed with me.
There were sad moments, happy moments, and life moments that happened in that trip. Going by rented car across the border into Canada. My grandfather embalmed and then waiting to be buried when the spring thawed the ground. My cousin, her wiener dog, the extended Canadian family, the food, and the drinks.
I remember that this was the first and only time that Susan made it into Canada. We stayed in a hotel right near Niagara Falls on the Canadian side after the funeral and made the trip into something that she could remember. There was even a moment in the evening that Paul and I decided that we were going to leave the “adults” alone and we went to the bar. He explained to me that he liked martinis, but only with gin. He liked gin so much he would order a shot of gin with his beer.
“Gin?!?” I remember exclaiming. “That’s not a shot you want to chase with a beer!”
He disagreed and enlightened me to the joys of gin and all the ways it could be enjoyed.
I felt like the big sister when I paid for the drinks, because I had a job that paid better than a sergeant in the Army. I wanted to keep taking care of him. But I knew he was good. He had already become an adult without me.
Paul told me about the ring he had bought. About the girl that he loved and that he hadn’t done anything to ask her. He had even upgraded the ring once already because he had been holding on to it for so long. I still wonder what ever happened to that ring…
On our way back across the border I was chewing gum and something popped inside my mouth. A filling or just the tooth collapsed and I found myself under so much pain that I couldn’t control the tears that came to my eyes. My father always get nervous in that space he refers to as “No Man’s Land” between the borders and there I was trying to stay silent with tears streaming down my face.
Pain killers, a flight from Buffalo to Seattle, and an emergency root canal finally took care of the pain. The tooth always reminds me of that time from Buffalo to the funeral and Niagara Falls. So as I attacked my mouth, I recalled that time six years ago. Paul has been dead for three of those years and Susan has been dead for seven of those months. I still my hand, and I spit into the sink. Why does my brain take me there?
Staring at the mirror, I start to apply the night creme.
This is the same face I’ve looked at for over 33 years. I’ve watched this woman change, grow, cry, stare, and breathe. Even now, I wonder who she is and who she is going to be.
My fingers apply the creme starting at my lower jaw line and in circular motions I move upward.
Those were the words that Susan used. There was a woman older than her that she spent the night with when she was a little girl. She gave those words of advice to Susan when applying night creme. It was something that you would do so often that even the motion of your fingers could influence the places your skin wanted to go. There was no small amount of wonder about the two words passed on as advice from one generation of women to another and then yet another through telling a story. I wondered briefly where my words would land once I could no longer breathe.
So I do, and smile.