Timeline: Twenty-Two

This follows on from Twenty-One, and before that, Twenty, and before that, Nineteen, and before that, Seventeen & Eighteen, and before that, Sixteen, and before that, Fourteen & Fifteen, and before that, Twelve & Thirteen, and before that, Eleven, and before that, Seven Through Ten, and before that, Zero Through Six.


2002, aged twenty-two: I am living in London by myself, in my last year of university. Living by myself suits me far more than I ever thought it would: the milk in the fridge is mine and only mine, and I never have to worry about someone else being in the shower when I need it. My flat is three floors up in a rickety birdcage elevator, and one evening I forget to shut the curtains before I fall asleep and a riotous dawn wakes me up by washing the whole of London in pinks and oranges, and I raise my groggy head from my pillow, incredulous at the city's silhouettes.

I throw parties that have the neighbors banging on the walls, and I spend whole weekends hunched over my computer writing essays on the topography of London in post-modern literature, leaving the flat only to buy a baguette from the bread shop across the street and a Sunday paper from the newsagent next door. Living alone, I think, I could get used to this. But Sean is all the way across the world in San Diego, and when he comes to visit, we go to the supermarket together like a normal couple, and drag my clothes to the laundromat in garbage bags, and paint my tiny kitchen yellow and my tiny bathroom a pale lavender, and I think I don't want to live alone. I want to live with him.

Spring comes and with it, my university finals, the most important exams of my life. My brain becomes a finely-tuned machine. I surprise myself with my focus, how hard I convince myself to work. Days I spend at the British Library, nights hunched over my living room table with a highlighter. Slowly, my kitchen cupboards get wall-papered with Post-It notes, quotes from Shakespeare overlapping with quotes from Elizabeth Bishop and Jack Kerouac and Mark Twain and George Eliot and Philip Larkin, and at night I dream in rhyming couplets, consumed with themes and motifs. I am focused on one thing and one thing only: to get a First. I have to get a First.

In the beginning, I think the pain is toothache. I go to the dentist, who sees nothing. The pain gets worse, and one Saturday morning, I take a break from my exam revision and walk the fifteen minutes to the emergency clinic and see a kindly gruff old doctor who prescribes me a course of antibiotics. The pain goes away for a week and then the pain comes back, and this time I run to the emergency clinic, the pain is that bad, and I get more antibiotics but the pain doesn't stop, the pain wakes me up at night, and again I go back to the dentist, who sees nothing.

I stop sleeping because the pain is so awful. It starts in my jaw and then it creeps around to my temple, my eye, my ear, my head, my neck, my back, my arm, and I go back to the kindly gruff old doctor, wait an hour to see him, but the kindly gruff old doctor isn't on duty today and instead I get a hard shiny penny of a woman, a brittle bitch in a black business suit who looks at me in disgust when I start to cry. The pain is just so bad, I tell her, and nothing's working, no-one knows what it is. She tells me it's my teeth, that I should go to the dentist. It's not my teeth, I sob, and then I tell her that I'm desperate, that I don't know what to do with myself, that sometimes the pain is so bad that all I want to do is jump out of my third-floor window to get it to stop. Make a dentist's appointment, she says, turning back to her paperwork. Nothing I can do to help.

I go home and I read more Shakespeare and I take as much ibuprofen as a person is legally allowed to take and one night, I wake up at 3am in so much pain, that I am convinced I'm going to die. I sit up in bed and I get the phone and I dial my parents' home number in Singapore and I think I give up. I am twenty-two and I am living alone in London and all I want at that very moment is my mother, and my mother says do you need me to come? do you want me to get on a plane? and I know I should say no, it's too far, it's too much money, it's a 14-hour flight, but I can't say no because all I want is someone to let me surrender, and so I surrender and I say yes.

Eventually, months later---after my exams are over, after I've stood in front of the bulletin board in the English department, bursting with joy over my First---I will see a doctor (a dentist, ironically) who diagnoses me with a chronic TMJ disorder, but no-one knows this yet, so for now my pain is just unnamed and insurmountable. Not even twenty-four hours after calling my mother in Singapore, I open the door of my apartment in London, and there she is, jetlagged and smiling and smelling of home, and all I can feel is the purest, deepest, most wonderful sense of relief.

Mar 22, 2010

I love these timelines.

Mar 22, 2010

I love that you have such strong family ties. There's something to be said for knowing that when you need them, they'll be there. Sorry to hear about the TMJ. It looks like I may be working on it, too. I'm a night grinder. The only thing that has ever helped is being with the man I'm marrying. He relaxes me, soothes me. Hope it's enough. Sorry to hear about your suffering.

