bad teeth

(i have a major exam tomorrow so obviously i’m writing about my fear of dentists, my mother, childhood, nostalgia, and other things that have no connection whatsoever with my exam)

i never liked dentists. my mother is a dentist. as a child i would often go to her clinic for my monthly cleaning. her clinic was in the middle of the busy town market, across the butcher shop and vegetable stalls, on the second floor of the rundown apartment complex we owned. there she’d sit me up on her chair and probe and poke around my mouth with her foreign metal tools. every time i am there she would scold me for my bleedy gums and cavities, and how i always have cavities even though she reminds me to brush my teeth every night. up, down, side to side, the backs of the teeth, the corners, the in-betweens, the tongue, never forget the tongue! yet i still had bad teeth, worse than my brothers who never ate fruits and vegetables. from this she surmised that i was just that: a child who never cared about my teeth. but she was wrong. i was very much obsessed with my teeth. or, perhaps, very much obsessed with ruining them. i’ve lost five permanent tooths since then, mainly because of all the sweets i secretly devoured. i couldve given her the brightest smile, but instead i gave her rotten teeth. perhaps unconsciously i was ruining my teeth on purpose so i’d get her attention, because even though she’d scold me, i know she was still focusing on me. only me. and that was what i wanted. it was only during my cleanings with her that i found tenderness and closeness. she made me nervous and afraid when she’d sit on her stool in her white, characterless coat, wearing soury rubber gloves and a mask that hid the planes and features of her face. i would feel nauseous. i hated the clinical feeling of it all, but in my head she was still my mother. i was being probed and examined and i felt naked and guilty, but this was still my mother.

and perhaps why i never liked dentists was because i always thought the insides of my mouth were only for my mother’s eyes. and i cannot let others touch my teeth and see the worsts of my mouth because only my mother can know of my secrets. because it’s for her. i still don’t see other dentists. i don’t think i ever can, because when my mother examines my mouth and prods it with her tools and fills my cavities with filling, she is gentle and soft. and if it was some other dentist it wont feel the same way because they wont have tenderness for me and they wont have the softness of my mother’s hands, they wont have the familiarity of it all. because if i look up at them from my seat, i wont have longingness for them. because when my mother fills the hollowness of my cavities, it was her filling the empty spaces inside of me that have always been crying for her. because even though she’s angry at me for not brushing my teeth, i know that if i scream or exaggerate my pain, she would caress my cheek and soothe me with her voice, and here i’d feel her love.  because the only time i saw tenderness from her was when she’d wipe my drool away and tell me to gargle well and not spill, when she’d touch my cheek and my chin and ask me if it hurt. when, deep inside, i wanted her to ask me instead if her distance hurt more, if it hurt me more to be right there next to her and still feel her detachment, as if we were never umbilically connected once, because she doesn’t know that when i open my mouth for her, i am letting her love me, that this is me reaching out to her. and that when she works on me, she is so close to me that i wonder if i may just be able to hug her and touch her hair if i reached up.

and i always dreaded the time when she’d finish with me, when she’d take off my bib and push me up from the chair and make me gargle one last time, because i know it would all be over. and as a child i wished our cleanings would last all afternoon, but they almost always took only an hour, and then i’d have to wait another month again to feel her. it felt too fast and ended too soon, and being a child i figured that if i had more cavities, she’d spend more time working on me, being with me. because when it was over, i knew she would go back to her awkward person, unsure and uncertain of how to love me.

perhaps because i push her away, perhaps because i am something she cannot figure out, because she isn’t like me. or i am not like her, or what she wishes me to be. because when she asked for a daughter, she wanted a daughter the way she wanted a daughter exactly, and not what ever i was going to turn out to be. because when she prayed for a perfect and unique model, what she got was an ugly pastiche. because i am not a box she can put things in with whatever she wants and adorn with frills and ribbons. because i am a stubborn box that refuses to open to her. because i do not want to be like her, do not want her failures to be my insecurity and failures. but it happens the other way, and i find myself becoming more and more like her—the worst of her. and i hate it. i hate it so much. because i am more pigheaded than i believe, because i said i will be my own person, because i said i will break the cycle. because if theres anything i don’t want to be, it’s to be like her. but here i am, and i am just that: an awkward person, uncertain of how to love and show my softness and tenderness to other people, and so i stand here, helplessly wringing my hands.

