One of my students told me today that he loves hanging out with me because being with me is like being on “a good acid trip.” I was flattered. “Oh, honey,” I wanted to say, tears welling. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.” Instead, I said, “You should try living in my head sometime.”
What I didn’t tell him, what I couldn’t tell him, was that I may have been behaving like a walking acid trip because I was on vicodin. I didn’t take it until after I finished teaching class, mind you. I have eight hours–count them,eight–between classes some days, and since I work an hour from home, I spend many days in the campus cafe surrounded by my students, who have dubbed me, and I quote, “the coolest teacher on campus.” Ok, only one of them dubbed me that, but I took up the mantle, and I wear it with pride. When other teachers approach me to say hello, I always work it into conversations. “Hi, I’m Tawni. I teach creative writing. And hang out in the cafe a lot. You know, I’m the coolest teacher on campus.” Inexplicably, I’m way more popular with the students than the staff.
And for the record, I don’t always take vicodin, but when I do, it’s because monkeys have been banging on my face with rocks. (Hey, I’m now picturing myself as the center of a vicodin commercial, sitting at a cafe table, surrounded by adoring students. “She’s the most interesting teacher on campus. She doesn’t always take vicodin, but when she does, it’s because monkeys have been banging on her face with rocks.”) I’m sorry, but a girl who has recently had her face cut open by a sadistic dentist needs her drugs. (Actually, the dentist in question wasn’t sadistic. He was kind and handsome, and he called me “honey” a lot. But sadistic sounds better.)
Speaking of drugs. Okay, this all started–“What the hell is ‘this’?” you ask. “Does this essay have a point?” The answer, the honest answer, is, “No, not fucking really, now sit down and eat your Wheaties.”–this all started when I was 12.
“Oh, here we go,” you say. And I sympathize. Some of the worst pieces in my writing classes start with lines like that. One particularly difficult to read piece began with the sentence, “It all started when I was born.” To be honest, had I had any vicodin at that moment, I would have popped it immediately, just to get me through the essay, but that was before I had any vicodin. But if you do have vicodin, and you are masochistic enough to continue reading this thing, you might want to pop it now.
Anyway, when I was 12, this shyster dentist fucked with my face. No, not like that. He gave me and a bunch of other people unnecessary root canals and skipped town with the cash. I’m a pacifist. I’ve forgiven men who’ve tried to kill me. But I still struggle with forgiving that dentist.
I should mention that in addition to being a walking acid trip and a pacifist, I’m also an oral hygiene freak. When I was a kid, my mom used to sit on me and floss my teeth. I’d kick and scream and try to buck her off, but she’d hold on tightly with her knees and stay on, way longer than eight-seconds. It was thus that I learned the importance of good oral hygiene. I never have cavities. Dentists beam with admiration as they peer into my mouth when I come in for my regularly scheduled checkups (although sometimes they warn me that I’m brushing so often and vigorously, my gums are receding). I floss at least ten times a day. Brush constantly. Before and after eating. Before and after peeing. While watching T.V. In the bathroom. In the kitchen. In the car. My teeth look like a Crest commercial. So to have this evil, money-mongering man deliberately violate my pristine mouth was an offense of epic proportions. Since then, the unnecessarily assaulted tooth reinfects every few years. Thanks to Dr. Evil, I’ve gotten no less than ten root canals and one surgery. But this Christmas, I received the earth-shattering news. “It can’t be saved. It has to come out.”
I wept, feeling as if I’d just been informed that a loved one had terminal cancer. “Can nothing be done?” I pleaded.
The dentist shook his head sadly. “We’ve done all we can.”
That was back in December. Since then, I’ve procured antibiotics, mostly from Mexico, to keep the infection in my tooth at bay. I kept telling myself that I could take antibiotics for the rest of my life, and in so doing, keep the tooth in my head. But finally, my face started swelling, and it hurt so badly, I could no longer sleep. At the urging of my mother, my children, and dear friends who love me and don’t want to see me die from a tooth infection that makes its way to my–let’s face it, already considerably compromised–brain, I went to the dentist. A different dentist than the one who told me my tooth had to go. I now resented him. Bastard.
I started over with a new dentist, who happened to be very good looking and gave me really, really good drugs during the surgery. (See, I started this meandering story with, “Speaking of drugs.” I eventually made my way to the drug part of the equation. I’m not, as you were beginning to suspect, an unreliable narrator.)
