Long, long time ago

So. I am still dancing alone in my head about dental care and this coming change in … circumstance. When I saw the dentist, they had a somewhat canned speech about whether I was at the end of the journey with my teeth. I wanted to chuckle, because it was never a journey, it was a fucking war.

I don’t remember very many times being told that I had to brush my teeth, either in the morning or at night. I do remember once when I was going to school, the van driver turned around and pointedly asked me if I brushed my teeth every day. It must have been obvious that I did not. She stared at me for a few seconds, the turned back to our ride to school.

I started going to the dentist before I was 10. I remember my first cavity – I was eating a bowl of Captain Crunch cereal, and I bit down as usual, and the pain was excruciating. Cavity, and a deep one. I had to got to see the scary man in the white coat who lunged at me with a needle the size of a Coke bottle it seemed. Then some horrid whirring and vibration and grunting (his) and scraping. Ugh. I ejected from the chair as though I had been shot out of a cannon.

Over the many years after that followed fillings, crowns, root canals and now…this. My mother always warned me that I had better brush my teeth, but in my mind it was more to look presentable so people would not think I was … ignorant trash from the housing projects on the other side of town. As usual, I don’t remember my father saying anything.

Both my parents had partial dentures, bridges as some call them. Neither had a full set of natural teeth, so in some ways I may have figured that was the way it was supposed to go. After a while, it became something I never really thought about. I always found it somewhat annoying that some girls at slumber parties woke up and had to go and brush their teeth before eating breakfast. That mad no sense to me.

In high school, I had a big molar that abscessed. As I have told people most of my life, pain is an incredible motivator. It motivated me to seek relief in the form of some old medication that my grandmother was using for pain before she died. I have no dea what it was, a peach-colored triangular tablet. It did not totally eliminate the pain, but launched me into my first narcotic euphoria. Nothing seemed real, I was walking but couldn’t feel my feet touching the ground. The pain seemed far removed, but there was a kind of hazy, foggy, floating sensation that I rather liked.

The scary man in the white coat was joined by another equally scary man in his own white coat, and they leaned toward each other at the counter of the exam room and spoke in hushed tones that I couldn’t make out. That crashed my euphoria and I started to cry because they were whispering in somewhat solemn tones and it scared me. I don’t remember too much of what happened next, but apparently they pulled that tooth and I went home with a mouth full of cotton and gauze pads. Case closed.

Obviously, that was not the last tooth I lost. None of the dental procedures I hae gone through have ever penetrated that hazy, foggy, not-quite-real feeling. It was almost as thought it was happening to someone else. By the time nitrous oxide (still not sure why the called it laughing gas) was available, I almost looked forward to whatever they were going to do. Give me the gas. I was free of my body with the gas, and felt as though my consciousness could go anywhere. I was not just free of my body, I was free. But that’s another story.

Regardless of all that, I did whatever the dentist of the moment told me to do. Root canal? No problem. Extraction? Ok, tell me when to be there and make sure the gas is working. I was entirely impervious to the progressive nature of any of that. I don’t quite know why, maybe it seemed normal. Maybe it seemed as though it was someone else. Maybe it seemed inevitable. I don’t know.

Now that I am “ending the journey with my teeth”, I am really confused by why that is so emotional for me. I’ve never cared about my teeth before, only the impression people would have based on my appearance. In many ways, that was given to me, but I was certainly old enough to put 2 and 2 together and realize that not taking care of my teeth would take me this point in 2022. Truth be told, I don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of this experience.

I know that some of it, at least so far, is about how I handle shame. My first thought was that I needed to hide and not show myself to anyone, it was too hideous, I had been too stupid, I knew better. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head shouting, “Oh NOW you want to cry, NOW you want to listen, NOW you know what you were supposed to have been doing all this time. All kinds of people tried to tell you, but would you listen? NO!” Hmm. She used to accuse me of purposely trying to make myself ugly. Maybe there is something to that.

So anyhow, I suppose I am on this journey, whether I want to be or not. Since I cannot go back in time or sprint into the future, I have to deal with this in the here and now. This is my reality for the next chunk of time. It’s not a dream, I am not going to wake up and it all disappears. The Universe is not going to say this is a joke, and a 2-minute warning – just wanted to see if you were awake. No, this is the real deal.

I still have a choice – I could decide to do nothing, hide my head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, but not sure I can do that. I know there will be some further crisis of pain, physical and emotional, that will force me to deal with it anyway, so I suppose the time is now. Dammit.

This feels a bit like saying goodbye to my uterus. It felt like an amputation, and I wondered if I was throwing in the towel on a part of myself that deserved to go further, to the end. To what end, or whose end, I have no idea but that was the feeling at the time. It is somewhat the feeling now. When I saw the X-rays of my full head showing the teeth and bones in the mouth, I felt such incredible … I don’t know, compassion? As though I was looking at the real me, the one that’s under all the masks and the trauma and the illusion. This is who I am, just this little creature without armor or weaponry. Just a little creature. Ain’t that a kick in the ass?

*sigh* So on I go, and this becomes another part of my story. A few more pieces to add to a pile of medical waste. I wish I could skip to the next chapter though, ’cause this one is not a whole lotta fun.

Born with my back against the wall. Need a door.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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