i’m 20 now. i think i am a young woman now. i don’t remember the last time i had a cleaning with her. i have a cavity or two that needs checking and filling, but i am afraid to go to the school dentist because they will only scoop my eyes out and judge me for all eternity. and i am deathly afraid of reaching out to my mother, because i am not a child anymore. i cannot pretend to be in pain and demand for her caress, because i know she will smell my phoniness., most of all, i am afraid—really, really afraid— that if i sit on her dentist’s chair again, i wont find love and tenderness there anymore.


i talked to a therapist and geez, he told me i have to face my fear. and i scoffed at the idea because i don’t have any fears, but then i contemplated about it, till i realized that all this time i’ve been so scared of you, that i feared you. when you messaged me, i was afraid, even when i was talking to you over the summer, and even as i’m typing this message and prior to sending it to you, i felt afraid. i think what i feared the most was your rejection, that if i sent you this letter you would laugh at me, that you’d tell someone about it and you’d laugh at me together, that you’d think i’m shameless and silly, that after all these years i’m still embittered. i’m scared that you’d make fun of me for even bothering, that it was a sign of weakness to put my pride down to even bother writing this.

but i don’t want to care about that anymore, i don’t want to care about your reaction. you’re thousands of miles away and how you will react to this, i think, shouldn’t worry me when it’s that far away. i just don’t want to be meek anymore and let things go like it never happened, because it did happen. and i want to tell you that you hurt me real bad and i just want you to know that it was unfair, that i didn’t deserve that treatment, that you didn’t even give me time to retaliate, that real friends don’t do that to each other, that i would’ve never done that to you, to bail out on you, if it were me who was in your position.

and i believe we did have real conversations back then. i enjoyed our talks. we never ran out of things to talk about. i think now, when i think about my realest conversations, i think some of them were with you. and when you messaged me during the summer and i asked you how you’ve been, what i was really trying to say that time was that i think I’ve missed you more than anything i’ve ever missed.

i think what happened to our friendship is unfortunate, but it was a reality that i had to accept. the reality that we’re neither on good terms or bad, not even friends or enemies, but just reduced to nothing.

i just want you to know that i’m in a good place now and i know you are too. I’m sorry. I don’t even know what I’m apologizing for. I guess I’m sorry for everything; for you, for what you did, for me, for being too angry, for being hateful, for how we handled things. I don’t even know.  maybe i just feel sorry for what happened to our friendship because it really is a sorry thing, looking at it now. i guess an apology is an automatic response now, like a default, when i don’t know what else to say. and knowing that we never ran out of things to talk about years ago, as i type this, i realize that i really have nothing to say anymore, that for the first time, i’ve finally run out of words to tell you. i don’t know what else to say to prolong this letter, but i guess like most letters, it has to end with me wishing you the best. so i wish you the best. and that i’m here, wishing for your best, hoping that you are well and happy. and i guess that’s all i ever wanted to say, really.

I. Identification

Choose among the following:

A. “You are the only one”                              F. walking on egg shells

B. a big fight                                                   G. me

C. your favorite  breakfast                             H. caffeine

D. what you said when i first said it.             I. 4 a.m.

E.  women.                                                      J. men



1). tend and befriend

2). the hour of tangled limbs and lullaby snores

3). asking you how your day’s been

4). running on empty from too much talking and kissing

5). yours through and through, your voluntary throwaway

6). a honeyed promise

7). fight or flight

8). when i nag you about a bad haircut you never told me you were gonna get

9). “I think we need a break.”

