Insert “lack of wisdom” pun here.

Confession: yesterday was my first visit to the dentist since I was a child.

Most of my 20-something readers, particularly those who live in New York as well, will understand how this came about. Low pay, high student loans, and high costs of living collude to make you really prioritize where your limited funds go, and by the time you save enough to visit the sort of doctor you want to see, something goes wrong to rob you blind. Oh, and I don’t have dental insurance, so paying $100 just for the pleasure of another person’s company feels much more like a less fun version of prostitution.

Also, I killed my dentist when I was a kid, so there’s that. But that’s a story for another time.*

Anyway, I was having some pain on the right side of my mouth. Like any Brooklyn cliche, I assumed that my everything bagel had just lodged some sort of seed or topping back there. I brushed and flossed vigorously, doing my best to ignore the pain. That worked for a few days.

Wednesday was of course A Day. I forgot my cell phone at home, the trains were all messed up, and, naturally, I couldn’t chew with the right side of my mouth. After scrambling to find any sort of dentist who didn’t seem to charge a thousand dollars to yank out a tooth, I managed to book an appointment for Thursday online. The only problem: you have to enter a PIN number texted to your phone. Yes, even without making an appointment through my phone, I needed my phone. My friend Meghan kindly obliged to receive the text for me, and I was on my way.

Fast forward to Thursday. The pain had certainly gotten worse thanks to an ill-advised gum chewing test, so I was relieved when I entered the dental practice at 5 PM sharp. The soundtrack of Journey, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink did its best to make me grind my teeth, but I resisted the impulse. It was only when I was in the dentist’s chair that I began to really worry. Actually shaking levels of worry. I don’t know what really got to me other than the absolute lack of sharp tools out. I was prepared for nearly anything, but to be thwacked repeatedly by blunt objects inside my suffering mouth seemed too punishing to imagine.

Of course the dentist expressed dismay over my lack of dental visits, though I pointed out I have no insurance. After declaring an extra cusp on one of my molars “very cool,” she found the offending wisdom tooth. My first, even at the tender age of 26, had become abscessed.

“Your appointment’s only for fifteen minutes,” she reported. (Thanks, technology!) “I can hook you up with some antibiotics and painkillers and have you come back next week, or we can extract the tooth right now. We can do that in fifteen minutes easily.”

I considered my options. After days of favoring the left side of my face, a little narcotic bliss was tempting. But if your tooth is dying, it’s dying, and there’s no point in adding hundreds of dollars to an already outrageous bill just for a week of putting off the inevitable. “Let’s take it out,” I said.

My dentist seemed surprised, but she was quick with three needles to numb the area. I haven’t experienced all that much pain in my life I suppose, but the worst may just be the sensation of needles slipping into my gums and then pumping in the liquid. I felt like giant bubbles were swelling up inside my mouth. “You’re very brave,” the dentist said. Very stupid, I felt. A single tear fell along my cheek like that fabled Native American in the commercial where he observes litter upon his precious land.

My tooth had grown in fully, so it was a matter of prying it out. You would think there would be some delicate way of doing this. No. Instead the dentist pushes, pulls, wiggles, wedges, and finally yanks it out. Fortunately mine went out in one piece, so that was it. Fifteen minutes and $328 of my hard-earned money. For the record, the $8 part came from an extra fee to use my debit card. Because obviously I should carry hundreds in cash at all times.

I don’t know if I am “brave” after all or just particularly lucky, but I haven’t needed prescription-level painkillers (that the dentist didn’t give me anyway) and feel decent other than the disgust I have from the coppery taste of blood lingering in my mouth. The dentist wants me to come back to deal with those cavities I’ve been ignoring forever, but we’ll have to see what the wallet says about all that…

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The Fallen.

Recently I read an article that claimed it was an inherent contradiction to support a nation’s troops without supporting war and other military efforts. I beg to differ. “War” is such a high concept. We declare wars on ideas, wars on objects, wars on countries, but you can’t attack anything that nebulous. You have to attack people instead. Some people do not think that human life is the appropriate price to pay for the mere potential of defeating “drugs” or “terrorism” or whatever.

But what our society or government or military disagrees with will never be fully eliminated. There will always be some corner of the earth that holds another way of life. It’s not necessarily the existence of evil in the universe; difference just has a way of metastasizing. Eventually a few people decide that many will have to make that fight physical in order to seek some precarious resolution. Because of this, we will always have soldiers.

We’re lucky to live in a place and time where and when people choose to join the military. Becoming a soldier is an exercise of free will. Who can’t behind choice, even if it’s not the one you would make yourself?

My cousin Cory chose to serve. His time was nearly up, but he made a choice to stay so someone else could get home sooner. He chose one dinner option over another. He chose where he sat in a mess hall. He chose not to get up and swap out his meal for pizza. It was a day like many others, except this time, a man entered the tent and blew away Americans and Iraqis alike.

That was 2004. Two days ago, two bombs went off in the same town of Mosul, killing three and injuring dozens, including children. I don’t point this out to make any political point. These are just the tragic facts.

Memorial Day has become a little more difficult these past nine years. We’re all taught to honor fallen soldiers, but in my childhood, such a concept seemed so distant, like remembering men and women who had served decades before in the World Wars, Vietnam, Korea. Now people I grew up with are making those sacrifices. Today I’m doing laundry, watching Netflix, typing away on my computer and considering whether I should go out to do anything today. Some no longer have the luxury of the mundane as I do.

