The thought struck me that I couldn’t remember the last blog I did. Lo and behold, it has been a well over a week since I’ve jotted anything down. Truth is, the past weeks have been a blur. Wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving weekend, the Sun Peaks wedding where I did a real Bonnie Tyler to my vocal cords and ultimately, broke my voice box.
I can’t pinpoint that exact moment when the headache started. It feels like it’s just always been there. My cold has lingered like that unwashed guitar playing dude at the end of night at a crazy college party, strumming along obliviously, preventing you from pouncing on the cute guy you’ve been making eyes with all night. This headache is basically cock blocking me. I’m not enjoying anything as much, when I laugh, talk, sing (which is all the time), it sends shooting stabbing pain straight into my jaw. And then, it traveled behind my eye, this incessant scream in my brain. It was distressing to say the least.
To remedy the eye pain, I would scrunch my ocular cavity. Now it looks as if I were eying you up suspiciously…or trying to wink flirtatiously and failing miserably or that I was a peg leg short of being a pirate.
And the thing is, if I worked in a library or a quiet office, it would be manageable. In my profession, I am surrounded by joyous, excitable noise. You put twenty children in a room together and things can get pretty rowdy. Laughter, crying, complaints, it’s all at a rather bold decibel. During the day, it’s children’s music, and there are moments where the children’s version of “Crocodile Rock” really takes you right on the edge of sanity. For the afternoon parkour classes, the coaches sometimes crank some pretty intense house music. I’m sure it’s super inspiring music, but if you are hunched in front of a computer, feeling as though your right eye might cave in from the pain, you just wish they had a little Billie Holiday on tap.
Each afternoon, I pick kids up from school and bring them to after-school programs. This is one of my favorite parts of the work day, listening to the conversations of 5-7 year old children, hearing their thoughts about life. One recent afternoon, when this headache was squealing in my head like a whistling kettle, there was one child talking so loudly and excitedly, that it was actually painful to listen.
The pain had resonated within my neck, shoulders, jaw, and then my head become a glistening orb of blistering pain with a long staff of twisted gnarled muscle mass connected. Come Sunday morning I was in shambles, feeling sickly and whimpering like a child on the sofa. Our landlord wanted to show our townhouse, and whenever anyone comes by, we make a point to leave. It’s too weird watching strangers appraise your home. I pushed the time back as much as possible. I just couldn’t leave the house. I texted my friend Sheanna, a spiritual healer and all round amazing person. She brought along her dachshund Harriet, who nestled over my belly as I reclined in the chair while Sheanna pressed gently on my neck and shoulders.
This beautiful lady then proceeded to work on me for Philip Glass‘s Metamorphosis and Miles Davis‘ Kind of Blue…twice. And that that album may only have six songs, but its 55 minutes and 26 seconds long.
All the while, a very patient and kind friend works away at this geologically dense, sedimentary layers of tension. Little clusters of worry or distress, collecting slowly overtime. As she placed pressure, she asked questions, and I found myself recalling memories, things that were forgotten or stored away. A childhood carnival ride that gave me whiplash (and made me barf up hamburgers…not a pretty sight). A drunken night in high-school–vomiting in front of a beau at a sexy viewpoint, a car accident…no vomit but going off a rather sizable embankment and being tossed like a rag doll, and my various dental traumas. Each memory had common themes, mostly of being quite vulnerable or exposed. But it was like fragments of those moments had stored themselves in amidst of the threads of my insides and began to decay over time. I think it also speak volumes about that it all comes back to my mouth…which has often gotten me into trouble in the past. If my parents got a dollar and invested it for every time they read “Alicia talks too much in class”, I could have paid for my university education and possibly have some left over for a summer home. As I grew up, I was always yapping and wisecracking, saying too much and repeating gossip, and never knowing when to shut up. I had braces when I was twelve, and a year later they were taken off. Meanwhile, there was a rogue, undescended tooth bulldozing it’s way through roots of potential neighbours. I learned of this in my early twenties, a totally inappropriate time to get “Braces: The Sequel”.
From there, about six different oral surgeries followed. All with a healthy dose of Ativan, because I’m not just going to lie back and let you drill into the roof of my mouth without a fight. And then, after the procedure, it is the distinct pleasure of whoever is waiting for me in reception to get incoherent, boozy me, with a mouthful of blood and holes. There are a slew of funny stories from those times, but I couldn’t share them here…only because I don’t remember much from them. The taste of blood, forgetting my address, breaking a vase, and attempting to play “Raining in My Heart” by Buddy Holly on my record player.
What’s worse is not being totally fucked up the next day, with this raw hamburger in your mouth. All for what? Trying to dredge the tooth from the roof of my mouth as if it where a sunken ship? And then, after all the exposures and Ativan laced interludes, the dentist was defeated. That tooth, along with two others would have to go. Which again, is not the greatest news a mid-twenties bride-to-be wants to hear. Dentures was not on the menu, thank you very much. Alas, the teeth had to go, and I was devastated. As time passed on, when my wedding was cancelled, that was one of the first things that came to mind. Meeting someone knew, and being all cool, funny and sweet, but then taking him home and putting your teeth in a fucking glass on the nightstand.
