Fat lips

The world feels heavy at the moment, too heavy.

Things go in clusters.

Three weeks ago, I fell against the pavement, the result of trying to do too many things at once.

I copped a fat lip from this fall, which morphed into what I thought was a cold sore, at least that’s what the doctor reckoned.

So off onto cold sore treatment and it’d be gone in a few days, the doctor said, but it never healed and now the ailment has spread.

When I was young I suffered a cold sore almost monthly. I grew accustomed to the dreaded tingling in my lip, the swelling into a blister and the ugly sore that followed and usually took as many as seven days to heal.

I knew early on that this ugly beacon in the centre of my face, was more apparent to me than to others, but there’s something about our lips, that most central organ of communication that commands attention.

When we talk to one another we tend to look to the eyes but also the lips. It’s how people who cannot hear often communicate and I reckon it’s part of how we register one another’s feeling states.

In any case, my lips are a mess at the moment, those two sensitive layers of fatty tissue that rest around my mouth.

Lips are so sensitive at a number of levels beginning when we’re babies. The place of first skin contact, in feeding, and later the area of contact between lovers when first they come close.

I’ve often wondered why I landed so many cold sores when I was young. I came to understand they had something to do with a virus that lived permanently in my lips and that flared into action during times of stress.

As I grew older, I could almost predict a cold sore coming on. A fight with my husband meant the next day I’d wake to a cold sore. Conflict with a work colleague at an evening meeting; the next day I’d wake with a cold sore; and whenever I copped a virus of the cold and flu variety, a cold sore often followed.

So you see my lips are prone to ailments.

My mother wore red lipstick to cover hers and the sight of her streaking the two red lines across her lips left me with a strange sense of horror, as if she was hiding her vulnerability under something  sexualised for my father.

At least that’s how I saw it when I was growing up and something in my mother’s use of lip stick resolved in my mind, I would never use it.

I’ve tried, but lipstick leaves me with the feel of band aides stuck across my lips, as if I’ve been gagged.

And so I don’t wear the stuff.

But ever since I smoked as a young woman, my lips began to dry out and like so many others around me, I need to moisturise them constantly.

Dry lips, lips like cardboard, leave me almost with a sense I cannot open my mouth.

Last November before the first of my bad luck in Japan, my lips morphed from a cold sore to a patch of redness just below my bottom lip that my GP was concerned about enough to send me off to a dermatologist who diagnosed actinic keratosis, a fancy word for sun damaged skin that could develop into basal cell carcinoma if left untreated.

The solution is to burn off the damaged area with a special cream they use to burn off warts.

Because the area of damage is so close to my lips I need to take care, to do it outside of summer.  Wait till Easter time, the dermatologist suggested, once the sun settles and then start the treatment.

This treatment, which I’ve yet to start, horrifies me.

The idea of applying this Efudex cream to a small area of my skin, is like dabbing on acid and waiting for the area to swell up to peel and flake and in between times to throb and to hurt as though I have inflicted a wound on my skin, a wound that should be visible to all.

And so I hesitate and as Easter time draws near, I worry and even more so as the redness around my lips seems to be spreading and I can’t use this stuff over large areas, at least the instructions tell me so.

Therefore, I’ve made another appointment to see the doctor and the hypochondriacal part of me expects the worst:

That they will have to cut out chunks of my lips that have become cancerous.

That the cells of this actinic mess have dug so deep I’ll be like Sigmund Freud with his cancer of the jaw, and all of it visible.

You can’t bandage your lips, or not as far as I can imagine.

I should leave it settle until I see the GP and have a more accurate appraisal.

I hate the ‘worried well’ of me. The hypochondriacal me who expects at any minute to come up against impossible body states that signal my death.

I’m not ready to die yet, and in all likelihood, I’m not dying.

I feel ashamed in the face of other people’s far greater suffering. But I have so much to do, so much to get through and so many responsibilities to others.

And that’s only the start of it.

In between this preoccupation with the state of my lips, I have others who worry me, and I can’t write about them and their stories, but I know how much my concerns over them contribute to the load.

May the punishment fit the crime

My husband hides his mother’s chopping board in his sock drawer for safekeeping.

Soon after his mother’s death, this chopping board found it’s way into our house and we used it for a time until one day my husband realised, it was wearing away.

All those years of use, close to one hundred years, and he decided the board was past its use-by date, but needed preserving.

It’s been a ‘temporary’ resting place for the past ten years or so, at the bottom of the sock drawer until one day when we leave this place and my husband will most likely pass the board onto one or other of his daughters or grandchildren as an heirloom.

I hope they appreciate its significance.

All the loaves of bread that have been chopped on this board; all the onions sliced and diced, all the meat slivered.

Which brings me to another matter of less significance but a new understanding for me this week – at least it’s something I’d never really considered before though looking at it now, I’m amazed I have not.

The other day, my youngest daughter still at home, asked that we keep aside one chopping board to be used exclusively for the chopping of fruit. This way the watermelon does not get infused with the taste of onion.

An excellent idea and one we have now put in place.

And for more significant events this week, I went to post a letter one day, and pulled my car up at the edge of the red post box in a ‘no standing’ zone.

I know it’s against the law, but I had only intended to stop as long as it took to slip the letter into the box.

As I leapt out of my car, letter in hand, a man stopped at the lights in the middle lane on the road, and well clear of my car, which I’d parked alongside at the front of a long row of cars just before the traffic lights. He had his side windows down and called out to me.

‘You fuck head.’  He repeated this several times for good measure on the top of his lungs. ‘You fuck head. Can’t you read the sign?’

Of course I could.

I half apologised, ‘Only posting a letter,’ but he didn’t hear.

My fellow driver, of the shiny white ute, with tools poking out the back, seemed to have found an excellent opportunity to let off steam or get rid of whatever awful feelings assailed him by passing them onto me.

‘You fuck head,’ he repeated several more times and I had the urge to ask him, was he so pure. Had he never once stopped at a no standing zone for two minutes to drop off a child; post a letter; use his phone?

Had he never sinned?

But it was pointless, and the lights changed in the time it took him to hurtle more abuse, to drive off, and for me to post my letter.

I live not far from this letterbox and as I pulled into my driveway minutes later, I could still see his car in the distance ahead, stopped at the next set of lights and wondered whether he felt any better.

Certainly I felt worse. Bad feelings that come back to me even now as I write. Like someone has tipped a bucket of shit over my head.

But that’s the intention, isn’t it?

And I can’t really complain, can I? Because I broke the law.

All of which leads me to ponder the significance of discrimination.

Not all crimes and misdemeanours are the same, not all deserve to go to the chopping block.

From the safe bubble of his car, this man saw fit to pass judgement on me because I was in the wrong.

Or was it because I’m a woman? A soft target?

On the other hand, this man might be one of those obsessives who hate people who don’t abide by the law to the absolute letter.

Somehow I doubt this.

I suspect it’s more like the sight of me, choosing to do something so outrageous as to stop where I should not stop, infuriated him, and he became the self-righteous parent who feels better passing all his unwanted feelings onto the errant one.

Self righteous in his arrogance, while I cringed under the weight of his abuse.

Needless to say, I won’t park there again.