So, to get this out of the way, how are your teeth?
They’re OK and do everything teeth should do! I can’t say that my black tea and red wine habits have done them any favors, though.
This one, too: Are you, were you, or have you ever been in love with your dentist? Yes or no, tell us about her/him and your most memorable dental experience.
“In love” feels a little strong, but I have definitely had very positive feelings. It’s more grateful, the same way I find myself feeling about all kinds of professionals who are just doing their jobs but can make you feel like your concerns, health, and self matter, even if you are the thousandth person they’ve seen that year. Strangely, my most memorable dental experiences are the ones that I suspect everyone has: the difficulty of trying to carry on a conversation with my mouth held open, and the joke my dentist made every time I went—“We’re going to give you a GREEN filling this time!” I imagine they all learn that joke at dental school.
Building on that, I’ve always dreaded the dentist, not because I fear pain—they have neato drugs for that—but the infringement on my person, the invasion of my space, this stranger sticking their fingers and their toys inside me, sloshing, poking, etc. Yet, that’s exactly what’s attracting this kid to her dentist, that proximity, that violation. Do you know anyone like this, turned on by this type of contact?
That’s a really interesting point about your own dread, and that makes a lot of sense. As to whether I know anyone who enjoys violation, I do think that there are people who mistake the violation of their boundaries for intimacy, and that there are people who genuinely find a deeper intimacy in a voluntary surrender of their boundaries. I think these are two different kinds of people, and the narrator is the first. On a simpler level, she is in pain and discomfort; the dentist heals that pain. While the narrator is certainly attracted to the dentist’s invasion of her body, and experiences it as connection and closeness, I think she also loves him just for caring for her. I hoped that this would speak to the lack she experiences elsewhere, to her being a child that has never felt more than important, has never been given more attention, than when she was experiencing oral surgery.
I notice how this narrator grows up to be with a man who numbs her, gives her pot and beer. That’s a nice touch. Still, she longs for the dentist, the more extreme version. Who, aside from this doomed dentist, will ever make her happy?
That’s a really great question. She does not strike me as someone particularly familiar with happiness, either. I chose to write this story in present tense, even though it spans her past, present, and future, because I wanted to create the sense that for this narrator, her memories are urgent intrusions in her everyday life, and that moments roll into each other and overlap at her most emotionally fraught moments. Her question at the end begs her boyfriend to enter her brain somehow, to experience time and memory in the same way that she does, which is impossible. This seems to me an ultimately self-centered worldview. I think that she might be able to find happiness, but probably not in another person. I think happiness or contentedness might happen for her if she is able to focus less on herself and her soup of feelings and memories, and reach for transcendence and connections that are outside of her own subjectivity—if she approaches the world as one part of a connected whole rather than believing herself to be an isolated observer. She is only twenty-one at the end of the story—I think she still has room to grow, but I imagine that even in the best-case scenario, she has years of analgesic boyfriends and (rightfully) distrustful wives ahead of her.
I see that you are at Bowling Green, where I spent eighteen years of my adult life. Tell me what it was like to survive the Bowling Green Massacre. How are you coping today?
It’s been incredibly difficult. My cohort and I have spent hours at the memorial for that horrific act, which is in Howard’s. Our remembrance ritual includes drinking $2 well whiskies and talking loudly at each other about our favorite books, as the victims of the Massacre would have wanted. We will always remember.