My molar got drilled and gutted. Nerves removed. It is the shell of a tooth. It has happened before. A few times. I knew what to expect. I go in there wanting him to pull the teeth. "Just banish the offending tooth," I say. "Get him out of my kingdom." But the dentist takes pictures, and shows me the bite, and importance of each tooth. He leaves them as anchors. Anchors, he calls them, for the other teeth, for a bridge, for the eating.
These teeth are empty houses. Abandoned row homes with graffiti and holes in their roof. Dark homes and covered with wood planks and rusty nails and notices hung by the state. He spent hours cleaning out years of hoarding and abuse. My ghetto mouth can only cuss now.
YEOUCH! FUCK! SHIT! YEOUCH!
My jaw hurts where the dentist drilled into it. They cover my mouth, all but the decaying tooth, in a plastic cover, like a little surgical theater. I feel almost claustrophobic. I could give into it, the idea of my mouth being covered in plastic, and sucking uselessly.
Breathe through your nose. The pain will end now. It will end. Just breathe.
He uses little wire brushes to clean out the nerve. As I feel him digging in my mouth, I could see the brushes clean out the tooth, hear them scrape the inside of my teeth. I mean, in my mind's eye. I see nerves and my grief hanging on the delicate wires. Those little brushes loom so large. They are taking out a pain that trumps everything. No dishes. No grocery shopping. No punches thrown between children. Just tooth. Like morse code with each movement. I keep translating every shitty feeling into T-O-O-T-H.
"They are dead," he says.
They feel alive to me. Alive and fighting. I keep my eyes closed during the procedure. It feels weird to look into a man's face only inches from your own. We aren't having sex, but it is more intimate than I like. I hate this kind of attention. I try to sleep, which seems laughable. I am having a root canal. But my children aren't asking me for anything, and when my children aren't asking me for anything, I think about sleeping. In that moment, I couldn't imagine anything I wanted to do more than have a root canal. My tooth throbbed, nagged at me all night. I felt dizzy and angry and incensed. The root canal has moments of exact awful pain, but I know it will end.
My mouth tastes of infection and death. And I am grateful.
Take out the infections. Take out the pains. Take out the death. I will sit, jaw out of socket, until you are done. I will not move. I will not wince. I will myself to have good teeth, but they are grey and broken.
The dentist works to the dull drone of HGTV on in the background. People searching for their first house, their third. I imagine the houses they are searching for a home. They are nothing like the houses of my mouth with deep carries, blackened and dead with pain. Gang wars and rapid fire pain. I used to have a stud in my tongue. It was a divorce decision. Weeks after we separated, I traded a tattoo design for a tongue piercing, then I cut all my hair off, then I pierced a nipple. Nothing took the pain away. I tried everything, but I just wanted my marriage back. Sure, there was an endorphin rush. A momentary high, then nothing but the abyss again.
No one will ever love me again.
Years later, a dentist told me that I was breaking my teeth with the stud through my tongue, like a wrecking ball to the bottom of my teeth. He suggested I start smoking again, and then laughed. Just kidding. I was too old for such jokes. The pain from divorce had subsided. I wasn't angry anymore. I took out the tongue stud, and put it in my jewelry box. One day, my children will say, "What is this one, Mama?" And I will say, that went through my tongue, and that one through my boobie.
People used to die of abscessed teeth. I am sure it was an ugly death. One of fevers, crazed, desperate pleadings. "Take me in my sleep. Cut out the tooth. Cut out my jaw." The tooth comes out and the infection has ravaged too much. Everyone steps back and holds a hanky over their face.
I feel old. My eyes wrinkle into a smile, and my hair is greying. My matronly bun is dotted with age. My teeth are falling out. My feet hurt in the mornings, and my weight is something that suits me, because I no longer have to be thin and young. No more babies to be made. No more men to win.
I have a year of appointments to get my teeth right again. It feels good to take care of something I have avoided and packed away for so long. And it feels terrible to think of the amount of time I will be in physical pain and discomfort, but my teeth are an embarrassment. A horror show. The part of town, I don't want to take anyone. They are only getting worse. There are stabbing now in that part of town. Bleeding, abuse, quiet murders. But as I step through town, I see potential. First we clean out the death.