I totally forgot I had promised stories: The Swimming, Barefeet, and Mouth stories.
These will not be sexy stories.
For the sake of this taking place nearly one month ago, I am going to have to lump them all together. Truth be told, they all happened at the same time, that same night. There is no need to make chapters. There is just the bizarre occurrence of happening to visit my dentist earlier that week for a routine cleaning that you, the reader, should note. But more about that later.
I was going home for Labor Day weekend after three months of living like a disease in New York, sweating and cursing and drinking and kissing my way through the summer I took only two vacation days. The humidity had taken its toll on me: I was weak, run-down, chronically hung over, and five pounds under my usual weight. I know this because when I arrived back home, everyone thought it would be particularly delightful to tell me how skinny I looked. And when you haven’t eaten anything but oatmeal in days because you’re too hung over to reach for the microwave, it isn’t necessarily the compliment you’re looking for. Though, I’m not sure what would have been better. Perhaps: Doll, your skin is looking so bright and clean-scrubbed today! (It wasn’t.)
I planned on coming up Friday afternoon, but there I was, drunk off my ass hours after the original time frame I had set with my mother. It’s wasn’t my fault: a band of coworkers and I ended up at a dive in Hell’s Kitchen drinking shots of bourbon and taking hits off someone’s pipe on Ninth Avenue. I was swimming in my limbs. We went back to the booth, back to our liquor, and one of my coworkers laughed at me.
“You haven’t said a word for at least ten minutes. In the six months I’ve known you I’ve never seen you so quiet.” His lips cracked open into an evil-looking half smile. “You must be so fucking high.”
It was true. I was stoned and drunk as hell and my cheek hurt.
I had been to the dentist that week. He picked at the crowning head of the one wisdom tooth I had and teased me about only be a quarter smart enough. He told me to get the wisdom tooth pulled or else it might make me even stupider. The dentist had leaned on that word: stupider, and I couldn’t even smile because his hands were wedged into my jaw. I made a noise and drooled.
It was time to leave the bar. I had a train to catch that I had missed hours ago. I took the L home and rather than feeling the normal amounts of paranoia, I couldn’t help smiling from under the cloak of my oversized ironic sunglasses. Everyone sneered back like lizards. I entered my apartment with a hiccup, slammed the door and crawled over the clothes on my bed to hold onto the pillows. The room was spinning, but never mind, I had to get upstate. I threw the clothes in my weekender bag and added an extra fistful of underwear to the bounty. Then I was off, in a cab, on my way to Grand Central to catch the 7-something train towards Poughkeepsie.
I fell asleep on the train and woke up only a minute or two before my stop.
I lurched off the platform and into my mother’s Volvo. The air smelled like the green crap that floated to the top of the Hudson river up there, whatever that smells like.
“You look great!” my mom chirped.
I croaked a response, and felt the gums on the left side of my mouth burning. Perhaps I had brushed my teeth too aggressively.
My mom turned onto Main Street and we went into my dad’s bar and restaurant. My dad kissed me gingerly on my forehead and snuck outside to smoke his Newports. I ordered a bowl of soup and picked away the potatoes and corn. They hurt too much. I waved off the offer of wine or scotch and made tiny small talk with the wait staff and then old friends from high school crowded on bar stools. I volunteered to drive home and told my mom to get a few glasses of wine in her. I poured water and chewed ice cubes.
I love when cold pieces of rocky ice run down my throat.
The next morning I felt like I had been punched in the jaw. The gums in the back around my wisdom tooth were swollen and I was having trouble opening all the way. Nevermind. I had things to do. I ate mush for breakfast in the form of crushed blueberries and melted cheese and drove to the liquor store, the A&P, and the pharmacy. I bought a bottle of vodka, some ice cream sandwiches, and a huge tube of Orajel which I promptly squeezed into the back of my mouth. My mom watched me. I drooled. “I feel like I swallowed a gram of cocaine,” I mumbled. She refused to crack a smile and rolled her eyes.
Like I said, I had things to do. My friend Mark was having his annual Labor Day party, so I gathered my party favors and bathing suit and walked up the hill in my neighborhood to his backyard.
My old friends from were all there, already drinking and passing joints around. Mark’s mom was spreading out hamburgers and cold pasta salad on the deck. I clutched the Orajel and asked for Tylenol. I rubbed my cheek and grimaced. She handed me a handful of pills and a shot. I downed everything graciously and opened my vodka, which I had planned on sharing.
I was never any good at sharing.
Fast forward a few hours and I’m jumping in the swimming pool by myself, floating on my back, turning summersaults and wiping water out of my eyes. I sit on the side, kicking my feet slowly, murmuring to Mark: “I don’t like swimming, you know, it’s just that I can’t go swimming in New York, even if I wanted to, so you see I just had to go swimming. So come swimming with me. You don’t have to tell anyone, but I have to, I have to, just because I can, and it’s beautiful.”
I clutch the bottle of vodka in my fingers and take huge swigs from it, wiping vodka off my lips and hair and dribbling it into the pool water.
I am spinning again.
I wake up. What time is it? Where am I?
I bolt upright. It’s pitch black. I’m on Mark’s couch. Someone on the other side is snoring. Someone on the floor is thrashing around just enough to know we’re all alive.
Fuck. Fuck my face, my mouth hurts so much it’s on fire. I feel like I’ve been kicked, or wounded, or stung by a nest of wasps. I am burning hot and shivering. I am feverish, and something is wrong. I sneak out of the living room in my bathing suit, half-wrapped in my black dress, the same black dress I wore all weekend, because I had neglected to pack anything but fistfuls of underwear. I find my handbag but can’t find my flipflops anywhere. Fuck it. I decide to leave anyway.
I open the sliding glass doors and let the cool air rush against my swollen face. My face! It feels swollen, and I can’t even move my mouth. On my way out of Mark’s house, I pass the make-shift bar set up outside. I grab a carton of warm lemonade originally intended to be mixed with the vodka and chug the entire carton. I wipe my lips, moan, and make my way down the splintered wood steps.
I walk the half-mile home with no shoes on. The pebbles tracing the blacktop hill imbed into my feet so that with every step a new pain registers in my nervous system and somehow radiates up to my mouth. I eventually move to the grass. The pieces are wet and slick. I only fall twice.
When I arrive home I crumble onto the rug and cry. Grass is everywhere and dirty footprints cake all over the hardwood floors. It looks like there was a struggle, or my dead dog somehow came back to claim on old chew toy.
I am hungover and burning with fever. I find a jug of grape juice from the fridge and drink half of it straight from the container. Then I go upstairs and sit next to the toilet. I have to vomit, but I can’t open my mouth. In fact, my mouth hurts so much that the thought of acidic vomit passing through it is enough to set off another round of tears.
I lie on the rug in the bathroom sobbing for hours. I can see my face in the mirror. It looks like I stuffed a wad of gauze in my mouth. My cheek has ballooned out and my ear is throbbing.
When the sun creeps through the skylight, the bathroom door opens. It is my mom. She is shocked. I pick up my head off the rug and moan, through tears, that my wisdom tooth is infected, that I have a fever, that it’s Sunday but I need to go to the hospital before I die.
My mother calls the dentist who calls me in an antibiotic. My wisdom tooth is most certainly infected, he explains. Pericoronitis. Not uncommon, but painful, and it sounds like mine’s one step away from something serious.
I am delirious. I am covered in grass and grape juice and vodka and dirt, my mouth a cesspool of Orajel and drool. I look up at my mother with shining eyes and thank god I am home, home, and my mom will take care of me. “I’m so sorry,” I whisper to her, still feverish. “I never should have smoked all that pot.”