This entry appeared in The Westfield Leader in March 2007
The man said to me, “Only raise your hand if you can’t stand the pain.” Then he put a heavy mask over my face and the room became dark.I was at the dentist and I had no idea what he was about to do to my mouth. He would take off the mask occasionally and hand me a mirror it was all I could not to gag when he’d explain in broken English what and why my mouth was bloodied, why there was now a hole in my molar. I wanted to tell him to put the mask back on, that I had no desire to see any of this. I was in Bangkok for the dentist appointment because part of my tooth had just fallen out and I didn’t know why. There were bomb threats in Bangkok that weekend and the embassy told us to avoid public transportation, which was difficult.
Earlier in the week I was in my house in the south of Thailand when part of my molar fell out. Suddenly there was something hard and loose in my mouth. I spit out my tooth into my hand. Later on the 12-hour bus ride up to Bangkok I thought how odd it was because teeth falling out is a common dream.
When you dream that your teeth are falling out it’s supposed to suggest that you are about to lose something or someone who is important to you. It symbolizes losing something you originally thought was a permanent fixture.
I was also in Bangkok because a friend, a Volunteer who lived close to me and I had spent a great deal of time with, had finished his service and was flying back to America. He was nervous to go back home. He didn’t know what he was going to do there. He hadn’t even told his family he was coming home yet. “I guess I’ll call them from the airport,” he said.
“So much time has passed there,” he went on, “but it doesn’t feel like any time has passed here. I feel like I have been in a holding cell, in a void here.”
Friends have gotten married, had children. They talk about 401Ks and business trips and buying cars. All the while we’ve just been here. In the south of Thailand. Teaching children and eating food that’s too spicy and not understanding what the people around us are saying and trying to be polite, be considerate, in a culture that isn’t our own. We’ve been sitting by fans because it’s so hot and hitch hiking in the back of pick up trucks and reading used paperbacks waiting for buses that never arrive on time.
Whereas in America I had always felt like I was moving forward, in a linear fashion, here it feels like I have spent the last 14 months in a hammock, swaying casually back and forth.
I couldn’t feel certain parts of my mouth when I left the hospital. It felt like a marble was being pushed down into my gums. It hurt. And I was, in afternoon traffic, two hours from the cheap guesthouse where I was staying.
I got on a crowded bus. It was hot and I sat by the window as we went stop-and-go down the streets. Smog pumping out of cars and motorbikes and tuk-tuks. Old withered men pedaling by on bicycles.
Only raise your hand if you can’t stand the pain. I thought about that line and how I was going to tell my friend when I got back to the guesthouse. It’d make for a good story, I thought. I probed around my molar with my tongue. I remembered I was white and realized I was the only Westerner on the bus.
I felt alone and sort of lost and very dirty but it was fine. It was nothing new. I kept both my hands down, crossed on my lap. I sat and I waited to arrive back.