Running Out of Gas
by Linda Kilby
I'm walking the half mile fast babe, fast. Gotta rush to get there so I can get the fuck outta The Chair. Walkman crooning Velvet Underground, springing up on the balls of my feet, arms bowed out from my body, fists clenched. I'm looking for a fight - actually I'm not... I'm going to the dentist for a cleaning.
I duck calls for months, cancel appointments like I'm waving off a dim sum cart, "Nope, sorry, big trip, yes it is sudden, isn't it?" Or, "Big migraine, in fact I'm going home right now." Eventually I cave in from guilt. It's that damn Barbara, the scheduler. I see her broad smiling face, like she's from Minnesota. I feel her nod with understanding each time I cancel. She looks like my favorite babysitter, Betsey Reeber. How the hell can I let down Betsy Reeber?
So they corral me. One foot in front of the other here I go. Freaking out each step I take through downtown San Francisco: Union Square's Maiden Lane with eyeglass cases from Provence, wait, I don't wear glasses! Through Chinatown past my secret wonton place; then Jackson Square, deep in the heart of Objet For the Pacific Heights Madame.
My arm is numb, I can't lift it to open the door. It's not physical pain I fear, it's the possibility. The sounds of all those sharp instruments I haven't seen up close since I was ten. The long hooked surgical pick, the scraping tool I've never seen ever. I hear the metal clink on the tray and close my eyes.
I don't have dental phobia, I don't! I just have an overactive brain that feels out and experiences every possible outcome. Simultaneously. And gums that bleed in the dentist's elevator. I'm the unknown saint, La Perio Sangre.
Next thing I know I'm sitting in a chair, leaning way back, and someone leans over me poking a very sharp instrument into my open mouth. Who wouldn't shriek, or let a little sob out?
Jane the Hygienist puts the cone of nitrous over me. She offers me the standard stereo headphones she keeps for all the chicken shit patients. I wave her off, I'm an old hand. I put on my own plush headphones and turn the Walkman up, after I tell Jane that I like her, but just don't want to be here. At all.
I'm listening to Velvet Underground, inhaling as hard as I can, waiting for Jane to look away so I can exhale though my mouth and suck in the gas as fast as possible. I'm entirely too aware of a pinging sound as she bounces what must be a Phillips Head screwdriver into and under my gum line. I can't open my eyes to verify this, but I know it to be a fact. I should be feeling like I'm falling down a padded elevator shaft by now, what's wrong?
The gas isn't working. I must be too tense from That Dotcom Job, or maybe they're giving me placebo gas. Maybe they have "Former Druggy" written all over my chart and I get the fake gas with a slightly fruity nitrous smell. It's a fake, it's all a bloody fake - what a bunch of scam artists! How could I fall for this for so many years? Jane's not my friend, she's the enemy!
I try exhaling through my mouth and filling my entire body with the gas, like my dad taught me. So I can float away like I used to. When they gave me the real stuff.
I can't, I can't breathe out with my mouth, I'm too panicked she'll feel it on her hand, and sniff me like my mom used to when I came home from high school.
They can't know how much I need this gas. That's the whole reason I truck my sorry ass to lah-di-dah Jackson Square, to get the damn gas! What the hell am I doing here?
Instantly I produce so much saliva it forms a pool in my mouth too large to get sucked up, and dribbles onto my sweater. The flight or fight response is high - I outstripped the saliva vacuum! The shoulder of my sweater is wet and I'm wriggling underneath it. Maybe it's not saliva, maybe it's blood! Maybe it's blood pouring out of my mouth and Jane won't tell me, doesn't know what to do because she's cut some sort of dental artery. I look up at her and estimate her weight. She's small and helpful. I am strong and panicked. I figure if I punch my fists straight up into her solar plexus she will sail up in the air, like a happy face kite.
I remove my headphones and speak as slowly and calmly as possible. "Jane. I'm kind of freaking out. I need the gas turned up or I need a time out."
Her brow creases with worry. Maybe she's not the enemy. She takes the Makita drill out of my mouth and turns a knob I can't see. I'm getting more pressure. She tells me she'll give me a break.
I lie on the chair, sucking gas like it's the first day of scotch season. Gas, dear gas, where the hell is the hit? I need a hit damnit! I'm too nervous thinking about when Jane'll come back to really enjoy myself.
You don't need to hear about a nine year old falling off her bike and getting a front tooth pulled without painkillers, do you? The root is I'm a nervous person who can't handle other people sticking sharp objects into her mouth. Perhaps I feel more alert about this than others. I pay extra for the Special Dentist.
Jane comes back in and I see it's just Jane. She has a few more furrows in her brow, as do I. She doesn't mean me harm, she's just trying to stay with me and mop up my bleeding gums.
I breathe. I turn the music way up to drown out the instruments. By the pricking of my gums... I don't feel the golf balls lumping up between my shoulders as she turns on the innocent sounding rubber cleaning thingy, I swear I don't. The cleaning part sounds safe, sure, but what if she's rolls closer to me in her chair, hits an edge of carpet and whammo! The rubber cleaning tip rams through my soft palate and I can't remember what nouns are. "Ow! Me hurt my... Ow!"
What I really want to do is ask her to notch up the gas again, but I'm too chicken. In high school we pretended we weren't stoned while we watched the lawn vibrate. Here I'm trying to pretend that the thimbleful of nitrous is just fine for me, yep… Just fine. I grip the handles of the chair until my knuckles cramp.
When it's over, and she's turned everything off and I've spat a quart of red stuff into the sink I confess. "Jane. Jane I was losing it today. You were fine, but I was out there."
Jane tells me I need to stay with her. "You need to stay with me." Should I tell her I wanna be knocked out like a dog and wake up with white teeth?
Stay with me, sure. I smile at Jane as I fill out the form to come back and get my filling done. I could work on all this stuff, I could! I could even think about how this is the ba-zillionth time I'm being told to breathe more, or listen to relaxation tapes. The sound of a waterfall and counting backwards and my Happy Place.
Or I could just get more vehement about the nitrous. So what if Jane knows I'm exhaling through my mouth? If I can get back to that falling down an elevator feeling, I may come back and get this cavity filled. I fill out the scheduling card. Under first available time I put down my what is the best possible time, "When Hell Fr...".
About the author:
Linda Kilby is summering on her deck in Berkeley, California. The postman still owes her a severance check. Her library books are overdue.