I’m still lying back in the dentist’s chair when I open my eyes. It’s hard to lift my heavy lids, even harder trying to wake from a 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. Legs buckling, a second nurse appears, and with each as a crutch, we wind our way 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.
But Mom and the nurse keep me moving forward toward the exit door.
Nothing looks sweeter than the car where, for the first time in years, Mom has to buckle me in. Her steely, blue eyes filled with fuss and concern, and a little horror. But the haze hasn’t lifted and I’m happily floating in it… and out the car window, toward the warm, autumn sun.
And Mom’s taking me home.
With a heavy hand, I lower the window and turn to face the breezes. I smell hot pavement and mid-day traffic and hear the sounds of a motorbike approaching from behind. As the biker passes, his helmeted head looks my way, so I smile in response, leaning heavily against the car door.
He swerves – suddenly – and passes, quickly.
Seeing such a knee-jerk reaction makes me fumble for the visor’s mirror, where I find a reflection like B-Science-Fiction: swollen cheeks, a misshapen face, and by the looks of the dry and wet tracks trailing down both sides of my chin, I’ve been drooling. A lot. My lips are also 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.
But the care is lost in thoughts of home and Mom and Dad’s blue, velvet sofa, with dogs at my feet, a box of 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 strong stuff wears off.
Propped up with pillows, covered with a quilt and a Labrador, the cloud is beginning to clear from my brain, and although my jaws are sore, I’m relishing a day away from school.
The 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 began as a dull ache in my jaws has turned into something hot and angry.
And my mood, gruesome.
Dark thoughts come to mind on the crest of each unmedicated, tear-filled minute.
“Where is she?” I moan as our Labrador, Heather, lets me squeeze tighter.
But the throbbing grows stronger and the darkness grows darker, and my groans are too much even for Heather, who squirms from my grasp and slinks away, tail between her legs.
The chimes of the clock reminds me that Mom’s been gone for three hours and it feels as if my head will explode.
I now consider my mother, my captor and my tormentor.
And the blue velvet sofa, my prison of pain, where I dig my way deeper into its darkness and despair.
In the fourth hour since Mom abandoned me, Jim and Mark approach my body beneath the blanket. Jim attempts a taunt, but when I slither from the covers and hiss, “Where’ssssss Mom?”, my gloom and sullen glare frightens even him.
He gently, but firmly, grabs Mark’s shoulder and they retreat from the brooding scene… Misery is my only acceptable companion this afternoon.
And we’re inseparable.
Wretched and contemptible.
The damned clock mocks me again, making it the fifth hour since our return and still no sign of Mom.
Shrouded in the pain and the darkness, still hidden beneath the blankets, my breath, my mood, and the TV, are disagreeable and inconsolable, and my thoughts, matricidal.
“How could she have forgotten about me?” I hiss into the drool-drenched pillow, unable to think of anything beyond the pain and this painful disappointment.
As the seventh hour tolls 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 blanketed 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, “Annie”.
Both sounds try to pull me from the darkness, but I remain hidden.
“Where have you been!?” is all that squeaks out.
I don’t really listen to her answer.
I just take the bitter pill and turn over.