My mouth was pried open. Like I was in a perpetual state of disbelief. Somehow they had tricked me into allowing all this. A big round flood light was directed at my face, which must’ve looked pathetically frightened and in pain. More like a child than an adult. “I know this is uncomfortable sir. Believe me, these teeth are in desperate need of work.” I nodded and made a grunting noise. “How often do you floss?” he asked. I wasn’t sure how to respond. It didn’t seem like I could lie my way out of it. "Usually we recommend flossing at least once a day, to protect against gingivitis. It can get pretty nasty. That’s why this is such a tough process right now. Your gums are like puddy.” I remember a vaguely medieval metal hook tool, and wincing at the sound of my teeth scraping metal. He lectured me pretty much the whole time, as the iron-y taste of blood filled my mouth. It was all really off-putting. After it was over I was escorted back to the front desk. The waiting area smelled like disinfectant. They gave me some extra cotton balls for my gums and a gift bag with a sticker, and floss. I reached out to grab a sucker from a small glass jar on the desk. The receptionist looked up and told me “those are for the kids.” You‘re right, I don’t need a sucker, I am a sucker. “Usually we recommend patients come back every six months, but I think in your case you should be back in three. Shall we book you for then?” “No thanks,” I said, “I don’t know if I’ll still be around here by then.” And I was right. On the way home I remember stopping to get a sandwich. I unwrapped it and tried to eat it but my gums bled all over the bread. So I sat motionless in the concrete gray and hot smog of the freeway. Inside my car it smelled like coffee grounds and ash. My mouth hung open and beating, like my heart sat just behind my teeth. The whole hour home I was mad at myself for making the dentist appointment. I had thought it was something adults did, like pay utilities, or budget, or move clothing to the dryer, or own a lawnmower. I thought of my Dad, who would be taking his lunch break back East. I imagined him glancing at his watch. He would know exactly how many more hours of work he had left for the day. His routine was immutable in my mind. I supposed he would be happy enough to hear I had finally done something painful and boring for myself. No time spent that way could be a total waste. Traffic periodically shifted forward, I drove with my knees. I tore off the bloody part of the sandwich. I tucked it away for later. It was an hour home so I dreamt about dental ads, and a certain kind of life that wasn’t for me.
AJ (Pitzer '21) is a writer from Nashville, Tennessee.