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Bite Me


“Your problem,” my wife says, “is you don’t know how to eat.”

It’s lunchtime at our house. I’m holding a fork. On the fork is a bite of braised veal, one of my favorite dishes. This is how I eat. I raise the fork to mouth, deposit the meat on my tongue, close my mouth and employ my teeth, mashing and grinding, tasting lemon, garlic, rosemary, a hint of white wine. And today, blood. My blood. 

I’ve been biting my lip.

“You bite yourself all the time. Obviously you don’t know how to eat.”

I carve another bite of veal, demonstrate my technique.

“Maybe your jaw is out of alignment,” she says.

I love it when she says things like this, with such authority. One time she told me I didn’t know how to run. She’d been doing some reading. I should run toe-to-heel rather than heel-to-toe. For some reason, it was better. I told her it seemed unnatural, that I would run toe-to-heel if I wanted to run backwards. Another time she suggested I didn’t know how to sleep. Certain things we do, certain animal things, we become simple experts at. For example, I’m very good at breathing. I yawn. I have a natural talent for scratching.

“You eat too fast. You hunk food down.”

“I don’t hunk.”

“Call it what you will.”

“Just don’t say ‘hunk.’” 

It’s true that I bite my mouth, my tongue and cheek and especially my lower lip. More often than normal? What’s normal? Is there data? What happens is, with a little bite my lip swells, it gets in the way of my teeth, and I bite that spot again, and again and again, and a bump forms and gets in the way even worse. More than once I’ve had to go to an oral surgeon for bump removal, an unpleasant procedure I would like to avoid.

One time when I had a very bad bump, we made a trip to Cancun. It was July, off-season prices in effect. I had a bump on my lip the size of a pea. It was purplish in color. If I twisted my mouth a little, it made me look kind of tough, which I thought might come in handy in Mexico. Right away I noticed people looking at it–when we cleared Customs on arrival, then again at the hotel desk. Even the lifeguard at the beach remarked. “Sir, your lip!” I shrugged, told him it was nothing, twisting my mouth, which did not impress him. He looked even more concerned.

“It can’t believe you brought me here,” my wife said one night. We were eating dinner down by the water.

I told her I thought it would be a romantic getaway. We hadn’t seen the Caribbean since our honeymoon, a week in December some thirty years prior. This night a muggy breeze a few degrees cooler than air temp oozed in from the sea. Next day we would go snorkeling. A guy was driving us to a special spot. And we’d go for a swim in a cenote.

“It’s like swimming in a cave,” I told her. Adding that it was fresh water. “It’s just like in Michigan.”

“I’m not swimming in a cave,” she said. “And I don’t think you should either.”

Cenote, I told her. From a Mayan word I could not remember, meaning “hole with water.”

At the table next to ours was a family of four from New Jersey. The father was a shiny man with jet black hair. He looked bored and important. The mother talked with her mother on a cellphone while they ate. All the while the son, who might have been ten or eleven, ate French fries and tried to get her attention. Ma! Ma! Ma! He would turn and talk with his sister, a handful of fries dangling from his mouth. As he talked, he managed to draw all the fries into his mouth simultaneously, hands free. It was quite a spectacle. I would have ordered fries for him to see him do it again. Ma! Ma! Ma! 

It was a few days later I spoke to the lifeguard. I had developed a rash not far from my, shall we say, my bikini area. My wife said it must have been the cave water. In pictures I had seen verdant spaces surrounding these cenotes, looking like paradise. Where we went did not look that inviting. It was low on verdant. The surface of the water had a definite thin transparent film. Nicolas, the driver, said he didn’t swim. My wife didn’t swim. No point in asking. When I dove and broke through the membrane, the water was cold and fresh. I liked it. But I felt coated, even after toweling off, even after snorkeling later that morning in the sea. 

The lifeguard said, no, the rash wasn’t due to the cenote. There was an organism or a bug or a plant in the seawater that could be an irritant to some people. Later in the hotel store I bought a cream. The cashier pointed at my lip and wagged a finger. Not for that. That night we cabbed to a place called Market 23 for dinner. It was crowded and dark. Men kept approaching our table, wanting to drag us to their stores and sell us stuff. I had no confidence in my tough look. I was sitting on a rash. I wondered if we had Mexican food, if the hot sauce would start my lip on fire.

Back home, I scheduled an appointment with an oral surgeon, who called the bump a mucous cyst. He numbed it, cut it out, and stitched my lip. I wondered if it would come back. Knowing the answer.  Yes, it would. Not where he cut it out. Wherever I bit myself next, I might get a cyst. He said could give me the name of a specialist in jaw alignment.

In the meantime, he said, just be more careful eating.

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