“Help me, help me! Please!” I scream, shriek really, to my father, who stands there–helpless himself–crying over the fact that his once beautiful debutante daughter was losing every tooth by the second. With any movement of my mouth, a tooth would bust loose from the gum. I could feel it, hear it. The gentle but fierce ripping. I tried to scream louder, but blood filled my mouth and muffled the impact of a more piercing yell. He just kept standing there, tears escalating like Alice’s when she grew abruptly into a giant and filled the entire acid-tripped space with her proportionately-sized tears.
I could see that he wanted to assist me, was desperate to. At the same time, something in his eyes told me that he genuinely had know idea how to. What could possibly be done for a girl as far gone as me? Chiefly because someone as practical as Hal–someone as firmly believing in the notion that all it took was an attitude to succeed or change your fate–could never be able to pull me out of my black hole.
My cuspid left tooth, strangely, was the last to hold steady, as though the lone protester against the loss of all my beauty. Hal was unable to look at me through the wetness of his eyes, but I doubt he would have wanted to anyway. I was too hideous to be claimed as his creation any longer. Too utterly unsightly for him to recognize me as having any of his DNA. That’s one of the many myths about parents, that they will love you unconditionally. The truth is, children are like cars, constantly depreciating in value to the proverbial owners that are their parents. A dent here, a scrape there, and suddenly you’re no longer Daddy’s golden boy or Mommy’s golden girl. Instead just another blemish on the already massively embarrassing pimple of their life. It was your job to make their existence slightly more meaningful, and you couldn’t even do that.
Suddenly, my father is gone. He’s disappeared into some void as unknown as my purpose. I’ve fallen through a trap door and through a sunroof that leads me into the driver’s seat of Sheri’s car. Sheri is someone I haven’t seen in years, and it’s strange to encounter her now, as we would never ordinarily hang out socially outside of work. She was the sort of person you could tolerate going to lunch with, convincing her to “be bad” and have one glass of wine in order to cope with the undistilled monotony of office life. Beyond that, it would have been unfathomable for me to relate to her for more than one hour (the “humane” amount of time allotted for a worker’s lunch) out of the day. But here she was, apparently expecting me to drive her stickshift white Volkswagen Rabbit up an impossibly steep hill. I didn’t know where we were going, but along the way, she informs me that Richard Gere has died. I think: I can’t even remember the last movie he was in. It feels as though his career forever stalled at Runaway Bride. That his career was basically dependent on Julia Roberts.
I think my “career” was dependent on taking what I could get. Simply “getting by” with as minimal effort as possible and hoping for the best. The best, it appeared to remind me once again, was having one cuspid left, my mouth suddenly starting to fill with blood again. The sight sent Sheri into a panic, and she opened the door and rolled out of the car. I was already having difficulty holding my own with the abrupt shifting of gears to get up the hill, but with Sheri’s bombastic abandonment, I lost my focus, letting the car roll backward until I was back at the very bottom, where we first began. I called to Sheri from below; she waved her hand dismissively, continuing on ahead in the other direction by way of foot.
Though I had no teeth, I needed a cigarette, so I started in the direction of a convenience store I had seen about a half a mile back. The blood was incessant, pouring down my body in sheets. After a few minutes, it almost felt more pleasant than humiliating, like if/when you piss your pants in public because you can’t hold it any longer, so finally you just give in. That’s what I was doing. Giving in to my ugliness. My loss.
At the convenience store, the unflinching, overweight cashier handed me my requested Camel Lights and said, “$8.75.” I wondered what state I was in for a pack of cigarettes to be so cheap. Taking the book of matches he also slid onto the counter, I went outside, where, lo and behold, there my father was again, pumping gas with an absent expression.
“Dad!” I shouted. He glanced at me, no look of recognition on his face. He seemed more perturbed than interested in at least finding out who I was, and why a “stranger” might be addressing him as “Dad.” Alas, my urgency only made him more urgent to leave, wrapping up his endeavor likely before the tank was even full.
“Hey wait!” I begin to run to his dark blue car, which looks like a cross between a Mercedes and a Ferrari. Maybe it wasn’t him. He would never have a car like that. He was too modest, even if he did have the means. I look down and see that I’m wearing my debutante dress, cut up to a knee-length with ripped fishnets that give it a certain Courtney Love flair.
I sigh, the sound of it akin to a howling whistle without any of my teeth to cushion the exhalation. I decide to sit down on the sidewalk, light my cigarette and think. If my father was a dentist, maybe he wouldn’t be so grossed out by me. If I wasn’t so gross, maybe my father wouldn’t need to be a dentist.