The Chino Center for Oral and Facial Surgery

Nonfiction / Silas Jones

:: The Chino Center for Oral and Facial Surgery ::

Today, my dad got his tooth pulled. He had an abscess. Now, he’s lying down. It’s so fuck­ing hot here. Here equals Ari­zona. All day, I’m wait­ing for the Ari­zona air to cool off and try­ing to decide what to put in the card­board box I’m mail­ing home to my apart­ment in New York. A wig from col­lege, my CD col­lec­tion in two fat black leather binders, a cou­ple half-full jour­nals. My flight home is on Sun­day and I don’t want to check a bag. All week­end, I’m wait­ing to leave. 

How to get to The Chi­no Cen­ter for Oral and Facial Surgery (It’s way out on 89): Pass the church that used to be a movie the­atre. Take the exit after Glass­ford Hill, the one that swoops you around to face Ante­lope Val­ley. Notice for the first time since being back at dad’s that Ante­lope Val­ley is fill­ing up with hous­es, iden­ti­cal, unfin­ished, with tem­po­rary blue tarp roofs weighed down with black stacks of shingles. 

Behind the hous­es, there’s Min­gus Moun­tain, and behind that, there’s the Verde Val­ley. My sense of direc­tion is like those children’s books with acetate over­lays that can be peeled away one by one to reveal: the hold of a pirate ship, the inner work­ings of an oil rig, the anato­my of the human body. 

Peel back Ante­lope Val­ley, peel back Min­gus Moun­tain, peel back Verde Val­ley and see a 1000-year-old stone vil­lage beside a 50-year-old heap of grey tail­ings from the cop­per mine up the hill. Peel back the Mogol­lon Rim and see the woods on top of it, see the San Fran­cis­co Peaks. Peel back the San Fran­cis­co Peaks and see a wilder­ness of pur­ple cin­der cones with Pon­derosa pines grow­ing straight from their peb­bled, vol­canic flanks. Behind them, the Paint­ed Desert and Black Moun­tain and then the Ver­mil­lion Cliffs, their feet buried in umber bad­lands. Peel back the Glen Canyon Dam and see Escalante and the white sand­stone piled in mile-high drifts out along State Route 12. 

On the car ride home, my dad speaks to me through a wad of bloody gauze. 

Wait, flip back five or six lay­ers and return to the Mogol­lon Rim; he says he’s con­sid­er­ing mov­ing up there. He’s think­ing about Payson. He’s think­ing about Pine or Straw­ber­ry. Hell, what about Hap­py Jack? Up there, it’s cool­er and the devel­op­ment is under con­trol. It rains still. He’s think­ing of mov­ing to the last intact colo­nial town in Mex­i­co. There’s no air­port; that keeps the riffraff out. We get off 89 and whip around a new traf­fic cir­cle pinned down at its pea-stone cen­ter by a giant, bronze stat­ue of a cowboy. 

The Oral Sur­geon was wear­ing square-toed cow­boy boots and teal scrubs and a wed­ding band made of grey sil­i­cone. I won­der if, after he pulls his hand out of the last mouth of the day, he trades the sil­i­cone ring for a gold one before dri­ving home to Ante­lope Valley. 

How are you relat­ed to the patient?” he asked me when I came to grab my dad. I look at his cow­boy boots and weigh my options. I’ve made enough mod­i­fi­ca­tions to my body that I look, I think, approx­i­mate to boy; my ID says Sophie. 

I’m his, uh, daugh­ter,” I said, trot­ting after him to a small room where my dad was reclined, fuck­ing with his IV. The oral sur­geon stands with his hands on his hips and looks at me. Behind him, there’s a framed por­trait of his fam­i­ly: a blonde wife and three small brunette daugh­ters posed in East­er dress­es beside Gran­ite Creek. In the building’s front office, less than an hour ear­li­er, my dad looked up from paper­work to point to an iden­ti­cal pic­ture and said too loud­ly, “Are they scoops or what?” Scoops is what my dad calls Mor­mons. Scoops miss­ing from their brains. 

The scoop sur­geon was wear­ing a mask and so was I, but my dad wasn’t. He looked acti­vat­ed some­how. I adjust­ed my eye­brows to express calm obliv­i­ous­ness to any embar­rass­ing resid­ual dis­ori­en­ta­tion he might be expe­ri­enc­ing. I smiled behind my mask and tried to look like a daughter. 

When your father was going under, we noticed some irreg­u­lar­i­ties with his heart­beat,” the sur­geon said. I reori­ent­ed my eye­brows to show an appro­pri­ate amount of con­cern plus casu­al dis­re­gard, for my dad’s sake. “Your dad says he exer­cis­es all the time and that he’s a healthy guy,” the sur­geon said. 

