So Much It Hurts

Hayden Hibbard

All I did was ask some college kid in the bar to move, so I could make my shot and win twenty bucks off Tim. Next thing I know, the kid's buddy is snapping a pool cue over my bald spot. Now I'm at the dentist because their friend, with the stars and bars tattooed on his shoulder, swung really hard at my face with something white. I hit the back of my head on the concrete floor, coughing up incisor bits stuck in my throat. That warm metal taste ran down my tongue to the back of my throat.

I should mention that my dentist has also been my wife for the last three years. Thanks to her, the teeth I've still got are cavity-free. The other teeth? Well, I'm keeping my biggest shard by the bathroom mirror to see if they really do get three shades whiter with each tube. If they don't, I'll cash in that satisfaction guaranteed deal and then tell Carol to be that tenth dentist that doesn't recommend it.

With Carol, I knew it was meant to be before we even met. She was the only woman from the county on the dating site, and I was the only man her age. That's fate, plain and simple. That's even more romantic than love at first sight.

I remember on our first date, Carol thought I was some kind of acting coach, artsy type, because the answer box wasn't long enough for my full job title: Acting Head Coach of the Springwater High School Fighting Possums. Go Possums!

So, like I was saying, I'm at the dentist. And as soon as I walk into Carol's office, Sherri glares at me, worse than normal, from the reception window. "You need to leave," she says, "or at least make an appointment," which is payback for everything I shouted when she helped Carol move out two months back, I suppose.

"Too bad this isn't your office," I say. "Not your name on the door." I point back over my shoulder to the lettering on the tinted glass and then grab the sign-in clipboard.

"It's not your name, either."

I turn back around. Dr. Carol Fischer, D.D.S. Fischer. Just like at the beginning of Die Hard, only I'm already beat up. "Come on, Carol." I yell at the glass, "We're not even divorced." I hope she hears me back there.

"Only because you swung a golf club at the process server."

"You stay out of this, Sherri." The ballpoint chained to this clipboard won't write, even after I shake it. "You got another pen?"

Seems to me, sometimes, if Carol hadn't played that awful joke on our third date, we wouldn't have gotten married so quickly. We were still meant to be, either way. But it brought us closer.

We'd just come out of this chick-flick she'd been dying to see, The Hours, and Carol was a little mad. She didn't like anyone talking or laughing during movies. On principle, she wouldn't even laugh at any of my jokes. So she decided to play this prank on me while we were waiting to cross the street.

"Dennis, we need to talk," she said.

"We can make it across if we run right now."

"I think by the third date a mature adult can tell whether or not he or she wants to continue dating someone," she was saying.

"Of course I wanna keep dating you, babe. Let's go." I grabbed her arm and tried to pull her along as I jogged out into the street. But she twisted free.

"Dennis. I don't want to see you anymore," she said. I stopped to turn around. She was standing next to that glowing red halt hand, with her arms crossed. "I think I deserve better than you."

"Huh?" I said. I must have looked like an idiot, getting tricked that easy. Then that Corolla hit me.

She felt so bad, on account of my femur and tibias getting fractured because of her joke, she asked me out on a fourth and fifth date, right there in the street, while we waited for the ambulance, and she kept me from bleeding too much. She told me, later, I said yes before I blacked out.

*

I toss Sherri back her pen and the clipboard and then sit by the table of magazines and pamphlets. There's no Sports Illustrated or anything good, so I give up on that. Fischer. Carol doesn't even like her maiden name. Too close to the actress girl from Star Wars. She told me that at Chili's, on our first date. She still pretends not to like it when I call her Princess Leia. Calls me "Hand Solo" and plays hard to get.

Sometimes I accidentally take it too far, though. Like on our wedding day. Fifteen minutes before the music was supposed to start, I wheeled into Carol's dressing room and asked why she didn't have her hair in those two big side buns. She started to give me this death-stare, like women do, but then she sat down and put her head on her knees.

"I was just joking, Hun. Your hair looks really beautiful." And it did. All wavy golden. She looked up.

"You're not supposed to see me in my dress. It's bad luck."

I don't know why she didn't tell me that before. I closed my eyes and rolled my way back out, stopped outside to ask if she'd still wear her metal bikini from Return of the Jedi that night. Carol's little sister, the Matron of Honor, slammed the door right in my face.

You can bet I felt like a jackass, sitting up there in front of everybody for a whole hour before Carol finally came out. When her little brother gave her away and she stood by me, I told her I was sorry and I was only joking. She said she thought of me alone in my wheelchair at the altar and she couldn't go through with not going through with it. That was the happiest day of my life.

Her father, he'd been in a wheelchair too, a while before he died, I'm pretty sure. She talks sometimes about how everything would've been different if he hadn't got sick. But I remind her that's how it had to be. If she'd gone off to one of those Ivy League private schools like Rice, instead of staying in town, she would probably have gone to med school and we would never have ended up together. It was destiny.

