See the Volcano
It was karma getting back at me for accidentally letting the bus door slam on that guy that one time. I didn’t know, I swear, that the door would automatically fly backwards. I’m from Pittsburgh. We keep our backdoors on buses shut at all times. Or maybe it was my dental insurer, they’d secretly planted something in that envelope that transmitted the noxious gases necessary to cause this ailment of the mouth. They had, only a week ago, sent me the renewal forms for this year’s ticket to lower prices at the dentist’s office, after all. I figured I skip out on renewing for a couple of months, wait and see if we found a place to call home. We’ve been gypsying it for the past year or so and there’s talk about settling down soon, though I wouldn’t be surprised if sooner turned into later. Anyway, I don’t like the dentist, and my smile shows it, but even so, I don’t like the dentist.
Whoever it was, whatever it was, it hurt like hell. And it still does. When it started I figured it was just another day in the life of your average mortal being. A little pain in the back of my mouth, no big deal. Then I could feel that chewy, doughy sensation near my back right molar. I had to think there, because it seems like my back left. I guess I’ve only really ever gotten acquainted with my teeth in the mirror, backwards ass sonsofbitches that they are. Anyway, that’s never a good sign. I’m not sure what they’re called — canker sores maybe, ulcers some people say — these tiny white volcanoes that burn into the inside of my cheeks, sucking the red light district glow out of every gum and cheek and tongue cell they can and replacing it with nothing, empty white pain. Once it gets big enough that you can chomp down on it just by chewing, that an accidental yawn or grinding of the teeth can pull it open, well, it’s already too late.
This time the volcano spread. Down from my cheek to the spot on the back of my jaw hinged with my skull. It moved down into my throat, so that even if I could maneuver soup or unchewed macaroni and cheese through my mouth without having to excersize any mouth muscle but a simple swallow, even then I’d feel the harsh pain of burning hatred on the way down. Now it’s starting to make it’s way onto my tongue. Once it hits the tongue, everything’s over. I might as well just lay back and pray for Hell to burn off my face first, because surely Satan couldn’t conjur up anything as cruel as putting the slightest, smallest little bump in such a painful place.
But anyway, I’m strong. I’ll outlast it. I’ve been to Viet-fucking-nam dammit. Well, not literally, but if you knew where I grew up and some of the kinds of bars I actually choose to go into even to this day, you might let me slide on the notion.
It’s sleep that I really look forward to. You can get away from the pain, just fall asleep. A little Chloroseptic applied liberally, maybe a little Ambesol, and all it takes is falling into slumber to make it all go away for a good 8 hours. I didn’t have any of either of those two wonder-drugs, though, mouthnumbing, jaw-dropping, Cocaine is envious of those guys. Especially Chloroseptic. I guess it’s for sore throats and you’re only supposed to use it, what, twice a day? I spray that like Dale Gribbel in an alien dream, though, so often that I never feel anything, until the damn ulcers just tire themselves out and move back on to volcano dormancy. So much that my teeth start to feel weak in their slots. That’s scary when that happens, and I usually lay off. Until the pain comes back.
But I’m not Dale Gribbel and this isn’t an alien dream and therefore, conclusively, I don’t have anything to numb the pain. I’m lying in bed. I can’t fall asleep for hours, it’s cold enough that the wife has the heater turned on and so that dry, electric, man-made heat fills the air. Which means I’m itchy. Dammit am I itchy. You can’t fight it either, you know. Some people say, “Just don’t itch, it’ll go away.” I tried that once when I was 14. I was just itchy from March to March. If you scratch, it’ll go away, but only for awhile. It’s like there’s a little ant under your skin and he’s trying to bite his way out, only he’s got weak mandibles, so it just registers in your brain as “ITCHY!”
You scratch, the ant freaks out and runs back into your body, back into hiding. You lie there, falling back into sleep, still. The ant gets up his nerve again and tries to get out through a different spot. Thus, you wake up with scratch marks everywhere from the inside of your armpits to the outside of your eyelids.
Oh but wait, I’ve fallen asleep. Finally. I know I’m asleep, because my mouth doesn’t hurt. And also, because I’m hanging out with some kids I haven’t known for a long time. They point out that I’ve got a huge hole in my stomach, where my belly button would be. I look at it. It doesn’t look so weird, I’m just a little fat. That’s what belly buttons look like in dreams. God, these guys are stupid. But damn, according to my eyesite, I am fat. I mean, capital F-bomb fat. The hole extends from where my gut sits clear back to where my belly button would be if I had a six pack. I can easily fit my whole fist in there, and it’s pretty nasty looking. My black hole belly. I decide, right then in there, dreamscape or no dreamscape, it’s time to finally lose this weight.
Oh but wait. Fuck it.
I wake up again, because I’m itchy, and my mouth hurts. I spend all night waking up my wife and then she can’t sleep so she ends up waking me up again. It’s a vicious cycle and one of us simply has to die. I consider murder, but figure suicide would be more prudent. If one of us has to die, please God, let it be the one who’s canines are barking Cerberus and molars and screaming X-Files and incisors are like Edward’s scissorhands.
We both live.
It’s a new day, and I decide to have a look in the mirror, to really get a flashlight in there and see what we’re dealing with. I’ve been brushing my teeth two, three times a day, drinking 10 glasses of water, keeping Listerine out of the financial crisis. Now it’s time to go in and see what I can do about this…this problem.
And that’s when I see it. My whole mouth is either completely white, ulcerous with volcanos or the other way around, and at the front of lip there’s a firm ridge in the shape of my teeth. It seams I’ve been clenching my jaw all night, not tight enough to bite through my lip, but enough to reshape the inner gum to be a perfect shelf. Or some tiny bridge from the volcanos all the way around to…
And that’s when I really see it. Two black spots on the inside left of my cheek. Oh my god, what is it. Is it cancer? Is it some kind of stain from that filling on the tooth beside it that looks the same color? Is it a black hole? Is it my belly button?!
I close my mouth, brush my teeth again, and swear off smoking. At least if it’s cancer, I’ll have quit just in time, right? Then I head off to the store, in pain, to buy some Chloroseptic or Ambesol or beer or whatever they have that will help me get through the night.