He is,” I said. 

I am,” my dad said. 

Well, it’s some­thing he should fol­low up with his pri­ma­ry care physi­cian about,” said the sur­geon (the scoop). He held his hand in a fist; “the heart is like any mus­cle.” He opened and closed his fin­gers, squeak­ing his sil­i­cone band; “it tires, it gets spas­my.” I made a hum­ming sound. 

Okay,” I said. 

A nurse showed my dad and then me how to irri­gate the hole where his tooth used to be. I won­der what they’ve done with it. She loaded my dad into a wheel­chair and I held the door for her, all daugh­ter­ly. My dad slid into the pas­sen­ger seat of my Sub­aru, told the nurse that he can han­dle his drugs, thank you very much, and then we drove away. 

The devel­op­ment out here is just out of con­trol,” he says sev­er­al times between the Surgery Cen­ter and home. There’s blood dry­ing on his lips. 

Yes­ter­day, my dad and me went for a bike ride through the raw pink gran­ite boul­ders beyond Glass­ford Hill. The rocks emerge glit­ter­ing from the erod­ing slope in a tum­ble, like mud squeezed in drips from a toddler’s tight lit­tle fist and left to dry in pil­lars and blobs. There are miles and miles of them. The trail is long, wide, and flat; it used to be a rail­road for the mine. We ped­al past four pairs of dads and daugh­ters. The daugh­ters are learn­ing how to ride bikes, or how to enjoy it. Bik­ing care­ful­ly behind my dad, I feel like the old­est mem­ber of a club. 

At the end of the trail, you can see out across Ante­lope Val­ley. To the west, you can see almost out to King­man, out to Bagh­dad and Search­light. Cow­boy towns. Peel them back and see the Mojave; see Cal­i­for­nia (on fire), see the Pacific. 

The land beyond the trail has been cleared and lev­eled and mea­sured out in squares. In the thin strip of shade cast by the near­est gran­ite spire, some kind of bad-look­ing machin­ery is parked. I can hear the beep­ing of some­thing back­ing up. It’s been rainy this sum­mer, and Glass­ford Hill is like Ire­land: green and empty. 

After I get him home from the Surgery Cen­ter, I make my dad a man­go smooth­ie. With it, he takes two Tylenol and three ibupro­fen because the scoop won’t give him opi­ates. Then, he goes to sleep. I dri­ve to CVS and buy ice packs and navy blue liq­uid eye­lin­er that I spend all after­noon try­ing to put on right. When I am not yelling down the stairs to ask my dad if he wants any­thing, I am as qui­et as pos­si­ble. He’s read­ing a huge book called Nixon­land, or maybe he’s sleep­ing. I avoid him because it feels like the kind thing to do; I don’t want him to see me see him in pain. I wor­ry I’m being inattentive. 

I used to date a boy with an ill­ness that required him to sit on an IV drip once every six weeks. He was real­ly sick, but he was also real­ly rich, so the treat­ment was admin­is­tered by a home health aide in the rec room in the base­ment of his par­ents’ brown­stone. The home health aide was an old­er black man in navy blue scrubs and match­ing crocs named Wil­son. The needle’s fold­ed plas­tic sheath looked like a but­ter­fly alight­ed on my boyfriend’s arm. It stayed there for hours. I stared at the TV. I was unsure of how much my boyfriend want­ed to be touched, or of how much was appro­pri­ate to touch him. I didn’t ask. Wil­son sat on a plush ottoman and when my boyfriend’s dad appeared with an arm­ful of hot sand­wich­es drip­ping oil, Wil­son chose turkey. 

Last time I saw my ex-boyfriend, we wan­dered end­less­ly around Fort Greene instead of sit­ting down for a beer like we’d planned because he was in so much pain he said he couldn’t stop mov­ing. He fin­ished a pack of Marl­boros; he start­ed anoth­er. We bought a six pack at a bode­ga and split it, and then we split anoth­er one. When the side­walk was busy, I fell into step behind him so I could watch him walk with a beer in one hand and his aching bel­ly flat beneath the oth­er. I real­ized I’d missed my chance to take good care of him. I put my hand on his back and steered him through a crowd gath­ered around a bad bike accident. 

I used to think he was a girl because when he gets drunk (relaxed) he is floun­cy and inse­cure. When he was sick in the rec room, he was too qui­et and still, sat on the couch with his sand­wich unwrapped and untouched in his lap. That’s how I knew he was a boy for sure. 

