Some years ago, I made a friend, with some effort, who told me how he hated the waiting room at the dentist’s worse than the experience of having his vulnerability shift from below his stomach to above his neck.
I’ve been to a dentist once or twice. I’m not sure when, but I remember it was the age just before a milk tooth hanging by a vein stops being cool. So I can’t remember if it grossed me out, but I know I pretended I wasn’t scared.
Coming back to my old friend. He was twenty two when he saw the dentist then, and since he didn’t have the advantage of age, the decision to set his jaw straight was his own. I still think that’s what scared him the most. That he couldn’t go home and tell his mother to compensate for the trauma with a hug and hot chocolate served in his brother’s mug. If being an adult sucks, pretending to be one is a black hole.
Apparently, the dentist excavated his mouth to find cavities you could look down into and see his spleen. His whitest tooth was ochre and the yellowiest was black. Like farmers in Haiti, his teeth fought with their neighbours for land and displaced the weaker ones, pushing them into the darkest recesses of his mouth, left to rot, thin and flaky.
For reasons I couldn’t even begin to comprehend, this relieved him. With a deep sigh that nauseated the flies on our table, he explained.
“You should’ve seen the room, Golly. It wasn’t even a room… It was a long corridor... kind of like a morgue. You can’t see the person next to you because you’re scared his teeth are worse, and if they’re not, you know you’re in deep s*it.
When the person next to you is called in… its like you shared a bunk in Hitler’s Extermination Camp. Your heart burns to see him go in. He gulps silently, looking at you, like to say, “I was a b*tch, brother. But I know you’ll miss me.”
The worst part is all that waiting time kind of gets your imagination running… dentists always look like nice people. Nice people who shine and polish sharp steel things that go in your mouth.”
He sipped some water and lit a smoke. His cigarette burning on both ends, he closed his eyes tight shut, like to see inside him.
That image is kind of frozen in my head, him lying back, eyes tight shut and exhausted, and it kind of thawed here and now. I’m in my own corridor of sorts, waiting. Now, I get what he meant when he said the dentist was scary, but waiting for him was just lethal. You can’t not wait, there’s no option. You can’t walk out because you know its bad enough for you to have finally come. You can’t barge in next either, because you’re still too scared.
Only, I don’t quite know what I’m waiting for. I guess its okay as long as nothing inside is rotting. Nothing’s displacing anything else.
My friend’s mouth now elsewhere, the city is less polluted. He never went back to the dentist, though he had scheduled an appointment for the next week. He felt guilty for a while and then stopped pretending to be a grown up.
“You’re allowed mistakes when you let your instincts make them.” He explained.
And he turned out alright.
I guess my nice people with polished steel thingummies will call me in soon or later. I just hope whenever they do, I have fewer battles inside me to show them. Until then, I’ll just have to close my eyes tight shut, look inside me, and wait.