This isn't a topic we're supposed to talk about. We're supposed to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and put on a good face. We're supposed to be our best selves all the time, dancing for our lives in front of an audience whether real or imagined. But sometimes that's not possible. Sometimes things are just scary and you can't help that. Sometimes you just have to just ride with it, doing whatever you can to weather the storm.
This is one of those times. And me? Honestly? I'm terrified.
I'm about to finish the handwritten draft of my third completed novel. I'm in the process of getting The Crashers out into the world with my book production team at Booktrope. I'm smack in the middle of figuring out how to better do the Author Thing (TM). I'm working for a new start-up as a regular contributor and trying to write better, more thoughtful comics criticism. I'm going to visit my girlfriend Melissa in Florida soon. I'm about to go back to school shortly after that. I'm trying to figure out what to do for work when I graduate. I'm trying to stay positive and productive.
Also, I'm getting dentures. I'm 29 and I'm getting dentures. That's sad and scary and weird, and I hate it. I hate it because it underscores everything else I'm doing. I hate it because it undermines me just when I should be feeling my best.
I'm 29 and I'm getting dentures because I had braces when I was a teenager. Growing up I had good teeth, dodging the curse of weak oral health that runs in my mother's side of the family. My teeth were a little crooked on the bottom and stuck out a little too much on the top, but they were healthy and my dentist was always pleased when I went in for check-ups. Then when I was 17, my parents wanted to put me in braces to fix my imperfections. They went to a local orthodontist with a good reputation. Everything was fine for the first few months, but, slowly and surely, that changed.
I have metal allergies. I can only wear specific metals - gold, silver, titanium, steel - because everything else - nickel, lead, copper - destroys my skin. My parents explained this to my orthodontist, who assured them she would only use safe metals. Instead she used wires with nickel and copper, and the resulting allergic reaction led to a pH imbalance that ate away at my teeth under the braces. There was no enamel left. No matter what I did, my teeth were going to fall apart.
At first the orthodontist blamed it on my poor hygiene and said that I was at fault. I was too lazy to brush my teeth, she told my parents when asked what was happening. Her assistants used to scold me like a dog and march me to the bathroom to teach me how to brush. Soon her office refused to continue treating me because I was so lazy and unwilling to brush my own teeth. The orthodontist pulled off my braces and demanded my parents pay her the remaining balance for her trouble. When she pulled off the braces, there was nothing but pulp underneath. I lost the four crooked bottom teeth that brought me to the orthodontist in the first place, reduced to pitted nubs. It hurt to eat, drink, and breathe, lying awake at night with a mouthful of decay.
It was only when my family doctor reached out to a colleague from the local medical college that we figured out what had happened. Then my parents, along with the parents of other kids with similar problems, threatened so sue for negligence. To keep my parents quiet, my orthodontist agreed to pay for the repairs. Some teeth were removed and replaced with implants; others were salvaged or capped. Unfortunately, my city isn't very big, and everybody in the dental field know each other. Every dentist I went to during the six months it took to put my mouth back together told me that I had no business shaking down my orthodontist for money. That I was lazy, that I was extorting her, that I didn't deserve any of this work for free. That I would lose all my teeth by 30 and it was all my fault.
They were right, though, at least about what would happen to my teeth. Without enamel my teeth have continued to fall apart. If I went to a dentist, they just kind of shrugged. No point in fixing what was just going to fall out, they said. Just wait it out and have them pulled. So I have, trying to keep what teeth I have while I save up for dentures to replace them. But when you're broke all the time, just trying to scrape pennies together to go to school and pay bills, you have to pick what's important. My teeth weren't important; they were a source of shame, sadness, and sleepless nights. They were an embarrassment that made it hard to smile when I was hyper-aware of every pit and exposed nerve. They were a reminder to be careful of what I ate or risk pain.
Now I'm 29, and I finally have the money for dentures. I finally found a dentist who will listen to me, who won't insult me to my face. I should be happy, and part of me is. Part of me is eager to be free of the chronic pain and constant anxiety. The other part is just sad and scared, because I've been sad and scared where my teeth are concerned since I was 17. Because all I had was four crooked teeth, and now I'm about to lose them all.
So this is a post about fear. Sometimes you just have to weather the storm. That's all I'm trying to do.