Few things have caused me as much distress as my teeth. As a child, one of my eye teeth simply never came down. Instead, it grew unseen, almost horizontal right next to my front tooth. The pressure caused all of my teeth to slant with numerous gaps between them. Even adults teased me. The day I got braces was probably the happiest day of my life. But the feeling of shame never left and I had nightmares about something happening to my teeth. They would fall out in some accident or rot away. As a result, I almost became obsessed with maintaining them. That is why the day my jaw got broken and permanent damage was done to my teeth stands out vividly in my mind.
I don't even remember what the argument started over. Someone probably looked at me or talked to me. I remember feeling like my mouth exploded after seeing a blur of a fist aimed at my face, but the real horror started when I woke up.
I woke up with a mouthful of blood. My tongue probed the gap in the front of my mouth while my mind refused to believe what had happened. Careful not to disturb the area, I sat up and looked around on the carpet for the missing tooth. Relief washed over me when I saw my front tooth just a few feet away from me. I refused to believe that my worst nightmare had come true. I took the tooth into the brightly lit kitchen. I could see what looked like small red threads hanging off the root. The tooth itself was intact, if out of its rightful home. I was so fixated on the tooth that I didn't even bother to see if he, the one who had caused this rearrangement of my dental work to happen, was still there. Thankfully, it turned out he wasn't.
I turned the water on low and gently rinsed the tooth. I had every intention of putting it back in place and I didn't plan to leave any dirt or dust in there that might create some kind of infection and give any dental professional the idea that removing the tooth might be the only realistic option. Once I rinsed the tooth off, I put it back in my mouth and left. He was on his knees in the front yard, presumably stunned himself by the events of the evening.
I was in such a hurry to leave that I only briefly stopped at a red light. I was distraught, confused, and struggling to keep myself under control. I had no idea where I should go, but I knew where I was going. My plan was to go to my sister's house. Surely she would know what to do. I gripped the steering wheel as if it was going to run off the dash, and fixed my gaze on the road. It was only after I briefly paused at the stoplight that I realized there was a police officer adjacent to me.
Surely the officer was expecting a routine stop. At least the stunned look on his face when he spotted the coating of blood on my white tank top indicated this was not what he was expecting.
“Ma'am are you alright?” he asked.
Holding my hand over my mouth I basically snarled “Does it look like I'm alright?” with no apologies for my attitude.
After a brief question and answer conversation. Most of which had to repeated since I had realized my front tooth wasn't the only one with issues and as a result, had to hold my hand over my mouth so the rest of my teeth didn't fly out. The ambulance was called and off to the hospital we went. Why this was not where I was going in the first place is beyond me, but rationalization seemed to have departed the area a couple of hours earlier. It was here that I learned the full impact of the evening.
My situation was nothing new to these people, even if it was more extreme than usual. In fact, this was not even the first time I had a visit from the domestic battery advocate as a consequence of my relationship with this man. Defeated, resentful, scared, and alone, I listened as my medical problems were explained to me. My jaw, my face had been broken. When the bottom of your mouth, your actual jaw bone is broken, they simply wire it together and you live on a liquid diet via a flexible straw for the next couple of months. That isn't the case when the top is broken, when it is split right down the middle. There is nothing, literally nothing they can do but hope that you have enough sense to be careful about how you eat for the next couple of months.
I was stunned. The fact that my thumb was dislocated as well didn't even faze me as the severity of a broken jaw struck me. I had no idea how this was going to end. I thought back to the threat of “I'll mess your face up so bad no one will want you” and knew this could be time that threat became a promise, became an actuality.
I went to jail that night because in this state both parties go when a domestic battery situation takes place, and to be fair, I had defended myself and he was not without his own wounds. I slept most of the time and no one really bothered me until I went to court, where it seemed everyone had to be made aware of the severity of the situation since I was scolded for talking with my hand over my mouth. I didn't mind the judge scolding me near as much as I minded the shock on the faces of my brother and sister as I walked into a courtroom in a white shirt entirely covered in blood. When it came to the blood I was holding onto logic so I could avoid my emotions. I had been told that the enormous amount of blood that came out of my mouth may have played a key role in flushing the area, giving me a better chance at actually keeping the tooth I had put back in. I was released with an order to see an oral surgeon.
My sister cried the whole way to the oral surgeon while I sat in silence. Still wearing the bloody shirt like a beacon of defeat, I carefully walked into the office, every part of my body aching. After what seemed like an eternity of gentle guidance by a nurse with tears in her eyes, the x-rays were taken and judgment was passed. I would lose all of my top front teeth from eyetooth to eye tooth. They made plans to pull them that day, as if it would have taken a professional. They were barely in as it was, with me holding my lips tight against them, refusing to give up.
“Not today,” I uttered. “Not ever.”
They stared after me in silence as I slowly made my way out the door.
For 14 years after that I kept my teeth in my mouth. Eventually, the gums tightened around the roots of my teeth, but I was never able to use them as I once had. I carefully ate around them, my teeth a daily reminder of why I would stay single for years to come.
Eventually the front tooth gradually got looser until I was able to pull it myself at home. The oral surgeon simply could not get me in soon enough. Discussions of a partial plate left me in tears with violent feelings of anger and shame. This time, there was no blood. This time the tooth came out on my terms, as much as was possible at the time. These dental professionals didn't know what to say as they pulled the remaining three teeth that came out far too easily. I was afraid to talk, afraid that once I opened the fount, it would all come bumbling out. I sat in silence as I waited for my plate, the thing I swore I would never wear. I smiled politely when they told me how good it looked, hating the feel of it in my mouth, hating them for being so kind when I felt so raw.
Once the anger passed, the hate did as well. I even found a few benefits. My teeth had always been sensitive to cold, but now I could go outside on a brisk winter day. I could eat ice cream without wincing. I could even bite into a sandwich without fear that one or more teeth would come out when I pulled the sandwich away.
The irony is that when I got the plate my teeth were so straight from the braces that no one even realized I got a plate. This makes the process more bearable. Perhaps my son makes it most bearable of all when he asks me to take my teeth out and then giggles with no malice at all.
“You look like a little girl who is waiting for her teeth to grow in Mommy” he says, unaware that the last time that little girl felt pretty or cute at all was before those grown up teeth came in and slanted their hideous slant.
It's over now, though I will never forget the events that led to this smile. When I begin to feel that ugly feeling and wonder how I ever let this happen, I sit back with an ice cold glass of iced tea and enjoy the freedom and serenity that is now mine, the life I live without fear, these straight teeth erasing any obvious remnants of a time that was immersed in terror and anger.