I'm a fish. My mouth forced open, the jaw about to be unhinged, and in the surgical lamp, my eyes stare unblinking like those of the guy in A Clockwork Orange. I hate the cold hooks in my cheek: the clamps that pull me up, the metal against the lips, the suction, the nets of surgical suture thread. I'm flopping on the dentist chair, a trout on the floor of some Thai fishing vessel, alone, wide eyed, and wondering (at my age!) "Where's my mommy?"
The oral surgeon who extracted my wisdom tooth (while I watched!) wasn't so bad. It was the cavity guy who was the sadist. I'm sure of it. For an entire hour he drilled my teeth as though he were doing major highway repair with a jack hammer. And I could see in his eyes that he was getting some sort of sick pleasure out of it. He propped my jaw open with a black plastic jaw brace so that I wouldn't bite down. And then he drilled. And drilled. And drilled. I could see his eyes peering out from behind the surgical mask: they were smiling. Really. He only spoke Thai. But, he knew two words in English. Not "Breathe deeply" or "Good job!" or "You okay?" No. The only two words in English he spoke to me (and he repeated them over and over again!) were, "Trusssssssst me." You could hear the hiss in that serpentine voice. And, from my experience, anyone who repeats that phrase more than once (or even once, for that matter!) isn't to be trusted with a ten-foot pole.
And while he's drilling, and drilling, and drilling and while my whole upper body is vibrating along with that giant drill, he's flirting with the dental hygienist. I kid you not. I didn't understand a word they were saying to each other, but flirting is the universal language. She was supposed to be maneuvering that suction prong to slurp up the saliva, but sometimes she's looking across at him with a lost, lover's look, and the suction prod adheres to the inside of my cheek like a snail on acid.
Then, every once in a while someone comes in to chat, and the dentist stops, leaving my mouth open and saliva drooling off my numb lip.
And they laugh, and speak to each other in Thai, and I'm imagining they're talking about what happened at the party the other night, not at me, not the woman with the tears running down her face.
Yes, folks, that's right. Step right up for the freak show. This adult, this woman who has jumped out of airplanes for sport, who has ridden solo on a motorcycle across three states, who is the archetypal "strong one" at a sundry of funerals, who has spelunked in the bowels of the earth, and dived into the piranha-infested waters of tributaries of the Amazon River, cried.
Not just a tear or two, mind you. I'm talkin' giant, hot tears, like those on the faces of children who have fallen from the swing and no one's around to pick them up. Enough tears to run into my hair and make it wet. You know: the tears that adults are embarrassed to see on the faces of other adults, because crying is a private matter, especially among strangers.
And I wanted my Mom, but she was 10,000 miles away.
It's finally over. I'm stitched up, now, with five stitches. My cheek looks as though I'm one of The Chipmunks. And, in one, tiny, mini-me excuse for a zip-lock bag lies my bloodied (they didn't bother to rinse it!) wisdom tooth.
I 'm going to keep it as a reminder.
A reminder of more pleasant days, when I believed there was a tooth fairy.
A reminder that even people my age can grow wisdom teeth.
But most of all, it's a great reminder of what a big, fat crybaby I am.
Tomorrow I hop on plane to head back to my home Somewhere in Asia, where everyone knows I'm strong, where everyone knows I'm independent, and where everyone knows I never, ever cry. :-)