I've had a recurrent nightmare for the last 10 years and yesterday it finally came true. Backstory: in 2002, I visited the dentist for a routine cleaning to learn that a root canal had become infected and damaged the tooth to the point where I would need a second root canal and possible extraction. This happened about a week before I was scheduled to study a semester in Brazil. So I had to make a tough choice: perform the root canal and postpone the trip for winter semester, or do nothing and risk needing dental surgery in a foreign country. Knowing what I know now, I wish I'd done nothing. But, I was 21 and didn't know.
Already mentally prepared for the trip, I didn't want to change my plans for departure. So I went with another and more drastic option, I asked them to extract the infected tooth entirely. My dad's new girlfriend (now wife) works as a dental assistant, and she was able to call up an old friend laboratory technician to make a temporary tooth in time for my trip. The novocaine had barely worn off my face before I was on a plane to Miami and South America bound.
The tooth they removed is in the upper lateral front. So without it, I have an obvious smile gap, like a hideous hillbilly.
Since then, I've experienced dreams about breaking the bridge and loosing the tooth, being left with a big hole in my mouth. In my dreams, I'm eating something and feel the tooth is gone, I'm horrified and embarrassed It usually happens in an important situation, like I'm dreaming I'm at a conference as the key note speaker or getting glamorous pictures taken. Sometimes I even awake, frightened and confused, then feel for my tooth with such relief. This has been going on for 10 years. Years of nightmares about helplessly loosing face and being toothlessly naked in front of the world.
Well yesterday it finally happened. The nightmare came true while eating a soft pita with tomato and mozzarella cheese. I felt it slip out of place, it was the moment I'd been waiting for and dreading. There was that empty sensation familiar from so many bad dreams over the years. To confirm, I spat the tooth into my hand, there it was, the moment I'd dreaded. Ok, this is not a dream, think, think, what do you need to do. What time is it? It's 4:15, the dentist might still be in the office. I ran to the phone and called my orthodontist. Surprisingly she answered the phone instead of the secretary.
"Jessie, my fake tooth came out, I need you to glue it back in."
In her motherly Latina voice, "Sweety, we're leaving for the day, I'm on my way to the emergency room myself right now for some elbow pain."
"Where can I go, who can fix this? There's a big gaping hole in my mouth!"
At one point, Nala walked into the bathroom while I'm on the phone, "Mom, can you come play with me, princess Luna made invitations for all the ponies for the dinner party..."
"Nala! I'm on the phone! Don't talk to me!"
Jessie continues, "I can move things around to fit you in at 9:30 in the morning. You are not in any pain right now, no one else is going to glue it back on."
I'm thinking about how to respond, should I whine, should I tell her about my dreams, should I argue? She said that she's on the way to the emergency room herself. I force myself to say "ok, thank you, I'll see you tomorrow."
And there I am, staring myself in the mirror, living the moment that had haunted me for so many years. Talking myself down: I can do this, it's going to be ok. I can just stay home in the house and hide all evening. But what will people do when they see me so ugly?
I walk out of the bathroom. Nala's outside the bedroom door, holding the door open a crack and peeking through. I find her and crouch down, speak without opening lips wide, "Nala I'm sorry for yelling at you, it was an emergency and I was very upset and needed to focus on the phone."
"Can you play with me now?"
She leads me into the living room. I'm feeling so emotional and upset about loosing my tooth. I decided I had to tell the kids.
"Guys, I have something to show you. I'm pretty upset right now because I just lost my tooth." I open my hand to show them the little pontiff resting in the center of my palm. It looks so innocent and unworthy of all this excitement and fret.
They lit up and in unison began saying, "Mom! The tooth fairy is going to visit you now!"
Oh that cheered me up, for sure.
Kaio, "Can I see your mouth?"
I smile as they inspect the empty spot.
"Now can you play with us?"
Bless their little pure hearts.
They don't care. These kids will never judge me. They will never laugh at me for being a hillbilly.
I sit down to play, realizing that my worst fear is ok, here and now.
Because I have braces, and because there was some dried adhesive remaining on the bracket, it's not so obvious that I'm missing the tooth from afar. I decided to try a yoga class at a studio I'd never been to before, hoping I wont have to talk to anyone at a new studio (but of course that doesn't end up being the case). My mom comes home and is able to watch the kids.
As I arrive at the studio, I'm careful to talk to the yoga teacher with my mouth as closed as possible. I'm trying not to smile with my mouth open. The class is a beginner class with a set centered around opening up the Heart Chakra. It was perfect for me. They say that if your tendency is to take the power yoga classes, then what you need is a gentle yoga class, and vise-versa: the people who are high energy, need to slow down, and the people who are low intensity, need to push themselves.
My natural affinity is to push my body to the edge and challenge myself with the vinyasa yoga classes. So what I actually need to balance my energy is the slow gentle classes. Well this Heart Chakra beginner yoga class was slow and perfect.
I have to admit that rarely do I completely focus in a class, usually my mind continues to race along as I'm doing the poses. And today was no different. But in the flow, the movement and breath, as I'm trying not to tongue the hole in my teeth, on this special and kind of tragic day, I had a realization. I realized that the tooth is not me.
The tooth was a piece of matter, subject to the laws of nature, reacting to stress of movement and breaking the bond from the bracket. Having a broken tooth does not change who I am. It did not make me smarter or dumber, or prettier or uglier. I was the same exact person, just with a wardrobe malfunction.
Breathing through the belly, in triangle pose, staring at my thumb, I understood that things were going to be ok. That I could tell Mari about it, and he would still love me just as much. I was so scared of him seeing me with this big ugly hole in my smile. But then, through yoga, I realized that it wouldn't matter at all. That he would react with the same way he has through all the dental issues I've had, my teeth moving around daily, separating and warping.
And even though I look in the mirror and think it all looks so bad, he shrugs it off and tells me it's a part of the process.
I kept my lips covering my teeth as a spoke and ate dinner in front of my mom and our house guest, and nobody noticed. It's amazing how much less people inspect you when they already know you.
I feel like I've surmounted this major step in my life. Now that the nightmare has happened, maybe I wont have those bad dreams anymore. I can go on to live without that fear. And really the fear was the worse that what actually happened. And through it happening I realized that my presence with the people who love me is much deeper than physical expressions. I could loose an arm or a leg and my kids would still be asking me to play with them. Mari would still love me.
So now I think I'm going to be moving forward even more strongly, even more fearless. My bad dreams of knocked out teeth can be replaced with dreams of getting gray hairs. And then, when it happens, I'll realize that too doesn't make as big a difference as you fear.
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