Pain and Suffering

"Oh, shit," I groan, horrified. A cold knot of dread seeps into my gut. It's hard to breathe. "Please, God, tell me this isn't happening."

As I sit in my studio apartment in Boston, I read and reread the letter from the NERB corporation, hoping to God or the devil for a different outcome each time. It's a simple letter, stating only the facts. I've failed the last portion, the live patient portion, of the NERB exam, so I can't become a licensed dentist. The only way to receive a license now is to retake the exam for an exorbitant amount of money. Money I don't have.

The NERB (NorthEast Regional Boards for everyone else) exam is my ticket to getting a professional dental license. Granted, failing it isn't the end of the world, but it might as well be. I don't have the money to retake the exam. This school I've been in for four years has robbed me of over a quarter-million dollars, and that's just in tuition payments. It's an exorbitant amount of money I don't know how I'll ever pay back. Forget the fact it's a fifteen-year loan. If I don't get my dental license, I'll never be able to repay it.

Yeah, I know, dentistry is a nerdy profession to go into. Whatever. If you can make it past the torture, the requirements, and that stupid licensing exam, you're golden. Four-day work weeks, golfing and tropical vacations beckon. Not to mention the massive amounts of money that follow. Yeah, scoff all you want. Dentists make out big time in the long run, suckers, even better than MDs.

For me, though, the party is officially over.

Somewhere in my fog of despair, I hear my phone ringing. It has to be Julie, my closest friend from my class. Since I no longer care about life, I don't take her call. She's probably passed the NERB while I failed it. I'm a failure. I don't want to talk right now. I'm too deep into and drowning in an ocean of despair, too busy contemplating how I should end my life to take her call.


"Hi Marylin, it's Julie. I passed the NERB! I hope you passed it too. Give me a call whenever you can. Bye!"

Fuck off, Julie.

What's the easiest thing to do? When you want to die, when you're truly desperate, when you deplore your life and your very self, when you're at the absolute bottom, what's the best way to kill yourself? I don't have access to a gun, but I don't think I'd have the guts to pull the trigger, either. I suppose I could slit my wrists, but that would be too messy, and I know that my mom, who has hidden interior-designer tendencies, would be appalled at the condition of my body as she lovingly coaxed it into something presentable for my funeral. Pills? Maybe pills I could do. I have a 60-count bottle of acetaminophen. I could take them all, wash them down with a bottle of wine, and that would be the end. I wouldn't have to worry about where I'll get the money to retake that outdated NERB exam. I wouldn't have to worry about obtaining my dental license. I wouldn't have to worry about repaying my student loans, which total so much money I could buy a house with it. I wouldn't have to worry about anything. I could just end my life and that would be that. Clean. Simple. No more suffering. And my mom wouldn't have to worry about how disgusting my corpse looks.

I hold the bottle of acetaminophen in my hand. God, this is so easy! A bottle of water sits next to me. I unscrew the cap. Then I begin to swallow. One, two, three, four pills. It's so easy. I smile to myself, perversely delighted. So easy.

Five, six, seven, eight.

Eight pills. I look over at a bottle of pinot noir, which tantalizingly sits next to a wineglass on the kitchen counter. So easy. So painless. I'll take every last pill in the bottle, drink every last drop of the wine, and go to sleep forever. So easy.

My phone begins to ring again.

I don't want to talk to you, I'm too depressed.


"Marylin, are you there? I want to talk to you."

Upon recognizing the voice of the caller, my heart glazes over. It's my friend Adrostos, but I use the term friend loosely. He's my Greek boy toy, my pseudo-boyfriend from my class, the boy I love above all else. Even over my aspired dental degree, even though I've never told him that. Well, fuck it. I can get my dental degree, but it will mean nothing if I don't pass the NERB exam. I'll be damned if tonight doesn't hold a first and last time for everything.

I pick up the phone. "Adros?"

"Marylin, did you pass the NERB?" he greets me excitedly. He's anticipating a positive response, which means he's passed the exam. Which makes this situation all the more deplorable.

I close my eyes, allowing the darkness and depression to absorb me. "No."

Silence. Profoundly deafening, screaming silence. "I'm sorry to hear that," he offers softly, unsurely. "I passed."

"Good for you."

"Marylin, are you okay?"

"No, Adros, I'm not okay." Tears fill my eyes, and frustration builds within my blood. "I hate myself. I want to end it all. I already took eight acetaminophen. I'm going to take the rest of the bottle, then drink a bottle of pinot noir and call it a day. Good-bye, Adrostos." I swallow. A lump sits heavily in my throat. "I want you to know that I love you."


Adrostos and I have been seeing each other, on and off, since our first year of dental school. In our four years together, we've never dated exclusively, and I have never, ever told him I love him. I don't really love him, at least I don't think I do. I love being with him, but obviously that doesn't constitute loving him. Well, not until today, anyway.

Forget him. Back to the pills. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve...

I'm so Type A, so anal-retentive. First I'll finish the pills, then I'll drink the wine. Again, so easy. Why haven't I done this sooner? I could have bypassed years of hell if I did this when everything started to fall apart during my second year of dental school.

Thirteen, fourteen...

It seems like a lifetime before I'm able to swallow another pill. A full lifetime. I notice the bottle of pinot noir out of the corner of my eye, taunting me. Drink me, Marylin, you know you want to.

Fuck you, you demon. I'll get there when I get there.

I stare at the bottle of pills for a long time. I've swallowed fourteen pills so far. I won't be rushed. This has been a long time coming.

I continue to stare at the bottle, even as I hear the knock on the door. I don't know who it is or what he wants. I just want to be left alone with my pills and my wine and my self-loathing. With my pain and suffering.