10). Spam on buttered toast, black coffee

Answer key:
1). E            6).  A
2). I             7).  J
3). F            8).  B
4). H           9).  D
5). G          10). C

my mother told me

when i talked to my mom tonight, she told me that i have the hardest of hearts. i do not deny it; i know for myself that my heart is hardened. i don’t remember a time when it wasn’t or maybe i do, but i try too hard to leave it out of my head. i can never say i am proud of it but before, when people would say i have a hard heart, i took pride in it. i saw it as a sign of strength and independence, meaning that i am a determined woman who takes no shit from people. but now, i realize how wrong i am, and having a hardened heart (the hardest of hearts, according to my mom) might just be the reason why i am depressed.

i always study people and scrutinize them, but never do it to myself. maybe i can do it for this night. i can say that i have a hardened heart due to a lot of reasons. betrayal in the past, the incapability to forgive, holding grudges… i use these past experiences to justify my hardness, and i’ve made myself believe that it’s a strength rather than a flaw. hearing my mom tell me i have the hardest of hearts was more of an instant recognition than a slap to the face for me, to be honest. i know i have a hardened heart and i took pride in it, but now, i feel defeated.

i realized i have a hardened heart because of a number of instances. for one, when it came to people, i focused on their behavioral patterns than who they really are. as i focus on their patterns, i make assumptions and theories about them. in short, i treat people like lab rats. always in constant study and scrutiny, making hypotheses about them, that sort of thing. i lived up to my field of area; that if i were to study the social sciences, i have to be a social scientist in all aspects. i thought i was an expert in people and truth be told, i am pretty good in identifying behavior and predicting people, but there was one thing that i ignored. that people are capable of change, and they are as unpredictable as they can be. i was wrong to think i can make people’s actions finite; to make it measurable and empirical, to judge them based on their habits and patterns. i focused too much on the external as compared to getting to know who they really are and the worst part is, i enjoyed it. i enjoyed treating people like lab rats because it made me feel like a genius when i’m not.

second is i stopped believing the best about people. i made myself believe that all people are the same: that they will hurt me. because of this perception, i’ve placed people at arm’s length. never trusting, never believing, always in doubt. sometimes i tell people i trust them when i really don’t, and when i feel myself opening up to someone, i immediately cut them off and walk away. i enjoyed doing the leaving because i was so afraid to find myself at the losing end again that i promised myself that starting now, i’ll be the one doing the leaving. i promised myself to always cling to that power of getting rid of people when i get tired of them.

there are a lot of things about me, actually, that are sure signs of being a total jerk. putting just some of them into words–i never expected it to sting this much. so my mother says i have the hardest of hearts, and now that i think about it, having a hardened heart does not make me strong at all. it makes me weak. weak, because i am unable to feel. weak, because i stop myself from feeling. weak, because i am apathetic by choice. weak, because all this time, i took pride in my expertise of running away because that’s the only thing i’m good at. i no longer stand up for people and fight for them, even though i love them, because i just want to run away from everything and everyone. for me, giving up on people and walking away is the right, and that makes me a callous insensitive motherfucker.

here i am, thinking i know everything about everybody; predicting people because i think i can, treating them like lab rats because it amuses me, walking away when i get bored and lose interest, walking away so i can look for a new subject to study, always on the lookout for a new guinea pig. i’ve lost my passion for people, and this is the worst state i can ever be in, this poverty of the soul. i am saying this now, i do not want to live like this for the rest of my life. i think i have passed up too much great people because i am a coward, because i always expect the worst in people before i even get the chance to know them. i am being too clammed up, too afraid, too cowardly and i justify this by saying that having a hardened heart is a sign of strength when it is the biggest sign of weakness.

i dont know how to go about this, and i feel like i have to change but don’t know where to start. i think i am lost, but i am too proud to admit it. maybe i need to reach out and ask for help, but am too egotistical to do so. one thing is for sure: i do not want to live with a hardened heart. where i will start and how i will change is still unclear to me, but i do not want to live this way. i cannot be mad at the world forever.