The first thing I noticed was this very tiny little crab inside his shell. He was moving slowly across the bottom. I could not see very much of him, just a feeler here or there.
I tracked his movement and tried to focus on matching my breath to the rhythm of the water.
The only other woman in the room left and I was alone.
My breath quickened and I stood up. My legs and arms were restless and I felt ready to bolt. Walking all around the tank I took in the variety of life contained within the glass walls.
I tracked three blue fish with yellow tails as they chased each other the distance of the tank.
A tiny clownfish skidded out from behind a rock and then disappeared into a green sea anemone.
Two red critters with a handful of long white feelers and two beady black eyes scrambled up and down the rocks. They stayed in constant motion and appeared to be eating the algae.
Then I see him, a big ball of sharp spikes. Very slowly he moves out from behind a rock. He is huge compared to the other life in the tank. His spikes look hard and sharp. Nothing is messing with this guy.
I peer in closer and I’m taken aback by his one orange eye right in the middle of all the spikes. This bulging eye is surrounded by microscopic hairs with a bluish tint. As I watch, he slowly blinks.
“Its been a really long time since we’ve seen you.”
“I know. Four years.”
“Well, we are glad your here.”
I sit down in the chair and grip both armrests. As I’m lowered back and I open my mouth for the x-rays, I try not to think all the horrible thoughts that have been swirling in my mind.
This is going to be painful.
I’m sure I have thousands of dollars of work that needs to be done.
We can’t afford this.
What if they have to pull all my teeth out?
They are going to see how badly I have neglected myself.
Embarrassment and fear threaten to overtake me and I try to remember to breathe.
“Are you okay?”
I nod and try to stop shaking.
After the x-rays she starts cleaning my teeth.
My mouth fills with the taste of blood.
The taste of neglect.
The taste of fear.
My mind keeps returning to the Spike Ball in the tank. Is that even an eye? Are his spikes for protection or purely camouflage? Does he have a consciousness?
Scrape. Rinse. Suction. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
At some point it is over and the dentist comes in. I close my eyes as he looks in my mouth and then at my x-rays.
“I know it’s bad,” I say.
I start to say more.
Maybe I should tell him about my depression and the days that I just couldn’t do anything. Should I make excuses about being busy…or being a mother…or…
He chuckles and stands up.
“We are done here. You have no cavities. Your gums are inflamed from lack of flossing, but that’s easily fixed. Floss and they will heal. See you in 6 months.”
He smiles, pats my arm and walks out.
All that fear that I’ve carried.
Four fucking years of it.
I’m stuck feeling lucky and unworthy of such good news.
How many hours have I spent in self-loathing and disgust about my mouth?
I know I’m not alone in this crazy, fear-induced way of thinking. This twisted ability to take the worst case scenario and let it keep me from getting the information I need.
I can’t exercise because I’m too fat and out of shape.
I don’t want to see the doctor about that pain, because what if it’s cancer.
I’m not going to see a therapist because what if they want to medicate me.
I’m not going to finish writing my book because nobody will want to read it.
My spikes of fear grow and flourish as I feed them misinformation and lies. They grow and cover me in a grotesque shield that doesn’t protect or hide me, it just traps me.
I make a cleaning appointment for November and silently promise myself to keep it.
Walking out I stop by the tank to check out my spiky friend. I find him near a current of water. He winks his eye at me very slowly. I see that his spikes are moving gently in the water. Maybe they aren’t as hard as I thought.
“See you later friend.”