The door chime dings, and one of Carol's appointments comes in. An old lady. When she's done filling out forms and complimenting Sherri's eye shadow, she goes to sit down and smiles at me for half a second before she tenses up and looks away. I hope it's the black eyes and not my sniffling. Sherri's staring at me with her lip curled like always before she picks up the phone.

She saw me crying the day Carol packed up and moved to the other house, too. It was a Saturday, and Carol started while I was asleep. By the time I woke up at two, she'd near about taken everything. For a minute, I thought we'd been robbed, but my Xbox and the plasma screen were still there in the bedroom. Then I was worried about Carol because she usually nagged me all morning to get up and do work around the house. I called her name, as I ran downstairs in my boxers, and there she was in the living room, trying all wrong to lift that Pier 1 loveseat I hate.

"I'm leaving, Dennis," she told me, without even looking. Now, I'm not dumb. I knew she wasn't joking then like she'd done before.

"Don't." That's all I said. "Don't."

"There's no need to be a child about this, Dennis." She looked over at me. "And put some pants on; we have company." I hadn't even paid attention to Sherri before that, standing there at the other end of the loveseat.

"Company, my ass," I told Sherri. "You can get out of my house. That's what you can do." I admit I'd lost it at that point, probably looked like a fool. Anyway, Carol talked me down after a while, told me again to put some clothes on. So I did.

Then I showed her how to lift right, and she asked me to help with the heavy stuff. So I did.

"Sherri's not good for much," Carol said to me. "She's too afraid she'll break a nail." We laughed.

When we loaded the last of it up into the U-Haul truck, I asked Carol again to please not leave. I asked really nicely. All she said to me was, "You'll be fine." I made her promise to call me that night. That's when Sherri saw me crying, standing there in front of the house when they drove away.

So here I am in the waiting room, and I feel like hell. There's not an inch of my face that isn't swollen, scratched, or busted open. The door chime dings again, but I don't look over until Sherri stands up and points at me. This young fellow in the doorway, at first I think Sherri has called the police on me, then I see he's some kind of security guard for the building. Now I can tell he's about to give me that Sir, I'm going to have to ask you business, like the cops on that show, Cops. So I stand up. I've been in fights before, on the field and off. Most I won, and some I lost. Heck, I lost the one in the pool hall last night, but that was three against one, and it wasn't exactly an accident. What I'm getting at is: I know when somebody is having second thoughts about a fight he/she picked. I see it every season when one of my boys tries to butt heads with me and he finds I'm not their pal Dennis anymore, I'm Coach Johnson. I don't know if it's because I'm six foot five, or because of my shaved head, or if this guy is figuring from my bruised up, broken-toothed face that I've got nothing to lose, but right about now, he's wishing he hadn't answered Sherri's call. He reminds me of the kid who tried handing me those divorce papers. Fellows like that deserve to get their noses broken for sticking them where they don't belong. I step toward him.

Then, without so much as a word, the guy maces me square in the eyes. I'm sure that stuff is no picnic normally, but when it gets in the stitches above my eyebrow, and it runs down in my split lip, I feel like I'm fixing to die. I can't breathe; I can't see anything.

So Sherri is screaming, "Oh my God, oh my God," all hysterically. And I'm on the floor now, calling out for Carol. I need to see her, before I get taken to jail or die or she divorces me.

Then I hear her. She's asking what's going on, from the back of the office, getting louder.

"Dennis, are you all right?" It's Carol talking to me, but this isn't quite like I'd imagined. "Did he do this to you?"

I try telling her, like I practiced, about asking a guy to move, and seeing a white streak, the tattooed kid and the cue stick, three against one …

She shushes me, tells the rent-a-cop to leave or she'll call the real police, tells Sherri to reschedule the old lady and her other appointments. I open my eyes to see her, and it burns so badly when the air hits them. But I keep them open as best I can. Eventually, she starts talking to me again.

"You must be the most accident-prone man on the planet."

"I am."

"How could you get along without me?" Carol says. Her smile is so pretty.

"I can't."

She gets Sherri to bring out some things she says will make it better. I stay quiet while she's working.

"Does it still hurt?" she asks me after a while, holding my head in her lap and patting my face with a damp rag. She's looking down into my red, black eyes.

"Not so much when you do that."

She's missed me, too, even if she can't stand me. I'm not sorry I lost that fight. That's the way it had to go for us to be together. Even though I'm missing half my teeth now, I smile up at her really big, just like I did when that hand drew back to swing, gripping that cue ball really tight.


About the Author

Hayden Hibbard is a former scuba instructor and failed creative writer turned pre-medical student. He works as a physics, biology, and chemistry tutor for Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.