This localized pain discombobulates the entire left side of my mouth within (approximately) 24 hours time. Then this relatively intense pain continues for a few days or up to a week. (I just snapped at 'Sandy' a few minutes ago. I'll blame it on the pain.) I plan to go to the dentist after the holidays are over with, but right now I wish the pain would physically manifest itself so I could beat the living shit out of it. I hate that pain is just some diffuse, sort of relative nothingness. The causes for pain—and the biological processes that define it—can be spelled out, itemized, literalized. But pain itself is insubstantial—almost mystical-seeming if you tilt your head just right and squint.
We are told that pain is important to us, as organisms, because it tells us when something is wrong. It makes our health somewhat more difficult to ignore. (This applies to emotional pain and mental health just as well.) But despite all the ingenious features of the human physiology, I have to confess I've always felt a resentment toward the teeth. Yes, they are useful for chewing and tearing open plastic wrappers with, but on the whole, these little calcified nuggets are more of a bother than they seem worth. Nowadays—besides merely keeping them healthy—we have to worry about making sure they are fluorescently white and perfectly straight. If we're doing things right, we should be able to find our keys in the dark using only our glow-in-the-dark incisors for illumination. And doesn't that pristine white just look great against the orangey-brown self-tanned skin of the countless young white woman who've all but turned themselves into living, breathing 19th-century Negro caricatures? All they need is a kerchief and a watermelon rind and they could step with ease into an editorial cartoon of the Confederacy.
I don't care much about my teeth. This makes me perverse in our society. Or British. I have a bottom incisor that was actually pushed out of the lineup of teeth many years ago. Probably in my late teens. This particular tooth, as a result of whatever enmity or bigotry, was cast out of the good society of my other teeth and made to live out its days in the dental slums, just behind the others. Long ago, my family dentist wondered aloud if I might want to have it ground down so that it was even with the other teeth. Nah. My supermodel days are behind me, and I'll just have to settle for coasting on my intellect and stellar personality.
Even before my incisor was ostracized, I wore braces. It's what you do when you're a kid in suburbia. But I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for wearing my headgear, so one day in a hissy fit of sorts, my orthodontist Dr. Macri told me they were just going to remove my braces because I showed absolutely no interest in my dental aesthetics.
Great. You won't get any arguments from me.
My parents weren't exactly thrilled, but I think they sensed—like Vietnam—this was a futile and costly battle, and in the bigger scheme of things it probably wasn't all that important. Why should I have lovely teeth? It's not as if I'm a smiler. In fact, I think I'm much uglier than normal when I smile because it brings a strained unnaturalness to my face. My mouth, in its default position, without any exertion on my part, forms a particularly pouty frown. Because of this, I've lived a life constantly answering the question, 'What's wrong?'
Nothing's wrong. Well, actually, everything is wrong—but nothing is any more wrong than usual. This is just the way my face is.
I'm aware that eventually my teeth will probably end up looking like I'm a meth addict. This only bothers me when I remember I'm from Indiana—and then when I travel to big cities or foreign countries, they'll ask where I'm from, and I'll say, 'Indiana.' And then they'll look at my teeth—my meth addict teeth—and they'll think, 'Right. That makes sense.' But that's not why I have lousy teeth at all.
I have lousy teeth because I'm mad at them—because they cause so much trouble and are so expensive but they accomplish so little. It's spite. That's what it is.