My dad keeps the win­dows of his house open all day and all night. Indoors, it is cool. Except today, it’s not. When the sun final­ly pass­es over­head, I escape onto the shad­ed porch. Behind the house, the Brad­shaw Peaks sling black shad­ows over the whole neigh­bor­hood. Hid­den in their wood­ed slopes are shal­low pits cleared by pio­neers a hun­dred years ago. Peo­ple call them mines, but they’re just hand-dug holes grad­u­al­ly refill­ing them­selves with pine nee­dles and crum­bling gran­ite and lit­ter. In front of the house, across 89, there’s a huge machine smash­ing bedrock into lev­el dust; they are build­ing a hotel. This neigh­bor­hood is a fire trap. 

I hear my dad come upstairs and I go back inside to ask him again if he wants soup, a milk­shake, an edi­ble from the unmarked jar in the fridge. There is sweat show­ing through his t‑shirt. He’s stand­ing per­fect­ly still over the kitchen trash can with his foot on the ped­al so the lid is stuck open, like a mouth. His jaw is slack and his eyes are trained on the wall. 

Dad?” I say, “dad?” and he doesn’t answer, just moves his lips like he’s talk­ing. It dawns on me; I am in one of those moments. In this moment, I am stand­ing half on the porch and star­ing at my dad who is star­ing at the wall. I am real­iz­ing that some­thing is real­ly, seri­ous­ly wrong. I am in the moment of every­thing get­ting fucked up. I am in the moment before every­thing changes. 

I’ve been in these moments before; see­ing my ex-boyfriend stag­ger back when he stood up too fast from tying his shoes; watch­ing my sister’s lumi­nous face grow small­er and green­er the deep­er she sank into the pond; leav­ing Andy alone for ten min­utes, ten min­utes I swear, to run to the phar­ma­cy for anti-nau­sea meds. They’d just had top surgery and had been throw­ing up for hours from the opi­ates. I was sup­posed to be tak­ing care of them. 

From those times, I rec­og­nized the sen­sa­tion of a life about to be dif­fer­ent. But those times, every­thing had turned out okay, stayed the same; my boyfriend caught him­self against the ban­is­ter, I grabbed my sis­ter by her wrist, Andy took the med­i­cine, kept some water down. 

Then, my dad straight­ened up. He opened his mouth wide and began to talk around the mov­ing shape of his own tongue. “They pulled the wrong tooth, those fuck­ers,” I stared into the red black space where his molar had been. They had pulled the right tooth. 

It’s fine, dad” I said, and then I helped him put his ear­ring back in. The scoop sur­geon had made him take the sil­ver hoop out of his ear and put it in a lit­tle dime bag. 

My dad hat­ed my ex-boyfriend, I think, but he won’t tell me for sure. They met once at my col­lege grad­u­a­tion and then a sec­ond time here, when my boyfriend flew out to vis­it and got imme­di­ate­ly sick from the dry air and high ele­va­tion. There was a dis­tance between them, even though I imag­ined they’d read the same selec­tion of non­fic­tion and nov­els that smart, sen­si­tive boys feel oblig­at­ed to: Von­negut and like, what­ev­er else. 

We had already been late for our flight home when my boyfriend slammed his fin­ger in my car door. From the porch, my dad saw it hap­pen and threw down a bag of frozen peas that left smelly, wet spots on my boyfriend’s cor­duroy lap. With­out tak­ing my eyes off 41 to Phoenix, I lift­ed a hand from the steer­ing wheel and rest­ed it on his head. He radi­at­ed heat. 

Please, don’t touch me right now,” he said. The fin­ger­nail turned grey and fell off and a few months lat­er, he dumped me. 

The oth­er night, perched beside him on a park bench, I asked to see it. His hands were long and bony and the same; his fin­ger­nails were uni­form. We sat for as long as he could han­dle, and then we kept walk­ing. He asked me if top surgery hurt, and I told him yes. 

You know how I am with doc­tors,” I said, “I’m a mess.” I looked at him to see if he thought I was a mess. He didn’t say anything. 

I don’t know what I would have done with­out Andy,” I said. I want­ed him to know; Andy is my best friend. Andy had been unafraid of the IVs and hos­pi­tal smells and asked good ques­tions of the nurs­es; they’d brought a pil­low for the Uber ride from the hos­pi­tal and made me a lit­tle snack plate when we got home and had done every dish. 

Andy got top surgery three months before I did, and I had done these things for them too. I want­ed him to know: I had run through the wet snow to get the med­i­cine, Pedi­alyte, and gin­ger ale, stuff I prob­a­bly should have thought to buy ahead of time. For a ter­ri­ble moment when I returned to the apart­ment, I was sure that they’d aspi­rat­ed on their own vomit. 

