I was to be sedated due to overwhelming anxiety and a horrific gag reflex. A pill, an injection into my right arm, and inhaled gas. Seemed like a lot for a skinny eleven-year-old, yet I gulped the gas in fear. The dentist tilted the chair until I was lying flat. Within minutes, I was asleep. Slumbering in a soporific dream. But though asleep, I was able to observe, kind of like when you suddenly die and you’re floating toward the white light but can see everything happening to your body as the doctor tries to restart your heart. It was that vivid and clear. Like sitting in the front row of a movie theater. Anyway, I could hear the dentist telling me everything would be fine, to relax, that he was going to remove those “dirty little cavities.” I heard the click of the door lock. He turned on a radio, loud. Then, unexpectedly, he unbuttoned my trousers and pulled them to my knees. Then my underwear. He placed a white towel on my lap and a wet washcloth on his instrument table. He touched my penis, barehanded. I felt warm and flushed, my heart slapping hard in my chest. He moved his fingers faster and faster. Then I felt a sudden shiver of my body, almost like a seizure, but a good seizure, then pure exhaustion.
I awoke to the sound of Frank Sinatra, or maybe it was Dean Martin, I don’t remember. The dentist snorted a laugh and handed me a mirror to look at my teeth. Two gray fillings sat planted in the back. He told me I was good to go, but to brush daily, and see him in six months. My mouth was still numb, but I tried to thank him: Thankf youff. He winked. I slid from the chair, stumbled a bit, and opened the door to the foyer where my grandmother waited. Another young boy, seated with his mother, fidgeted nervously.
As we drove home, I noticed a damp spot on my pants, near the bottom of my zipper. I turned toward the car window so my grandmother couldn’t see and touched it with my finger. It was a texture I recognized from the times I secreted a Playboy to the bathroom and locked the door. I rolled the window down and rested my chin. The storefronts passed and the wind tousled my hair.
I’ve never been able to love. I’ve tried but failed, miserably. Over and over. I’ve struggled to understand why, scouring the years of my life for an answer, yet finding none. However, I’ve noticed that when love begins to emerge from the solace of aloneness, I recoil, the festering memory of the dentist’s chair rising like shards of glass tumbling in a broken heart. It’s a gaping wound that can’t be stitched. So now, in the closing years of life, I’ve resigned that finding love is at hopeless end, and my remaining days a fated time of lonely solitude.
Semi-retired physician and writer, published in medical journals and a smattering of literary journals, including The Healing Muse, Blood and Thunder, Intima. A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Months To Years, Cleaning up Glitter, Prometheus Dreaming, Hektoen, Hospital Drive, JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Tendon, and others. Currently working on a collection of essays. Lives in Charleston, SC, longs to return to the west. Lover of dogs.
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