February 15, 2019. 5:43 a.m.
My mouth is on the sidewalk.
Regular, high quality dental care is a privilege to which I have always had access. Twice per year, without fail, a dentist has snapped off his gloves at the end of my cleaning appointments and said, in a congratulatory tone, “Beautiful teeth, keep up the good brushing.” At the age of twenty-four, I have never had a single cavity. Yet, “teeth stuff” has long been on my list of semi-irrational fears.
I shuddered for days after watching the curb stomp scene in American History X.
I laid down Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns for a bit after reading the scene where a cruel husband shoves pebbles into his wife’s mouth and forces her to chew them, crushing her teeth.
When Luke absentmindedly clicks his teeth together, I cringe and squeal “WHY?!?”
And as I sobbed and bled into the sink, I wailed, “You know how I feel about teeth stuff!”
At 4:35 a.m. on February 15, I opened my eyes, immediately wide awake. This is the moment I replay in my memory most often: I checked the time and thought, Oh. I could make it to 6 a.m. yoga. I mean, I could, but I could also go to the 9 a.m. class. But it’s also good to try new things. I should have stayed in bed. I wish I had stayed in bed.
Ultimately, I convinced myself to get up by thinking that no one ever regrets going to yoga. So they say. By 5:40 a.m., I was in the living room lacing up my boots, grabbing my water bottle, and tucking my blue yoga mat under my arm. I paused for an instant before reaching for my keys. Don’t be a slug. Go. The night before had been a bit rainy, so I started down the front steps cautiously, but they were matte and dry.
I don’t remember falling. There was no fumbling, no gasping, no flailing about. I simply took one step onto the sidewalk and was suddenly on my belly, a solid sheet of black ice underneath me. There wasn’t even time even to drop my things: as I realized I had landed on the ground, one hand still gripped my water bottle and the other still had my yoga mat and keys. My mouth broke the fall.
For a split second, I began to laugh at myself, setting out to attend a class in grace, balance, and strength but not even making it to the car. In the next second, though, it became clear that nothing here was a laughing matter. Pushing up off the ground, I touched my mouth. My bottom lip felt ragged and drops of blood fell heavily into my hand.
My tongue moved forward to survey the damaged lip and caught on a sharp edge, a square hole in the straight line of my top teeth.
Hyperventilating, I fumbled around in the dark for the keys and other things and hobbled/ran back inside, blood dripping all the while.
“LUKE! Luke, help me!” I threw everything to the floor, stripped off my coat. “Luke!”
“Baby! I’m coming!” He burst out of our bedroom. “What’swrongwhathappened?!”
Covering my mouth, I cried, “I fell and I broke—WAIT, no, don’t look, I have to see first!” I rushed past him into the bathroom and locked the door.
“Sadie! Sadie, let me in!”
I looked in the mirror and opened my mouth.
“NO!!!! OHMYGOD NO!!!!”
The bottom half of my left front tooth was completely gone.
“OHMYGOD I LOOK LIKE A CARTOON,” I bawled, spitting blood into the sink. “I DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE! I’M SO UGLY!”
For the next five minutes, I howled and spat blood and thought frantically about curb stomps and chewing pebbles and the snap of a dentist’s gloves and how twenty-four years without a cavity couldn’t save me from falling on my face and breaking a tooth clean out of my head.
“Sadie, Sadie, can I please come in?”
Face bowed into the sink, I reached out and twisted the doorknob. Without a word, he stepped in and started to rub my back.
“This was my whole fear, you know how I feel about teeth stuff! It’s broken, my front tooth just broke in half!”
“I’m so sorry, baby.”
The spitting blood and depths of despair carried on for another ten hysterical minutes. Worse events have befallen better people, I know, but in the moment, it was the lowest point of my life.
We put on our coats and set out for the emergency room, walking carefully down the front steps and moving like molasses as we eased onto the sidewalk. I stopped where I had fallen, pulled out my phone, and flicked on the flashlight.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to find my fucking tooth.”
It had frozen onto the ice and had to be pried off with my fingernails. I didn’t keep it for long. Seeing it made me nauseous, so I “forgot” it as we left the dentist’s office hours later.
There’s no feel-good ending or silver lining to this story aside from the fact that I am fortunate enough to continue to have access to dental care. In the past two months, a combination of composite material, root canals, and braces has put my smile on the mend, but I still await the day when I can walk down my front steps without clutching my pearls.
Sadie Burgher (‘17) graduated with degrees in environmental studies and writing and has spent the past year working in libraries. She loves essential oils, books, and the idea of getting fit. She is married to Luke, and they make their nest in Grand Rapids, MI.