Yesterday I took Lucy to the dentist. It’s the same dentist I went to when I was her age – eight years old – so it always feels like walking into some kind of time capsule when I take her there. The same dentist, the same receptionist, the same terrifying smell.
This is how things operate in our area, for the most part: they stay the same. Change comes slowly, if at all. Every so often a road is widened or a new development springs up in an unlikely valley, but Gap Diner is still at the corner of 30 and 41, there’s a town clock at the top of the hill, and everyone wonders how the owner of Pizza Box can make a living because the parking lot is almost always empty, as it has been for the last 30 years.
After Lucy’s cleaning I talked and laughed with the receptionist. She is my parents’ age. She shook her head and her eyes got watery when she told Lucy that I used to come walking through those doors, looking every bit as nervous as she did. I remember those visits: the frantic brushing of the teeth, the unfamiliar plucking of floss, the smell of bubble gum fluoride. The pulling of unnecessary molars. The tightening of braces. The haze of laughing gas.
No cavities, so I took Lucy to an ice cream place to celebrate. What is it about the official pronouncement of no cavities that leads me to reward my children with sweets? As she munched on M&Ms smothered in vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, we talked about when I was a kid.
“Did you know this is the town where I grew up?” I asked her.
She shook her head, no.
“Is that why you know all the old people here?” she asked.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
I stared through the large glass window at the traffic coming down the hill to the light. I remembered when that was the only light in town, when Pizza Box, the Gap Diner, and the Hungry Man Truck Stop were about all you had to choose from.
Our waitress kept calling Lucy “honey” and me simply “hon.” This annoyed me, although I’m not sure why. But Lucy just smiled when the waitress walked away.
“People who work in restaurants are so nice,” she whispered, laughing, showing off the space one of her teeth had recently vacated.
I almost mumbled, It’s just because of the tip, but then I decided not to say anything. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking that people are being nice simply because they’re nice. Even if they’re not. And who knows? Maybe she was just being nice. She probably was.
Lucy cleared her throat, took a drink of water, then looked at me with wide eyes.
“So you used to go to that dentist twenty years ago?” she asked, taking another bite of ice cream.
“Actually, more like thirty,” I said, staring back out the window, watching the traffic again. And for one bright instant I saw with clarity the many days of my life, lined up like note cards. All 13,475 of them.
Blank days too early for me to remember and blurry days that passed without me even noticing. Good days full of celebration: Florida vacations and my 16th birthday and the birth of our son. There were painful days, too, shredded around the edges, days where someone had tried to erase the writing but had instead worn through the paper.
What stood out to me the most about all of those days is that most had come and gone without anything extraordinary happening. And I thought, That’s what makes a life, this unpredictable concoction of a few poignant moments mixed in with an endless stream of normal days. I was reminded of Annie Dillard’s words, that “routines are nets for catching days.”
I looked back at Lucy. She had finished her ice cream, and she sat there quietly, drinking water through a clear, blue plastic straw. I paid the bill with a twenty.
“You ready to go?” I asked.
She nodded. So we walked out into that cold November day. When she holds my hand it makes me feel both old and new, tired and hopeful, small and yet responsible for oh so much.
All the days of my life swirled around me like snow.
How many days old are you? (You can calculate it HERE.) What do you have to say about that?