I’m still lying back in the dentist’s chair when I open my eyes.
Working to lift my heavy lids.
Trying to rise from the syrupy haze.
The first clear thing I see are my wisdom teeth – all four – on a pad of cotton laying on my miserably undeveloped chest. A smiling nurse takes hold of my forearm and gently guides me off the reclining chair and onto my feet, leaving my knees somewhere behind me.
Legs buckling, a second nurse appears and with each as a crutch, we wind our way to a small dark room with a long, narrow bed where me and my teeth, still clutched in my hand, can rest in the dark and the quiet.
The smiling nurse is back again, taking my arm, helping find my balance; steering me through doorways, down hallways and into the waiting room.
The sight of her makes me smile, which makes it hurt, and makes me cry out. Making patients sitting patiently, jump in their waiting room seats and glare at me.
Stare at me.
Seeing exactly what they don’t want to see.
I couldn’t care less. I just want to sit down. But Mom and the nurse keep me moving forward toward the exit door.
Nothing looks sweeter than the car seat where, for the first time in years, Mom buckles me in. Her steely, blue eyes filled with fuss and concern.
And a little horror.
But the haze hasn’t lifted and I’m floating in it and out the window toward the warm, autumn sun.
And Mom’s taking me home.
My hand is heavy and fumbles to lower the window, and as I turn to face the breezes, I can smell hot pavement and mid-day traffic, and I can hear the sound of a motorbike approaching from behind.
As the biker passes, his helmeted head looks my way.
Leaning heavily against the car door, I smile in response.
He veers – suddenly.
And passes, quickly.
I can’t help but notice his knee-jerk reaction and reach for the visor and the vanity mirror, to find a reflection like B-Science-Fiction. My cheeks are swollen, my face misshapen, and by the looks of the dried and wet tracks trailing down both sides of my chin, I’ve been drooling.
My lips are cracked and bloody – as if stranded for weeks in the desert – and it appears as if they’ve been pulled apart by some horrible dental device which has left indentations still visible on my face.
I’m the goddamn monster’s bride.
A hideous sight.
A justifiable fright.
But for the first time in my teenage life, I couldn’t give a shit. All I want is Mom and Dad’s blue, velvet sofa, with dogs at my feet, a box of drool-catching tissue at my side, and a channel changer near at hand.
Which is where Mom leaves me with a kiss on the forehead and errands on her mind – one of which includes filling a prescription for pain medicine for when the good stuff I’m on wears off.
Propped up with pillows and blanketed with a quilt and a Labrador, the haze is slowly beginning to clear from my brain and although my jaws are sore, I’m feeling pretty dang good about having a day away from school.
The lovely, old mantel clock in the living room chimes the eleventh hour and I have nothing but a whole day of sleeping and watching television ahead.
Piece of cake.
It’s been two hours since Mom left. The meds have warn off, the haze has lifted, and everything is very, very clear. The pain – which started as a dull ache in my jaws and then began to swell – has turned into something hot and angry.
And my mood, gruesome.
Dark thoughts come to mind on the crest of each unmedicated minute. Our Labrador lets me squeeze tighter as the throbbing grows stronger and the darkness grows darker, but my moans are too much even for Heather.
No longer the arms I want to reach out for, Mom – who’s been gone for three hours, one since the pain began – is now my unexpected tormentor and abandoner, who’s every minute missing means misery.
How could she forget about me?
Into the fourth hour since Mom went a.w.o.l., Jim and Mark stumble upon my body beneath the blankets on the blue velvet sofa. Jim attempts a taunt, but when I slither from the covers and he sees the darkness for himself, he gently, but firmly grabs Mark’s shoulder and they retreat from the brooding scene, never turning their backs on the gloom, or my sullen glare.
Misery is my only companion that afternoon.
And we’re inseparable.
The cruel, mantel clock mocks me again, making it the fifth hour since we returned; the third of mourning my missing teeth and missing mother. Shrouded in the pain and the darkness, hidden beneath the blanket, my mood and breath are disagreeable and inconsolable and my thoughts are matricidal.
“She will pay dearly for this,” I hiss into the drool-drenched pillow.
As that fucking clock tolls the seventh hour and the sky grows dim, the sound of Mom’s approaching footsteps – which should signal the end of my suffering – instead fills me with rage.
Seething in my blanket underworld, hurtful words I’ve practiced for hours stand ready at the tip of my tongue. I can hear the crinkle of the white, paper bag from the pharmacy and Mom whispering my name. Both sounds try to pull me from the darkness, but I remain hidden.
Trembling with impending tears.
“Where have you been!?” is all I can say before the tears choke my words. I don’t really want to hear the answer – or her apology, which I immediately drown in the murky depths of my really bad humor. I just want water to wash down the pills from the white paper bag, so the pain can stop.
As well as my desire to kill.
The pills are down but my defenses are not, so I’m relieved that Mom has left to make dinner and I’m alone again.
As the last of the orange horizon over the lake and the silhouetted trees at the edge of the bluff disappear into the night, so does my pain and my darkness.