Mar 22, 2010

Oh my God Holly that just made me cry at my desk because I was in the exact same situation 10 years ago on my year abroad. I had an accident, tore the meniscus ligament in my knee and was in so much pain I didn't know what to do with myself, alone, thousands of miles from home. And I called my Mum, and she came to France with my Dad to take care of me.
You just brought back all the feelings of that horrible, lonely day back in 1999, you are an amazing writer, please hurry up and write that book!

Anne in SC
Mar 22, 2010

How horrible. But what a lovely recount.

Mar 22, 2010

This made me cry. I'll second Vicki's plea: please, please write a book.

Mar 22, 2010

These timelines are some of the best posts that you write. I was so excited to see this post this morning. There's something universal about the years that you write about, regardless of what you're doing or where you are. You do a great job of capturing what these ages are like.

She Likes Purple
Mar 22, 2010

You write about your parents the way all parents hope to be written about one day. So lovely.

Mar 22, 2010

Wow, Holly, I definitely started off my Monday morning close to tears. My parents are the same kind of wonderful that you capture so perfectly. It made me remember coming home from my 3 1/2 half months of study abroad during college and thinking I was all grown up and fine until I saw my parents standing at International Arrivals. What can I say, I am that girl who cries in arrivals.

Kate in Ohio
Mar 22, 2010

I can feel your joy with your mom and the pain of TMJ. I have never lived farther than 10 miles from my parents and still feel relief every time I see them. I have also had the surgery for TMJ and felt the relief of being able to use my mouth again. Something I had always taken for granted until I could not open my mouth wide enough to eat anything thicker than a thin slice of bread.

Mar 22, 2010


Mar 22, 2010

Oh that was lovely. Trigeminal neuralgia? I hope your mouth feels better. Youch. No, no fun.

Mar 22, 2010

Holly, that was absolutely beautiful. As several other people have already said, as I was reading this I thought "Oh, Holly should write a book. It would be so amazing."
I had a similar experience - not quite as traumatic as yours, but when I was in law school four and a half hours from home, I woke up with major abdominal pains that couldn't be explained by anything normal(ish) like appendicitis. My mom and dad jumped in the car the second I called them screaming in pain. There's nothing quite as wonderful as realizing that you will always be your parent's baby, is there?

Mar 22, 2010

Never mind, I should read more carefully! I still hope your pain has subsided.

Mar 22, 2010

That is so sweet. Moms are the best thing ever.

Amy --- Just A Titch
Mar 22, 2010

Just seeing that you'd done another timeline made my morning.

I will repeat what so many have said: you write about your family so lovingly, and please for the love of god, write a book.

Laura B.
Mar 22, 2010

These are my favorite posts! I think the very first time I read your site was Twelve and Thirteen and I've been hooked ever since!

Hip Hip Gin Gin
Mar 22, 2010

I love your timelines!! This one reminds me of so many times when I was supposed to be all grown up but all I could think was "I want my mom". I'll be 30 in a couple years and I still have moments like that, so I'm thinking it never goes away.
I can actually say on good authority that when I have my first baby in those first few weeks when I have no idea what I'm doing I'll be a mom but I'll be thinking "I want my mom".

Mar 22, 2010

Love the timelines you write (just like everyone else)! Reading about the TMJ made me cringe. I recently was diagnosed (by an ENT if you can believe it) and this weekend was a painful one!

Mar 22, 2010

That baby you and Sean are thinking about? Is going to be one lucky kid. Great mothering begets more great mothering.

Mar 22, 2010

These are my favorite thing you write. Thanks for another.

Locusts and Wild Honey
Mar 22, 2010

Aww. You mum is so nice! To fly halfway across the world!

I wonder what 22 shall bring...

Mar 22, 2010

We lived in London at the same time. Man, I really wish I'd know you then - through the internets or in person.

Mar 22, 2010

What a wonderful Mum.

Mar 22, 2010

Someone needs to give you a book deal.

Mar 22, 2010

For some reason I almost am crying at the end of that. Everyone needs their mum.

Mar 22, 2010

thank you holly-- i really needed to read this right now. my dad passed 3 years ago today and he was always there when my sisters and i needed him-- he would have gone to the ends of the world for us. its one of the things i miss the most-- that feeling deep down in your being that someone is willing to do whatever it takes to keep you safe and sound.

Mar 22, 2010

Holly - I love your blog and this post was so wonderful I just had to comment (and cry, it was that good). I'm going back to read the other timelines now and hope you do write a book - I'd be first in line in DC to buy it!

