Kid's in the chair again. Big open room; too much dark wood. Eyes closed. "Open mouth, please." Dental clamps taste like cigar smoke and soft serve vanilla ice cream, and the crunch of pliers on teeth and metal bands too tight. Kid leans over and spits in the basin. White and red, red and white all over until the water's on, and the basin is white again. "Open mouth, please." Cotton tubes like fat cigarettes without filters, four in each cheek and it takes two years for the gag reflex to kick in and the next five are pure hell. And then it's over, just like that except the kid doesn't understand the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist. It's a migratory sort of thing. First you spend seven years in the dark and then fly south to the light and in the south, the metal tools are much smaller. There are no more bands. There are, however, seven years worth of cavities.
Big, white room, lots of light, chairs everywhere. There's a little rubber mask that goes over the nose and you breathe and look at the light until they take the mask away. Kid bites the hygienist twice and cries until somebody says, 'you might want to up the mix on that.' At the end of the eighth year, the kid is done. No more metal bands and crunchy pliers, no more drilling, no more nitrous. Kid is sixteen and won't voluntarily see a dentist for another seven years.
Back in the chair. Grownups take care of their teeth or they lose their teeth and the kid can't remember who said it but there's nitrous here too so that's OK, for a while. Kid bites the dentist once and won't voluntarily see a dentist for another ten years. When the kid comes back, all the fillings from 1979 have to be replaced and there is nitrous but the kid can't tolerate it, and when the filling replacements are done, the kid is also done. Kid thinks, I bit no one, gets in the car and goes back to work.
Rinse and repeat.
Forty-two years after the bands came off, the kid has to get back in the chair or have a hole in the mouth forever. First visit was OK. The nitrous was doing its stuff again. There's a window in the white room, breathing in and out, in and out. "That was the hard part, we'll see you next week for the cleaning, OK?" OK, but next week is bad. Kid cant handle the bite wings and on the sixth attempt on the left side the kid barfs up breakfast, asks for towels and mouth rinse and says, OK, let's go. Again.
The kid can hear them in the hallway. Two hygienists, one tech, and one dentist.
Do you see that?
Yes! What should we do?
I guess keep going; hasn't said, stop, and we're just talking tears, not sobbing or biting.
Shit! The whole damn box!
I don't know. Might make it worse. Wait for the ask.
OK. Let's get back in there. We've got a lot of work to do.
The kid cries in the chair for ninety minutes and thinks embarrassment would be an appropriate response but can't land it. The dentist is asking a question, his mouth is moving but the kid's ears are full of fluid. One of the hygienists dabs at the ocean with cotton swabs and before the dentist is done they stop pretending not to notice and wipe the tears away every couple of minutes. Eyes squeezed shut as shut can be to block the ocean and stem the tides but it's too late. You can never make a thing like this not be.