Pulling Teeth

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Shel­ley Puhak

1.

IPsy­cho­so­matic, 1847, “per­tain­ing to the re­la­tion be­tween mind and body”. . . . Ap­plied from 1938 to phys­i­cal dis­or­ders with psy­cho­log­i­cal causes. Ety­mo­log­i­cally it could as eas­ily ap­ply to emo­tional dis­or­ders with phys­i­cal causes, but it is rarely used as such. — Dou­glas Harper, On­line Ety­mol­ogy Dic­tionary wanted to rip my face off—the in­ces­sant pres­sure, the fire­works of ar­ti­fi­cial light. I was a caged wolf scent­ing the stranger or sniff­ing the fire, but un­able to head for the hills. I prowled the In­ter­net, googling psy­chotic break. Maybe I was go­ing to do some­thing ter­ri­ble, maybe I was go­ing to try to hurt my­self, maybe I would hurt some­one else . . . maybe I needed to quit my job, I needed a few days by my­self, maybe I needed a di­vorce, I needed, I needed.. . fight or flight . . . I needed to get into the car and keep driv­ing. I needed to punch some­one. I needed to rip my face off. I spent the evening rock­ing on the brick of our back stoop. I slept fit­fully and woke to find my­self claw­ing at my face. Ob­vi­ously, this pres­sure was a metaphor. The hol­i­days ap­proach­ing. An early midlife cri­sis. Bud­get cuts and salary freezes at work. Re­turn­ing from a va­ca­tion abruptly rerouted to Florida be­cause ter­ror­ist at­tacks had rocked Paris, our in­tended des­ti­na­tion. And I was no stranger to this in­ter­nal jan­gling, the pal­pi­ta­tions and cold sweats. I re­minded my­self of all the times I couldn’t catch my breath, or feared I would vomit, or felt my throat clos­ing shut, all the times the doc­tors had ob­served: Well, aren’t you just a bun­dle of nerves? Weeks ear­lier, I had gone to see my den­tist over a sore tooth. He chalked up my pain to a mis­aligned bite and stress-re­lated teeth clench­ing. And a sin­gle sore tooth was such a small thing, es­pe­cially for me. You would not no­tice it if we were chat­ting, but if you saw a panoramic X-ray of my mouth, you would see how my smile has been strung to­gether—the opac­ity of crowns, the bright pock­marks of amal­gam, the glint of ti­ta­nium screws thread­ing into the bone. I have no­to­ri­ously bad teeth, ge­net­i­cally thin enamel. I look at a cup­cake and get a cav­ity. So, truly, one sore tooth was such a small thing. Still, the next day I de­cided

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