There was no shortage of dentists in Winchester. In fact, if it really came down to convenience, I could probably walk to the practice downtown where my friends had gone for all of their lives. Shireen would casually throw off a remark about having an appointment at 2:30. School got out at 2:15. It seemed to me an impossibly short amount of time to be allotting for a trip to the dentist’s, but then, my dentist was an hour’s car ride away. For a twelve-year old girl, it was a trip in fullest sense of the word. 

I still don’t know why, for six years, we drove out to Wellesley first bi-yearly, then monthly when I got my braces. And so I’d mentally stow away those three precious hours; two for staring idly out the window at the dense New England greenery on Interstate 95, and another for feeling sick to my stomach from the sterile smell of the practice as my orthodontist asked me what color I’d like the bands for my braces to be this month. 

And then there was the hygienist, her hair dyed honey-blonde to cover the gray, and half her face covered in a mask that could not hide the smile in her crinkling eyes. And then it was me gargling inarticulate responses to her “how’s school"s and "what sports do you play"s with gloved hands and metal picks in my mouth, her admonishing me for picking at my chapped and bleeding lips. In my memories, I’m always wearing the same orange dress when I see her. The dress gets shorter, because six years has meant five inches, and a dress that hits above the knee instead of below. 

Around the time that "college” became a meaningful part of my vocabulary, the hygienist started to tell me, “every time a college student comes back for a checkup, I ask them if they ever see anyone flossing in college. And they always say no.” And I’d laugh politely, because it was the third time I’d heard the story, and in the back of my mind, I told myself that I’d be that kid who flossed in college, just to prove her wrong. 

The last time I saw her, clad in that same orange dress, was a week before I left for college. When she related the story once again, I imagined a new gravity to her words, and left feeling a lot more sentimental than one should strictly feel for a place that smells of fluoride and latex. 

And so I came to college. And next to the bulletin board with the paper bag of condoms stapled to it at the end of the hall is 335A, the place where I now sleep, so painfully thin-walled that I often hear the crinkling of the paper as condoms are fished out of it. And next to that room, much to my surprise, is a kid from Wellesley. The gender neutral bathrooms mean that I’ve more than once seen him at the sink, swishing mouthwash as I floss, religiously. 

Sometimes, I come into what is clearly a recently vacated bathroom. There’s no ventilation in there, so scents linger like a heavy miasma. But one scent cuts through the humidity and cheap soaps, and I can always tell if someone has been swishing his oral antiseptic. 

Maybe it’s stupid, but sometimes I’ll just stand at the bathroom door and inhale the lingering scent of Listerine, remembering six years of car trips and mouths pried open, and wonder if he’s heard the hygienist’s story too.

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