Ok, so these drugs. I don’t know what they were, but they somehow managed to make a tooth extraction, which ended up being very complicated and taking over three hours, one of the most delightful experiences of my life. I remember very little from the procedure except that I was in a state of pure bliss. The tooth shattered. They had to fish out all the little tooth-lets. My sinus cavity was punctured. They had to rebuild it with bone and tissue grafts. God, it was fun. I flew up out of my body and looked down at the little me lying in the chair, slobbering everywhere, and it was beautiful. Magical, even. Then, I took a trip around the stratosphere, visiting people I love and don’t get to see on a regular basis. One of the men I truly admire was naked when I visited. I’m not sure if he knew I was there, but I appreciated the artistry of his thighs. I thought I might be dying, what with the out of body experience thing, but I didn’t give a shit.
Anyway, I didn’t die, and I eventually came back down into my body. My mouth was full of bloody gauze, and I was telling a nurse I had to pee. She wouldn’t let me go alone. When I was done peeing in front of the nurse, the dentist (actually, I should say “dentists”–somehow, there were three of him) told me what he had done to my face, but I didn’t understand a word he said except, “vicodin.”
And then, holy shit. I needed that vicodin. I thought delivering two children had taught me the meaning of the word “pain,” but I was wrong.
I have never, and I mean never, known any pain as epic as the post-oral-surgery variety. Hence, the monkeys banging on my face with rocks metaphor. Hence, my popularity with my students shooting through the roof because, unbeknownst to the them, I have been popping vicodin in my off hours (doctor’s orders) just to avoid ending up in a corner somewhere rocking and weeping and repeating “the monkeys, the monkeys,” ad nauseum.
I’ve been a lot of things in my life, but this is my first time being a chronic drug user. I’m enjoying the experience. I can see how people get hooked. I find that I’m way more zen than I used to be. “Mom, you just set the kitchen on fire,” my children will say, and I will flutter my hand dismissively and say, “Eh.” I probably should just stay away from the kitchen until I return to a drug free state, but I find that I’m also way more hungry than I used to be. I keep trying to cook things, which is unusual for me. I’m usually about as domestic as Atilla the Hun, but I’ve found myself busting out all the cookbooks I got as wedding gifts 15 years ago. (This is the first time I’ve cracked them.)
The other day, I wanted to cook something. I turned on the stove, got out a spatula, and left it on the burner. I’m not sure what sort of culinary experience I was prepping for. I only know that when I returned a few minutes later and saw a spatula sitting on the stove, I was overcome by an uncharacteristic desire for cleanliness, so I picked the spatula up to put it in the sink where it belonged. It was hell hot, and I burned the living shit out of my hand. I screamed, but then, after I got over the initial shock, it was funny.
“What happened, Mom?” my kids asked, running into the kitchen, and I laughed wildly. “Oh, I burned my hand off,” I said good-naturedly, showing them the Jesus-sized blister that was forming.
“Mom, maybe you should stop taking those painkillers,” they ventured.
“Don’t talk crazy,” I told them.
Last night, I went to see my favorite singer. His name is Roger Clyne, and talk about a walking good acid trip. That kid is, always has been, always will be, my drug of choice. He asked me why I missed last week’s show. (Missing a Peacemakers show is sort of like missing church. I probably should have brought a doctor’s note when I went to see him, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m on drugs, so thinking clearly is not my strong suit.) I told him I’d been busy having my sinus cavity reconstructed. He looked concerned. “Are you ok?” he asked.
I smiled, grandly, “Oh, I’m on drugs.” I told him.
He’s a rock star. He understands the restorative power of pharmaceuticals. He smiled grandly back at me. (I secretly suspect he’s also an oral hygiene addict. He has the most amazing teeth.) “Then you’re ok,” he said.
It was a beautiful moment.
What scares me is this. There are two–count them, two–vicodins left in my bottle. After that, God knows what will happen. I’ve heard you can get addicted to vicodin in three days. I’ve been on it for a week-and-a-half. I wonder if I will go through withdrawals. I wonder if I will act like a scene from Trainspotting.
But eh. What does it matter? Right now, I have vicodin in my veins. The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.