Mar 22, 2010

Holly, I had TMJ disorder in 1999! But it wasn't as painful as yours, I just had a locked jaw and can't fully open my mouth.. hehe.. in my first year in Uni, I have to wear this ugly splint above my teeth! What did the dentist advise you that cured your TMJ?

Mar 22, 2010

This is my first Timeline post and now I am inspired to go back and read more. I love looking back at the highlights of years gone by. I start on such a journey of reminiscence each time I hear one of those special songs which help you to recall exactly where you were at during an important moment when the song was playing.

Looking forward to pre-ordering a copy of your book...and reading your posts on babies.

Mar 22, 2010

Crying. I think this is my favorite year so far.

Nothing But Bonfires
Mar 22, 2010

Zaren, she taught me these great exercises to do to help with the pain. Email me and I'll explain them to you. Other than that, a LOT of ibuprofen, a biteguard, heating pads, tiger balm, and valium if it gets really bad.

Lovely story.

The thing I am hooked on of course is the TMJ part since I too have it. Mine has only acted up in a tragic fashion once.

And lets just say it was one of those embarrassing moments you read about in Cosmo where a girl's mouth is locked OPEN and the gentleman before her is more than a little freaked out.

*clears throat*

Ahhh the joys of having a busted jaw.

Mar 23, 2010

I love your timeline posts. You have an amazing ability to say a lot with only a handful of words while I generally say very little with too many words.

Mar 23, 2010

So glad to know that I'm not alone with the spontaneous crying.

Mar 23, 2010

You are amazing Holly! I can't wait to read your book!

Mar 24, 2010

Holly, great post. There are days when I'm going through crap, and if my mom calls me on the phone I just burst into tears. There's something about the Mom Factor that works, even long distance. Remember this when you have kids, it's a good thing.

Mar 24, 2010

Having a Mom.. I know what you mean

Being a Mom .. I know what you mean

Mom's.. The best invention ever!

* I just wish I looked like your Mom !

Mar 24, 2010

Holy crap, that made me cry. I hope my little girl feels the same way about me in 22 years.

Mar 24, 2010

What a lovely mum. :)

Mar 29, 2010

I love your mum. I hope my daughters hold me in such high regard when they have grown.

Sep 17, 2010

I've finished reading your timeline. Through all of your travels and experiences, the one thing that I'll take away from your 22 years of life is the comfort one gets from the sight, sound, smell and visit of love/comfort when down in the dumps, or pain.

Seems a mother's care is the perfect antidote for many things. You've brought back memories.

Thank you.

Sep 17, 2010

Thank you for bringing back memories. Nothing beats the perfect antidote of a mom's care when down in the dumps, or pain.

I read your timeline and this is my take away.

Sep 17, 2010

Thank you for bringing back memories. Nothing beats the perfect antidote of a mom's care when down in the dumps, or pain.

I read your timeline and this is my take away.

Sep 27, 2010

Amazing. What an incredible post. So on point to what it feels like to have TMJ. And I too, am lucky enough to have a mother who would also show up should I call.

Oct 08, 2010

I just read your "Timeline: Twenty-Three" and clicked on the link to this entry.

I could have written it myself, changing a few details here and there.

My mother also got on a long flight to see me when I was 18 and in my first year of university. Battling depression from the sudden death of a friend and nursing a broken heart from a careless ex-boyfriend, I made that desperate call to my parents in the middle of the night. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to give up. She asked me the same thing: "Do you need me to come?"

She couldn't squeeze into my tiny dorm room so my mother rented a motel room. We lay side by side, in separate beds, looking at the ceiling and talked. We talked until the sun came up. She gave me the strength to finish the school year. To keep my head above water. To see that light at the end of the tunnel.

We are lucky to have such mothers.

Oct 11, 2010

Good heavens, I can't believe you went through so much to get the correct diagnosis in 2002! Unfortunately, I had the same experience, but back in the dark ages of the late 1980s. One would think it would be easier to diagnose by the time your symptoms began. Ultimately, I had the surgery and although the process was painful the end result was a pain-free life for the last 19 years.

This is my first ever comment, but I've been enjoying your blog for several months. Thank you. Just, thank you!

Oct 15, 2010

I have had this exact same thing. I, however, went to the dentist who was diagnosing me with a sinus infection. After months of advil here and there, I went to Mexico for a week, and didn't have it the entire time I was there. The first night back, after a sip of soup, it came back. There is nothing that they could do for it really - and now I haven't had it in over a year.
I am with you though, it was excruciatingly painful.
Great stories!

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