Teeth 10/14/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

I must have been about seven. My parents had bought me a brand-new, and very cool, new bicycle, but as with everything that they did, they bought me one that would last a long time. What I mean by this is that it was too large for me. They bought a bicycle that I would “grow into” so they would never have to buy a new one. Well, that’s a fine idea in principle, but at my age, it wasn’t exactly easy to control such a beast, and this was way before things like knee pads, helmets or brains.

I was limited where I could ride. The neighborhood wasn’t so safe, so I was restricted to the sidewalk in front of the house. As I was riding one day, I discovered something that I thought was fun; if I quickly turn the handlebars back and forth it’s kind of hard to get the bike back under control. Being a man (well, at least a man-in-training) I thought, “if it’s fun when I’m going slow, it’ll be really fun when I’m going fast.” In a “hold my beer” moment (well, at this age, root beer I guess), I start at the end of the block, pick up speed, and start jiggling the handlebars.

The bike swerved back and forth, closer and closer to the edge of the sidewalk, lower and lower to the ground, until the inevitable “thud”. I wasn’t really in pain, but I felt like I should be crying, so I did. I ran into the house, and only then I noticed the blood. I tried to kiss the sidewalk, but unfortunately, it kissed back.

Mom and dad seemed particularly interested in my teeth. My dad had a habit of pressing on wounds while saying, “does that hurt?” YES, IT HURTS! KNOCK IT OFF!! Mom sent my sister out with odd instructions; see if you can find the other half of his tooth.

I was old enough that my permanent front teeth were in, but still young enough to have some teeth not in yet. Failing in her mission, it was off to the emergency room for me. Sitting in the emergency room bed, mom asked me what was on my pants. I had forgotten that I drew on my jeans with a pencil that day, something for which I would normally be in a great deal of trouble, but lucky for me I was injured seriously enough to be in the hospital emergency room. Go me.

The stitched up my lip and my chin, and the fun began. As it turns out, my sister would never have been able to find my tooth. The reason my lip was split was because my tooth was in it, which the doctor so thoughtfully had stitched into it. They wanted to put me under and perform surgery to extract it, but fortunately, I had plans for my annual visit to my aunt. That week, the tooth worked its way out of my lip naturally, without pain, without blood, and without the need for a general anesthetic.

But the most fun, by far, was the root canal. Sitting in the dentist chair, the pain was the least objectionable part. The high-pitched sound of the drill, the endless “just a little more” from the dentist, the sight and smell of smoke; horrible. I ended up with caps on both of my front teeth, caps that would plague me for years as every year, one of them or the other would fall out. Finally, in graduate school some twenty years later a dentist cemented them in properly.

But I skipped too far ahead. About ten years after the incident, when I was, oh, twentyish I guess, I was home visiting from college. Mom was kind of sucking on one of her teeth, like something was bothering her. “Mom, is everything okay?” I asked. “I think I chipped a tooth,” she replied.

“WHAT? Don’t you think we should go see a dentist?”

“Why?” she asked.

“In case you need root canal,” I answered.

“Richard,” she said in her exasperated voice, “I wear dentures.”

Yup, dentures. She grew up in an era where, if there were dental issues, they were just as likely to pull all of the teeth out as opposed to trying to fix them, which they did. Heck, they used to give full dental extraction as gifts back then. My mother had full dentures, and I never knew.

I guess we all have our secrets, though. Those dirty little things about ourselves that we try to avoid letting leak out. For my mom, her dentures were one of several major secrets that I would not learn until my late teens or early twenties. And yes, I have mine as well. I try to be as open and honest as I can, but there are things I could never let anybody know, things that have me so ashamed that I cannot reveal them, and I cannot let go. But I will tell you that the more secrets I do reveal, the better I feel. I would like to someday be able to unload all of them, but until them I hide behind my mask. As we all do.

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