The papers were not in the order they’d been given to me on the clipboard. The writing on them was a silent, jagged screech of protest against clipboards that are bigoted against left-handers, though I’d be hard pressed to explain how a flat board accomplishes this. I just know it does. Also, I hate paperwork.
I pushed the papers at the nice young woman behind the desk and stared into her eyes with the flat affect of the hopeless.
“Here. I did not do a good job.” It wasn’t an apology.
I left huge swathes of lines blank, testaments of ignorance. But they’re too blame too. Like I’ve got emergency contact numbers memorized in 2019. I did give them my social security number quite a few times…but I could not remember if the first three digits were the same as my current phone number prefix…or the one I had growing up. I used both. They’ll sort it.
She smiled and said, “That’s ok. Anything is an improvement. Our last records for you are from 2005.”
I raised my arms up and slammed them on my thighs.
“Well that’s obviously not…don’t SAY that in front of people! What kind of irresponsible person avoids the dentist for 14 years! No. The secretary who was here before you kept saying that too, and you know why? Cuz APOSTROPHE. That’s way. She kept filing my charts randomly with or without an apostrophe in the last name.”
The girl smiled at me. “They’ll call you back in a moment. Our hygienist only works twice a week.”
“Why don’t you have two hygienists then?”
“We tried giving her more days and….it just kind of all fell apart.” She shrugged and left it for me to figure out the mechanics of a high functioning dentist office hurled into chaos by giving their hygienist too much power.
I’ve been with Jones for 19 years. Not every year. I like him. But I fucking hate dentistry. That spearmint and rubbing alcohol stench. The utter submission where you can’t even talk. I was here in this office because last night I couldn’t eat a left over potsticker cold from the fridge without reigniting a weeks long pain. And that’s just no way to live.
I like Jones. He’s so happy to be there. He likes teeth and their owners. He likes the business he’s grown from a small shared office to a state of the art dental palace.
A girl who must not have been the hygienist cuz the odds were this probably wasn’t her day, xrayed my mouth, but not before I gently took her arm and said, “I never floss. I’m not going to. Ever. Ever. Don’t ask me to. Also, I rarely brush. I’m not proud of that. I deserve this pain, I brought it on myself through poor choices.”
There. Now that I’d covered all those bases there would be no reason for anyone else to repeat them to me.
At least I thought that’s why I said it. But ever since I sat in the waiting room and filled out five pages of paperwork with the printing dexterity of a massive stroke victim I’d been naked and confessing. “Do you suffer from any of the following? Bad Breath? Mouth Breathing? Shortness of Breath?”
At a regular doctor you write down that your grandma had kidney stones and you don’t feel like a turd cuz of it. At the dentist…it’s time to take stock of your own life. And I knew an examination of my stores would reveal black mold crawling up the walls and dry rot on the sparse shelves.
Obligingly, the xray gave artistic gravity to my failings. A remarkably putrid looking negative appeared on the computer next to me…the teeth enormous and irregular, the pronged roots uneven, fillings showing up like missing pixels of whiteness. Plus a few very black areas that I knew were where my sins lay.
Jones works in an open office space behind his patients while they’re prepped…I could hear him telling the girl to retake the picture since he didn’t see what would be causing me pain.
“Jonesssss!” I called over my shoulder. “JONES! Just come poke the damn things and I’ll tell you where they hurt – stop (parading my shame) wasting our time!”
He’s quick, Jones. In 15 minutes he was describing the utter horror show of my dental condition as if it were the best National Geographic documentary he’d ever seen. That’s part of his charm. It’s not judgey when he actually seems to think it’s cool. But his steady cheer brought claws out of me to match my wretched incisors.
“What the f– what does “abscess” mean in this context?”
“It’s like a biiiiiig rotten hole where your tooth should be and there’s like a ball of infection growing inside it.”
“And it’s not IN the tooth that hurts?”
“Nope. Nope. The infection is strong enough that you’re feeling it in a different tooth! Nerves are really neat.”
I clenched my eyes “You need to check all the teeth. They are all very bad. I have not cared for them.”
He prescribed antibiotics as the first step of a long repair process. “How long will these f– mess up by birth control?” I asked. A full cycle, he answered discretely, which I knew.
He began to get up, signalling the end of this debacle that was my mouth. I thought about how near everything I’d said in this holy office had been a confession. “I have done wrong. I have made bad choices. I have purposefully hurt myself for the sake of convenience.” And I didn’t feel…purged. I didn’t feel clean yet.
Which made me grab his sleeve, I needed to flagellate myself more and I had no priest. I had to make it louder somehow.
“Can aggressive oral sex cause bruising at the back of the throat? And then you throw whiskey on it and it burns really bad for a week and feels kinda filmy but nothing else seems wrong? Is that probably from very very skilled deep-throating?” It was a question I had wanted to ask, honest, but I did it wrong.
Translation: “I am gross. I am not good. I’m not appropriate. I need you to know and I don’t know why.”
Jones always professional, answered plainly while backing his chair away. “Yes that happens. Fairly common. You may want…it’s…the tissues are very delicate and vascular at the back of the throat and it may not be the wisest…”
“But we figured out I’ve got no gag reflex and you just took away my birth control for a month….and when you couple that with my natural ability as a lifelong asthmatic to hold my breath I’ve got a real talent, man!”
Judge me. Hold me to task for more than the fact I never made brushing a habit.
“Which pharmacy should I call this in to? Is it Bi-Mart? She write Bi-mart on there?”
“It’s kinda hard to read what she wrote….”
“BI MART.” I affirmed, done. Illiterates! Useless. Ignoring me, almost. Teeth still hurt. Heart still rotten, too. I launched from the chair and fell back into place because of armrests that are also bigoted against people who are left-side dominant. These people were not going to absolve me. They’d punish me, but just through dentistry.
Everything else I’m doing wrong, every other failure I’ve leaned into, every other selfish, slothful, greedy gluttonous stain on my life…they’re not going to drill those clean.
Only I can do that. But I don’t even think I have the gumption to look at the xrays.