Posted on: February 20, 2014
“You will feel a slight pinch followed by some pressure.”
At least that was my interpretation. What I actually heard through his thick accent was something more akin to “You vil fil a schlight binch follow by some brezher.” And pinch it did. It pinched like a motherfucker. I tried to breathe, to shift my thoughts to anything other than where I was, to put the fear aside. It didn’t help that between the vaguely eastern European inflections of his voice and the monstrosity of a moustache flowing over his upper lip, the dentist gave the impression of a certain long dead Russian dictator. But if he could stop the howling pain in my jaw and wrench free this abscessed tooth, he would be my hero forever.
“I vil be back, you try relax.”
Stalin got up and left the room. As the anesthetic kicked in, the numbness slowly crept through my gums and palate, bringing with it a hope of relief. I sat in an old barber’s chair, slightly refurbished and retrofitted with at least some of the accoutrements of modern dentistry. I glanced around the sparsely decorated office space. Four completely white walls and one solitary window blacked out. Definitely didn’t want the looky-loos peeking in from the alley. A small sink stood in the corner. No framed diplomas, no syrupy inspirational quotes coupled with generic sepia photographs. No saccharine pop music to put one at ease. This space was clearly all business, no play. But in a way the lack of adornment of the room was soothing. It gave the place a sterile feel, one not shared by the surroundings. Stalin returned and I could hear the din of consumerism coming from the dirty little bodega that fronted this illicit enterprise.
“You vant da lavin gas, no?”
He held up a small nasal mask attached to rubber surgical tubing.
Lavin gas? Laughing gas? Oh sweet Jesus yes!
I nodded my head affirmatively and tried to get my deadened mouth to talk. He fit the mask to my nose and started the flow of nitrous oxide. In seconds, a wave of warmth and tranquility radiated through my entire body.
I opened my jaw as far as it would go, which wasn’t far. My abnormally small mouth had made for some difficulties in eating sometimes, but at least it didn’t affect my social life. It could have been disastrous if I had other proclivities.
Stalin pried at my mouth, and though the Novocain had done its job, I could feel him grasping at my infected incisor.
A furrow appeared on Stalin’s brow, and I could see him begin to sweat.
I closed my eyes and let my mind wander. It settled on a piece of graffiti I had read outside, adorning the wall of the dank alleyway where I parked my car.
You don’t have dreams, you make them. It was a beautiful sentiment and glimmer of hope for all of the denizens of the ghetto.
“I pull now.”
You don’t have dreams, you make them. I could almost see the grin on the optimistic tagger’s face as his words blossomed to life in front of him.
Just wait kid, just wait. Make all of the dreams you want. One day the inconceivable weight of reality will come crushing down on you and you will find yourself far from your suburban home getting third-rate dentistry from a third-world refugee in a room behind a corner store because you can’t afford anything else.
Stalin put one hand on my shoulder and pressed down, while tugging at my tooth with the other.
You don’t make dreams, kid. You make mortgage payments and you make school lunches and you make sure you have enough Tylenol to make it through the day and you make up excuses as to why you have been stuck doing a job beneath you for the last fifteen fucking years. But you don’t make dreams.
My mouth was open as the hood of an old Buick. Stalin dug in, gave a grunt and there was an audible pop as the tooth relinquished its grasp and came free.
The door burst open and a boy of about ten came bounding into the room.
“Papa! Papa! I got an A, Papa!”
Stalin, now hovering above me, turned to his son.
“Good job Alexei, Papa is proud. I vil be done soon. You go tell Mama.”
Stalin sat back down next to me and started to pack cotton into my now empty socket, a new glint in his eye.
“My boy gonna be dentist too.” He cast a forlorn glance at his surroundings. “Not like dis.” I caught a faint smile peeking out from under his shaggy moustache and he started to beam with pride once more. “Real American dentist. Is why we came here. For him. For his dreams. You rest now. I be back soon.”
Stalin left the room but didn’t quite close the door. I could just make out the joyous sounds of true familial love.
For his dreams.
I tried to smile but only succeeded in letting a bit of bloody drool seep out of the corner of my mouth. I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my wife and kids. Every mortgage payment, every morning cursing my alarm clock, every ache and pain, every hardship I had to endure was worth it. For them. For their dreams.
You don’t have dreams, you make them.
Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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