the routine of a home cooked meal, prepared with love by my mother. it is the sunday routine, part of the childhood testing ground for my emerging “spanglishness”. a routine that was imported from another time, place, and family, travelling over land and ocean, then transplanted into the red spinifex dotted desert of mount isa in the 1970’s…tick….where it is eventually transferred to brisbane….tock…..like clockwork…..it dutifully reappears, here, today, in this house.
i pull my hair back and wrap it three times around itself. it is an unruly snake, but i have become adept at subduing it into a tight bun. i open the door and turn on the hot water. turning the cap of the toothpaste to the left, i unscrew it three times, before squeezing a blob of speckled white paste out onto my toothbrush. i start on the right hand side and work my way around to the left. back to front. inside out. i follow the well-worn pathways of more than 40 years of brushing my teeth.
since those days, two kids have been added to the mix, and here they are, also sitting around the table, absorbing this same routine, becoming the new vehicles that will carry it forward, into the future. will they sit around a table as grandfathers, with their own families, and remember me? these moments where their grandmother doted and their grandfather grumbled? the discussion is not particularly stimulating, it very rarely is. nevertheless, there we are, dutifully chewing and swallowing our food, the way we are supposed to do on a sunday. i feel bored. i wish i could get up and go somewhere.
….Inagekaigan, Chiba. i am talking to one of my students, a japanese dentist with bad teeth. he is showing me how to brush my teeth so i can get the toothbrush back in behind my molars properly. who listens to a dentist with bad teeth? a poor english language teacher, that is who. everytime i brush, this dentist appears, like mental detritus being pushed onto shore by the high tide of my thoughts at the end of a long day. where is he now?
i am prickling a little bit, stressed after a morning with sol and xavier. i find it really challenging to keep up with their energy levels on a sunday, when every part of my being is screaming out to lounge in the garden and contemplate clouds. my brother is also off kilter. we all are. you see, some strange energy is afoot, creating a tension. sitting around the sunday lunch table, this tension has nowhere to go but around and around and around, spinning faster and faster. like me, this vortex is looking for an escape route. this is the problem with routines, one gets stuck inside them, unable to see out.
i reach for the shower gel. i like palmers cocoa butter because it smells like sunset by the fireplace on a cold winter’s day. i use shower gloves. i need to feel that i am scrubbing the day off. i start on the right hand side and work my way around to the left. i wash my feet, imagining the day melting away and being carried off by the water, down the drain….
the only one who thrives in this sort of vibe is my father. he is an expert at sniffing out tension and then locating a strategic point from which he can burrow down. he is a hungry two-legged bloodhound in search of a raw nerve. i have been watching him do this my whole life, watching him come alive when he smells blood. today, i am the weak link. he knows it, i know it. he can smell it on me, my desperation to just be somewhere quiet, in silence. but i do not begrudge this elder his god-given right to reassure himself that he is still a (the) “man”, alive and red-blooded, ready to eat the world.
next comes the face. i put cleanser on my clarisonic. i purchase this sonic device with the understanding that it will clean my skin 6 times better than just using my hands. i like sunday riley’s ceramic slip clay cleanser. the peppery earth smell deludes me with the belief that it is somehow “natural”, that what i do, is natural. 20 seconds on the forehead, ten seconds on the nose and chin, 15 seconds on either cheek. the $250 sonic cleansing device is so smart that it vibrates after each period of seconds has elapsed. in this way, it speaks to me, telling me to move on, to hurry up and get the next part clean.
i use this word “man” the way he might imagine it, that is, in the frank sinatra, cold war, martini shaken-but-not-stirred kind of way. however, my understanding of “man” is no understanding at all. it is a chameleon word, robed simply with concepts and ideas that allow it to blend into a sociocultural moment in time, ultimately masking the complexity within. i am reminded of a (male) friend who recently stated that men have precisely the amount of intelligence required to raise a spoonful of food to their mouths.
i rinse my face and feel the mask melting away, joining the rest of the day on its journey to the past.
i am looking at the bloodhound sitting across from me, and i couldn’t disagree with my friend more. i suspect that my friend’s off-hand remark about the intelligence of men is unintentionally intended to create an illusion of understanding between us. he wants me to know that he is on my team. but he doesn’t see how patronising it is, how patronising he is.
stepping out of the shower, i take a white towel off the rack and dry my skin. left arm, then up over the shoulders, down the right arm. i then dry my back, my breasts, my stomach, between and down my legs. i navigate the territory of my body, following some ancient unthinking internal compass. from second to second, i follow directions carved in stone.
i don’t want to rob my father, this creature from another era, of the only shred of (constructed) masculinity that he has left, because off in the distance i hear the grandfather clock, tick-tock tick-tock. i am six years old again, lying awake at night, listening for sounds of life. i am six years old again, my ear against his chest, listening to the faithful beat of his heart, tick-tock tick-tock wishing for it to never stop.
i release the snake and let my hair hang down. there is something sensuous about how it feels as it touches my lower back. i put oil on my skin and eye cream around my eyes. i see lines creeping and creasing. with time, the skin on my face is coming into alignment with what is within, bending with me, working with me. to be. suddenly, my (ex) hairdresser washes up on the shore. i am sitting in the chair, in front of a mirror. he is telling me with freakish glee that he loves injecting his face full of botox because there is nothing like feeling trapped inside your own face. this is one piece of detritus i wish i could eliminate forever. the memory of his face, completely paralysed in the hopes of never revealing that which is within. can you ever really trust someone like that? i decide in that moment, in the chair in front of the mirror, that he will never touch my hair again.
but today i am fragile. i am the raw nerve that the bloodhound seeks. i do not know with any great certainty why i am like this. only the sneaking suspicion that it has something to do with the punishing nature of routine. not just the daily routine, but all routines……and it is the rhythm of these routines that brings me into the in-between spaces of the sounds of the ticking clock. wedged, trapped, with the past behind and the future in front, i search for asymmetry, for a skip in the beat….an open doorway.