I discovered a chip in my tooth. In a back molar. A jaggedness with my tongue, like something was stuck, but nothing was, I hadn’t eaten. I looked in a mirror. A tiny hole.
I’ve never had a cavity, but the internet told me that’s what this was. Continued googling showed me I’ve been wrecking my teeth for years by eating two apples every morning. Two apples a day may keep the doctor away, but not the dentist — they flood your teeth with sugary pulp that digs in and decays. If one cavity had broken through a molar, how many other cavities lied in wait? Was my mouth a decaying mass of decrepitude? I hadn’t been to a dentist in a year; I saw my death before me.
I scheduled an appointment with my new dentist. I asked for a general appointment, but they said there weren’t any for three months. I told them I had an emergency cavity that needed to be filled. They booked me for the next day.
I walked in and declared: I have a cavity that needs to be filled, and also, how many other cavities do I have? Please help.
The dentist said: Who told you to fill a cavity?
They didn’t find a cavity. They did, however, give me a general cleaning, temporarily lose my x-rays, and break my glasses. (A glasses screw magically jumped out of the dental hygienist’s hands when she removed them from my face: we found the screw, duct-taped it back in, and I fixed it later). But it’s just a chipped tooth. Presumably from nighttime teeth-grinding. This is the healthiest mouth I’ve ever seen, they said, but you’re too stressed. Wear a mouth guard. Use an electric toothbrush. And do you floss under that permanent retainer? No? Well, you should.
So I went home happy and got a foster dog, something new to worry over. Agora. We had her for seventeen days. Long enough to get frustrated with her and question my self-worth as a dog parent, long enough to wonder whether life was worth living when you had to devote yourself to an endless black hole of energy six times a day, knowing that however much energy you gave her was never enough — long enough to get over all that and love her again.
She ate a giant hole in my bedroom blanket. I’ve had this blanket for twelve and a half years. It was getting ratty; I’ve been wondering if I should replace it. I kept telling Seth we should and he kept saying no, it’s a good blanket. A quilt with all kinds of patterns I can’t remember. And the dog ate it. She ate one big hole and one smaller hole. Ripped it up and spit it out and let the leavings on the floor. And I realized how much I loved this blanket, this ratty thing I’d been complaining about; now that it was ruined, it was mine.
The moment we found an adoptive family, she transformed from a devil into an angel. Now that our time was limited, I loved how her nose had that pink spot underneath the white, and how her ears flopped softly forward when she walked. She learned how to walk! And be house trained and other things. I didn’t worry about the blanket. We discovered a schedule that worked for all of us. We turned her from a dog to a dog and now she’s gone.
So I’m thinking about all ways we love things more when we think they’re temporary. Like how the nice thing about all the times I thought I would die is how much I was in love with living afterwards. And how for a long time, I only got into relationships when I thought it wouldn’t work out. Each time, the relationship would start great because I thought it would soon end. Then it would keep on going. And going. And it would eventually still end. Most things do. Except once.
I’ve been told to wear a nightguard before, by an evil dentist who warned of falling teeth. I tried it, hated it, and found myself waking in the middle of the night with my teeth wide apart, non-grinding. I thought I had discovered the secret to end teeth-grinding: believe in yourself. I was wrong. I’m wearing that mouthguard at night again and I bought an electric toothbrush. I also bought retainer floss-threaders, although I have yet to open the bag. After a years-long relationship with apples, I’ve cut them out, replaced them with cucumbers.
And I’ve fallen deeply in love with my teeth. How beautiful are teeth? How nice and smooth and necessary. How they become a record of your life, more unique than fingerprints. How each one matters in its own way. I thought I would lose them all, but they’re still here.
PS: I have a new short story published in Epiphany Magazine. It’s a story that means a lot to me. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve been able to write about the death of my college boyfriend. It’s also very short. It’s called “Where He Went.”
PPS: Goodbye to this nugget (the dog, not the Seth).