I didn’t tell him any of that. 

No one’s ever known how to take such good care of me,” I said. I laid it on thick. 

I thought about him after I cut my tits off, when I was watch­ing TV, high and nau­seous. Even though we hadn’t spo­ken in near­ly a year, I’d con­sid­ered call­ing him the night before, when I was so afraid I could hard­ly speak to the friends I’d invit­ed over. Andy noticed me wig­ging out and asked every­one to leave soon after we’d fin­ished the piz­za. I didn’t tell him any of that, either. 

You seem real­ly hap­py,” my ex-boyfriend said over his shoul­der. “Are you happy?” 

I am,” I said, scis­sor­ing two fin­gers togeth­er until he passed me a cig­a­rette, already lit and canoe­ing in the breeze off the riv­er. Peel back Fort Green and that big hill and down­town Brook­lyn and the cour­t­house and the Duane Reed. Peel back Jorale­mon street. We had walked all the way to his par­ents’ house; he was spend­ing the night there and meet­ing Wil­son in the morn­ing. We kept walk­ing until we got to the river. 

Once, on the way home from a par­ty at a spa­cious loft that belonged to one of his friends’ par­ents, I’d thrown up right exact­ly here while my boyfriend watched ner­vous­ly from far away. The par­ty had been all boys and their girl­friends. The loft had been all high ceil­ings and pol­ished stain­less-steel sur­faces across which our reflec­tions slipped and slid like an upside-down reflec­tion in a cere­al spoon. 

The win­dow to the fire escape was so large that when I want­ed a smoke, I sim­ply stepped through it like a door instead of hav­ing to clam­ber or crouch. I remem­ber how the wet met­al slats left stripes on my socked feet, the flip­book flash of car head­lights between the truss­es of the bridge. Peel back the bridge and see ??? I was drunk and didn’t yet under­stand how any­thing fit togeth­er or stacked up in the city. I threw up and my vom­it slapped the cob­bled street below, scat­ter­ing tourists tak­ing pho­tographs with Man­hat­tan. My boyfriend walked me back through filmy acetate lay­ers to his par­ents’ house. He washed my coat and my pants while I slept. 

I always knew you would tran­si­tion,” my ex-boyfriend said, offer­ing me anoth­er cig­a­rette. “Of course,” he added, see­ing my sur­prise in the glow of the riv­er. Peel back the riv­er, peel back the dock where we’d once caught a fer­ry out to the Rock­aways, peel back the finan­cial dis­trict, and Bat­tery Park, and then anoth­er riv­er. Peel back crowd­ed state after crowd­ed state until you get to the one where he and me met, at col­lege. Peel back the woods and wide main­streets and state­ly red brick and then peel back a few more fly-over states and see Ari­zona; see my dad on the porch read­ing Nixon­land, his cat sprawled beside him. 

At your grad­u­a­tion, when your dad got so drunk?” he said. 

Yeah?” I said. 

I was a real­ly good boyfriend then,” he said, “I took good care of you then.” I walked him back to his par­ents’ house. He told me he’d like to see me again, and then I walked home. He has a new girl­friend; they’ve been in love for like, a year. Peel back the fan­ci­est parts of Brook­lyn until you reach the Children’s Muse­um; turn left, and there’s my build­ing. The next morn­ing, I drove to vis­it my dad in Ari­zona. I texted my boyfriend from Penn­syl­va­nia; hi to Wilson. 



From the writer

:: Account ::

I’m very attached to the land­scape of the state where I most­ly grew up. I lis­ten to peo­ple I know from my life in New York talk­ing about dri­ving through Ari­zona on their way from L.A. to White Sands and I get real­ly grumpy. Then, when I end up in the actu­al land­scape, vis­it­ing home, I feel real­ly grumpy too. It’s hard to be there because there’s no water and so much smoke and so many bor­der patrol and the vio­lence feels so present in gen­er­al. I wrote this sto­ry about watch­ing a land­scape change, about see­ing rela­tion­ships change. I also grew up part­ly in Wash­ing­ton state and have always loved the way Carv­er throws around the toponyms I know from child­hood to estab­lish a scene. It reminds me of how my par­ents and uncles—outdoor guides and seri­ous know­ers of the West, hip­pie drug­store cowboys—talk about Ari­zona. I tried to do some­thing sim­i­lar here. 


Silas Jones’s writ­ing has appeared in Hobart and The Wilder Voice, and is forth­com­ing in this Fall’s Foglifter and in Ice Floe Press’s Pan­dem­ic Love anthology.