“What flavour would you like for your fluoride treatment, Yvette?” the dental hygienist asks. “Orange, bubble gum, or grape?”
Every decision is crucial during the annual Extreme Gag-reflex Test, the fluoride treatment. I already have the essential equipment : two nestled blue plastic cups that will collect the dribble, and three tissues, one for each side of my mouth and my chin.
“We can rule out bubble gum right off the bat,” I answer. “I think I did orange last year, so let’s go with grape this time.” The fruit flavor might offset the fluride’s cloying sweetness that triggers my gag-reflex as much as the foreign objects she will put in my mouth. As Lori prepares the treatment, I steady my breathing, through my nose, slow and regular. Breathing will get me through the next three minutes. Much too soon, she stands before me, one u-shaped plastic cup brimming with white grape-flavored foam in each hand. For some reason, I think of Anne Boleyn on the platform at the Tower of London, panning the people before her and the city beyond, deciding the moment to signal the executioner to wield his axe.
I shake my head to dispel the image, smile at the incongruous juxtaposition, and tell Lori I’m ready. I open wide. She inserts one cup on the top, and inverts the other for the bottom. I bite down. Grape was a good choice, but still, my stomach heaves. I remember to breathe. She might as well have turned on the saliva tap. The count-down begins.
Images of other moments when time slows down project onto the Disney Circle-theatre that my mind has become : the slow motion chronology of burning my thigh with boiling water; any kind of waiting—to see a doctor, for test results, for a text message from a child on the road; the first few weeks of anything new—a job, a relationship, a baby’s birth, a holiday; the final three minutes of a CFL football game, when your team is either ahead or behind by a touchdown or less. To be honest, I must add clock-watching during a boring class. As a teacher, it hurts to even contemplate that some students have probably felt that way during classes I have taught. They might share John Green’s resolve in Paper Towns : If I am ever told that I have one day to live, I will head straight for the hallowed halls of Winter Park High School, where a day has been known to last a thousand years. Oh, and a three-minute fluoride treatment.
The slow shuffle of time, then, is often associated with anxiety, boredom, loss, stress, or danger. So, we want time to fly. We make choices because “it passes the time”, « ça passe le temps ». We kill time, we have don’t like having time on our hands, and we are pleased when time passes quickly. A full calendar, a wedding, time spent with friends, visits from adult children, absorption in a passionate activity, all seem to run on an accelerated clock. Maybe we want this rapidity because we perceive it as a sign that things are going well, that we are prosperous in the economic, emotional, and social senses of the word.
As the tissues get wetter and the plastic cups fill with fluoride residue I wonder if we are being cavalier about time. Why do we want time to pass so quickly? All of us are journeying toward the same end. I am in no hurry to get there, to arrive at the finish line of my time. In fact, I want to savour every morsel, like a decadent chocolate. I want to collect it like drops of water in a drought, or ration it like an expensive cream. I want to rein time in.
That means I must stay awake : pause on the front step to smell the fresh morning air, stop on the highway shoulder on the way to work to watch the sunrise, set aside my work to listen to a colleague, suspend my to-do list to post a blog after an absence of almost two weeks.
It also means not to wish away anything, even the last eternal seconds before Lori returns to remove the fluoride, and I can go home.