Someone accused me the other day of having problems communicating. This shocked me. I consider myself a person who communicates constantly, wandering around, leaking information, both personal and not, to those interested, and not. The more clandestine other people are in regards to their own information, the more of an obligation I feel to share. Occasionally I find myself overwhelmed by the wealth of information there is to communicate. When others wish to discuss life philosophies or relationships, I cannot comply without first getting straight the smaller issues. Like toothbrushing.
Since yesterday, I have brushed my teeth close to 15, 090 times. It is difficult to summarize that kind of history. It is, however, necessary in order to understand the larger picture.
Much of what I learned from my father I learned while brushing my teeth. It was one of the few parenting issues my mother trusted him with. I’m not sure why she did, since dental hygiene in his youth consisted of his index finger dipped in water and moved in a quick, circular motion a few times around those teeth considered most important. He learned this from my great-aunt, and as a result his mouth is an architectural wonderland of crowns, caps, bridges and canals. Even today his methods are rudimentary at best. The main strategy is to burn the germs off of the tooth by providing intense friction between brush and tooth enamel. Toothpaste remains optional. Had our country’s water not been flooded with a variety of cavity-fighting chemicals, it is likely the pearly-whites that I have today would be neither pearly, nor white. I escaped unscathed, though the same dentist who praises me for my lack of cavities also wonders aloud about what happened to my gums. I smile and say nothing, and continue to brush as if redeeming the world of all plagues, past and future.
My father always did his best thinking in the bathroom. It was not the kind of bathroom conducive to great thoughts, due to its cramped size and hideous wallpaper which portrayed a faceless marching band, dressed in green and yellow, and carrying big drums. I’m not sure what the previous owners were thinking when they chose it, or what my parents were thinking when they did not immediately remove it, or how anyone could think anything other than severely demented thoughts while in close proximity to it, but somehow we survived. I survived because I was not yet tall enough to see it, my mother survived by abridging her time in the bathroom whenever possible and my father would not have noticed if the bathroom were wallpapered with live anacondas.
My first memories are of him, a kindly giant, pausing in mid-brush to run off to his study, dripping (if it was a toothpaste day) small, minty-blue drips on the floor which would later crystallize and irritate my mother. Drip, drip, drip all the way to our ancient encyclopedias which I found so boring because they had no color pictures and where my father would explain things to me which had no meaning. During these lengthy explanations I would practice counting, sometimes making it all the way to twenty. Then my father would ask me if I understood and I would nod, seriously, and he would be excited and we could put away our toothbrushes and go to bed.
When I was old enough to see the wallpaper, I found that more interesting than encyclopedias and still later I was embarrassed that my father thought he could speak and brush his teeth at the same time. There was a long stretch when I refused to brush my teeth unless absolutely alone. Now when I come home my father sits in his study after dinner and listens for the sound of the faucet and comes running out like it’s a coincidence. He always asks, now, if it’s all right, and I say yes, and no sooner has he inserted his toothbrush in his mouth than there is something that must be said or shown, and I follow the blue drips to his study. And when he asks me if I understand I say yes again, because even if I haven’t heard a word he’s said, I do understand. I’ve learned to listen to the broader picture. It’s all right that one of my parents communicates constantly, in the bathroom, in an obscure manner, because it’s all a gesture of affection. Details will not be tested and do not matter.
In my nightmares I have visions of myself wandering the streets, foaming a minty-blue at the mouth with a toothbrush in my hand, attempting vainly to make myself understood to anyone who will listen. I talk and talk but all people hear is a pasty burble.
I can’t explain my life philosophy or theory of relationships. It would have to encompass the last 7,701 days of my life, 15, 090 moments of toothbrushing and 6, 965 familial dinners. And still no one would understand because I’ve never been good at explaining things. Communicating, on the other hand, is my forte.