Shortly after my breakup, and right before I left for New Zealand I took part in a Fringe Festival. I was feeling raw, and felt I’d done terribly in the last performance. I was at a closing night party, and someone had bumped into me, and I then knocked into an actress I admired who split her beer, and then spewed venom at me for the accident. I was horrified, felt totally alienated. I felt terribly alone, and so I stepped outside, and called my ex. That’s the worst part about breaking up with your friend because you get all Barbra Streisand to Robert Redford in “The Way We Were”: “I just want to talk to you about someone we both know”.
I stood outside, at one am under an awning on a rainy night, next to a rather busy gentleman’s’ nightclub…and talking to someone I used to know. After the conversation, I stepped inside, sat down on a sofa. I felt an unfamiliar looseness on my teeth. I open my lips and there, like two tiny bones are the dentures divorced from the device inside my mouth. It was like being kicked when down, only it’s God kicking you. I traveled all the way home without my teeth and to me, it felt like walking around naked. People said “It’s only teeth”. To those people, I invite them to go around without their cuspid and lateral incisor and get back to me. It’s not cancer or a prison camp, but it’s not pleasant, and I’d prefer it wasn’t so.
I was days away from leaving New Zealand and had to borrow my parents car to drive back to the place I just moved away from to get them fixed. My mother, who was a real champion in my jilted bride chapter, said “Never look back”. And when I had to return she said “Okay then, get your teeth fixed and then never look back”. Of course, I dropped them off first thing in the morning and they said “Come back at the end of the day”. I got my hair cut, and avoided looking into the mirror. I bought a large pot of flowers and went to the cemetery, and stood a long while at my friend Monica’s grave. I figured it was a safe place to be; the dead don’t really care and Monica wouldn’t have minded. I picked up my dentures at the end of day, and I didn’t look back. Of course, when I met my husband, that fear cropped up, that missing those two teeth made me ugly. In the heat of a moment, slightly drunk and trying to tackle kissing a nearly seven foot man, he confessed an insecurity. He was sweet and vulnerable, and also a little bit drunk so I replied “That’s okay, I don’t have all my real teeth”, and in that moment we accepted every thing about each other, and were already falling in love.
But still, there are moments of being caught without them. Once in New Zealand the police came to the door, looking for a friend of one of the flatmates. I was like someone you’d see on cops, flapping my lip, all gap toothed and ghetto “. Honestly, I could fill a rather “War and Peace” length tome of toothless anecdotes. Moments where having all teeth like guns a’ blazing would just be better. Occasionally I catch a glimpse in the mirror and I resent that gap along my gum line. And lets be honest, it would be cheaper to get breast implants than to get tooth implants, and it feels like a very long road before I can get fancy new teeth…or boobs for that matter.
All these thoughts come to me as I lie back with my eyes closed. Harriet on my lap and Sheanna pushing down on calcified concerns trapped in my jaw. By this time, my landlord has popped by with a young Asian couple. We’re listening to Philip Glass, a Wayans brother movie is muted on television, my spiritual healer is working on my throat muscles and there’s a wiener dog nestled on my lap. When she returns with another person, I’m fielding work texts and frowning slightly, looking ever the pampered movie executive trying to get a moment’s peace.
Once the house is shown, and our space is returned to us, I begin to weep as I confess these things. This is something that I truly hate about myself. I live with a constant, genuine frustration from the pain and pressure of wearing a partial. Never properly tasting food, being so painfully aware of my mouth at all times. And of course, the issue of receding gum-lines and decreasing bone density, the only solution being more painful and expensive work in the future. Admitting this aloud is like poison begin drained from my body. Sheanna continues to push and press and exorcise some of this pain that’s been stashed away. When Sheanna finished, I felt ten pounds lighter; my thoughts clearer, my mood brighter. I felt relieved, like I’ve been holding my breath for a century and finally got to inhale. Sheanna and Harriet went home, and I was able to reclaim my Sunday, going for a walk and cooking a meal with my husband. I crawled into bed at nine pm, nestled next to my husband, my two teeth nestled in another room. And for a split second I wasn’t defined by what was missing.
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2 thoughts on “Gap Toothed Grief & Billie Holiday Blues”
You’re not alone in having teeth issues. I feel insecure about my teeth; I have a diastema between my two front teeth (like Madonna) and I also have an overbite. I was offered braces when I was 12 but I refused them because I didn’t want a mouth full of metal (I wish the dentist had been more patient and explained more thoroughly then).
Now I’m 20 and I kind of regret not getting the braces. I recently went to an orthodontist and had an assessment; she said getting perfect teeth would involve extracting two top teeth (either incisors or premolars – can’t remember which). And that would ultimately mean changing my profile and facial shape which would be much less flattering. The orthodontist said it would create a ‘dished-in’ shape and accentuate my nose. She recommended against getting braces, so it looks like the teeth I have are just going to have to be okay!
Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to get to in a rather roundabout way is that our physical appearance does not define us. It’s not who we are!
P.S. I know it sounds cheesy but I believe it really is what is on the inside that counts; some people look like supermodels but are really unhappy and have other issues going on in their lives.
I hope I’m not sounding preachy!