Scaling

I get emotional at the dentist. True,
core-level, uncontrollable emotion.  
Not at the standard cleaning, but
always with the deep cleans, the
 
scalings, where they start by putting
needles right into the soft wet 
skin at the tensest meeting of 
jaw muscles, the hinge behind
 
the molars. I anticipate this for days
and by the time I lean back in
the chair, my heart flutters and 
the internal child I put through grad
 
school in my therapy-rich twenties
comes home eight all over again. 
I joke to the hygienist that I may cry,
because making a direct joke about a 
 
deep fear is a defense mechanism I
never consciously developed, but 
developed nonetheless. She jokes 
back, well, if you cry, I’ll probably
 
start. And then she leans over me
with blue-gloved hands, a tiny mirror
in one and a syringe in the other, and 
says to relax and open wide. 
 
I almost don’t.  For a second, I consider
bolting upright and walking out. I’m
an adult.  I can do that. I can insist
that you take your hands out my mouth
 
today, Satan.  But I don’t. Instead,
I grip the armrests like I’m clinging 
to rock, hanging off a cliff, the strength 
of my hands the only intercessor
 
between me and certain death.  I close
my eyes and open my mouth. As I feel 
the brush of her latex glove against my
lip, a tear escapes my right eye,
 
slides an inch toward my ear and
stops, clinging to one invisible
hair or laugh line. It stays through
the entire procedure, like a
 
companion, like a sister holding my 
hand, like a focal point I can laser onto
instead of imagining what it looks like
to poke sharp steel beneath my gums 
 
and pressure wash tartar away from 
the soft pockets. Even writing this
now, when the numbness and soreness
and shots are all long past, I feel 
 
a warm wetness build up in my eye, the 
right one, and my companion lets me know 
she never left.  I don’t know what this old 
wound is that reopens periodontally. I imagine
 
a past life in which I was gagged, knotted
cloth jammed in my mouth, hands tied
behind me, as I’m walked to a firing squad,
helpless. Or maybe I was a prisoner of war
 
who had each tooth pulled as my
interrogators attempted to pry from me
information I didn’t have. Or maybe 
it’s from this life, times when I felt 
 
hushed, or the opposite, times I
found trouble when I refused 
to stay quiet. Or maybe it’s just 
that the soft wet skin at the 
 
tensest meeting of the jaw muscles
feels like what the heart must feel like,
soft and tough and reliable and so,
so vulnerable. And sliding a needle
 
into that place is precisely how feeling
is born, where the sharp meets 
the soft, where healing hinges 
to pain. 
 
© 2020 Deb Moore, All Rights Reserved

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