The numbers are harrowing. They become so large that they cease to make sense as faces, names, years of love and hobbies and favorite bits of entertainment, personal grudges and heartbreaks and chipped shoulders. Cory never saw his beloved Monty Python hit Broadway with Spamalot or Alex Trebek ditch the mustache he sported for so many years on “Jeopardy!” He didn’t even get to see the age of thirty.

My hope today is that people don’t forget. I hope they look ahead and make informed decisions, those that factor in the ultimate price. I hope that fewer children grow up to lose the babysitter who cunningly tricked twins into giving up their two whole peanut butter sandwiches in favor of one sandwich that had been neatly cut into triangles. I hope, if only for a day, people with power remember the cost of a human life. I hope they remember any name at all rather than a number.

Short Story: Annabelle.

I’ve probably read too much Stephen King lately. I started this story, then left it to fester for a while as I was distracted with life matters. Then I read King’s brilliant On Writing, and I felt motivated to finally let the story take me where it wished rather than forcing myself to plot things out. It didn’t go as I planned. That’s a good thing. So here is the very rough draft so I don’t revise it and decide I hate everything. Needless to say, it’s a bit dark.

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sneezonal allergies.

Oh dear domain, I have been neglecting you. I do have my excuses reasons! First of all, I joined the team over at The Third Bar, so I’ve basically spent a lot of time learning just how much I don’t know about WordPress. (Also, if you like Snow Patrol, we’re awesome, I swear.) Second, I’ve had some fiction ideas brewing in my head, so I’ve been attempting to attend to those before they dissolve into dust. But mostly, I have had allergies. Props to my friend Allison for serving me some Targaryen realness and lighting a fire under my ass to write about the thing that is impeding me.

If you have never experienced seasonal allergies, I want to meet you. Not because I’m really interested in your smug face (“Clean living! Local honey to get used to the allergens! Desert air!”) but so I can go all science experiment on you and figure out how to be like you. I used to be one of you. I marked off seasons by wardrobe changes, not health crises. (This is a lie. I had bronchitis for several winters in my youth. Who wants to play in the snow when you can drink disgusting yellow liquid and cough for months?) Then I felt that tingle. Oh friends, you know it well: the tingle in your front teeth that says you have a sinus infection. Suddenly nothing is the same ever again. Even on “low pollen” days when it’s raining, the change in pressure outside will make your face the most uncomfortable part of your body. If only you could chop it off.

If you’re anything like me, and I imagine you are for finding this blog, then you relentlessly Google to find out how to treat these horrible symptoms every spring. (If you Bing, you aren’t like me, and please go away.) Fortunately I have done a lot of research into why the inside of my nose feels like a lead-filled balloon, and I’m happy to share a lot of bad tips in one place!

Take some medicine. This is my favorite. When I tell people that I am ready to carve out my sinus cavities with a letter opener, their response is usually, “Do you take anything for it?” For the low, low price of a pound of ivory and a bottle of children’s tears (unfiltered), you can get a month’s supply of indoor/outdoor allergy pills. Zytec, Claritin, Allegra. These are the names we swap with fellow sufferers like we are chasing the high of illegal drugs. Really we’re just trying to avoid the sinus headache that only kind of goes away when you’re on these drugs. That’s the best result you’ll get: almost functional. It makes you aware enough that you can articulately express how much pain you’re in.

Neti pot. If you’ve never seen a neti pot, it looks like a teapot that someone stomped on due to how stupid it is. It’s stupid. You put the spout up your nose and try to pour warm, salty water from one nostril to another like the world’s most humiliating fountain. In reality, my sinus cavities contain a tiny Gandalf forcefully declaring, “You shall not pass!” to the water, thus backing it up into my nose, down my throat, and all over me. Right to left? It’s gross but fine. Up the left nostril? It won’t come out the other side. I fail at neti potting. You can only snort warm salt water all over the front of yourself before you quit, a broken woman.

Elimination diets!!!: Shut up. Okay, some people have food allergies, and that’s fine, but I’m pretty sure broccoli isn’t the reason why maple gives me the facepunches.

Wear a mask. We all know that this works because Michael Jackson did it, and it was so effective that his nose shrank down accordingly.

Wear giant sunglasses. This is supposed to block the pollen from getting to you. Really it just irritates the bridge of your nose. I would go a step further and just wear a helmet, attached to a full body suit, at all times. Oh, fuck it. Just be an astronaut. There’s no pollen in space.

Alternatively, you could just never go outside ever. Hose down anything that comes into your home, especially if it breathes. It was probably breathing in pollen. Nobody can be trusted. They’re carriers. Look what happened in Contagion. Gwyneth Paltrow has like the most restrictive diet ever, and she still died (spoiler alert). Can I offer any real advice? Netflix. You will need the entertainment when you are drugged out of your skull by 9 PM every night but can’t go to sleep quite yet. Trust me, that “Rob Lowe in Stephen King made for TV movies” marathon was my personal highlight of last week. M-O-O-N, that spells “Is it August yet?”*

*That’s a reference from The Stand. It’s on Netflix. I couldn’t quote Rob Lowe since he was deaf, mute, and dumb.