Bent Words

Bent Words

July 17, 2007

It was dark. So dark I needed the aid of the accessory lights while putting up the poles for the pontoon’s cover. When I exited from underneath and stepped onto the small space on the bow of the boat which was not yet covered, I carefully joined two more snaps and then stood up.

“That was easier than I expected!” I exclaimed before turning toward the pier where my father stood.

As I stepped forward, my right foot slipped on the edge of the pier and caught the space in the water between the boat and the pier while the rest of my body throttled forward and downward until my jaw and my left arm met the pier with such force that it caused the world to flash bright white before my eyes.

My teeth. My jaw. My God, my teeth. Pain, shooting throughout my head, and it was so fast and so brutal that I wasn’t sure I was breathing.

“Dad, I lost my teeth.”


“I lost my teeth!”

“I didn’t know you had fake teeth!”

“No! I broke my teeth! They’re gone.”

My father untangled my right leg, which was soaked, from the rope holding the boat to the pier. He then tried to pull me up off the pier and I screamed as loud as I could.

“NO! My shoulder is out! My other shoulder came out, Dad. I can’t move!”

“Oh, no. Just lay there – I’m going to get your mother.”

After he walked over me and ran up to the house, I began to calm down. I heard myself grunting. I ran my tongue over the jagged area where my front teeth had been. I winced and continued to lay face down for a bit. Then I heard a voice in my head telling me to get up. To just get up so I could reset my shoulder. Go ahead. Get. Up.

Three painful and failed attempts later, I finally pushed my body into a hunched position and allowed my dislocated arm to hang down over the side of pier. I squealed and the dead weight of my arm brought it back to its socket. I moved it – just to be sure.

I stumbled off of the pier and, once I saw my parents running toward me, I fell onto the grass. I was exhausted and I felt sick. I became warm and lightheaded, ready to fall asleep. The buzzing in my head began and although my mother and father were kneeling directly over me, I wondered where they were going since their voices became so faint, so far away. I looked over toward the lit house and didn’t see them. I thought I would take a nap until they arrived, until they—

My mother was slapping my face, telling me not to go to sleep.

Then I started crying.

“Mom! My teeth are gone.”

I felt foolish. The X-ray nurse wheeled me down a deserted hallway, away from my parents waiting in the ER and posited me in front of a room where machines buzzed and glowed against bland, cream colored walls.

My smock wasn’t tied in the back, I told her, careful to cover my mouth. She said she would fix it. I was barely able to rise to my feet for the pain in my leg and she paused, considered having me X-rayed while lying down, but I told her, while shielding the sight of my mouth from her view, that I could do if we just took our time.

I felt foolish, looking down at my silver polished toe nails. Foolish for having painted my toes when my jaw could broken. Foolish for not choosing more conservative underwear as she tied the back of my smock, foolish for saying “sorry” twenty times as though I had taken a nose-dive on purpose. Foolish for having dislocated my left arm as I had done almost exactly two years earlier to my right. I felt foolish that my poor parents had to endure all of this unnecessary agony just because I was clumsy.

Foolish for what John would think – just another accident to go with the long string of hospital visits he had endured. I resolved not to call him, although I wanted to – desperately.

I decided that I would be alone forever, just to spare whoever the misery of my misfortune.

Five needles, four stitches, a few X-rays and no broken bones. My right leg was so bruised and so swollen, it looked like someone had shoved a grapefruit under my skin. My lower jaw hurt so badly that I could barely talk. My arm begged to dislocate again so I held it close my body, hoping the throbbing would just ease up enough so I could remove a stray hair from my face.

I would not look at my teeth. The ER doctor didn’t even know that I had broken them until he saw the X-rays of my jaw. I had kept them covered the whole time. Partly because of the pain, partly because I didn’t want the world to see what had initially made my parents gasp. Besides, I could feel it – the sharp edges, the new space, the exposed nerves – with my tongue.

Before we left at 3:00AM, I had to go to the bathroom. I saw my face. I cried.

I had to go back to work. I had two exams to take. I had a world full of people to spook with my new ‘smile.’ What smile? More like a horror film. And what would I tell them? I fell. I had felt fine before the fall. Sure, I had a few drinks while sitting with my parents, while watching the annual fireworks out on the lake, but I had taken it easy since I was studying from the moment I arrived to their house. I had been planning to get some more cramming in before the end of the evening.

But I knew I would see it in his eyes. It wouldn’t just be an accident. He would look at me and say I was twisted. He would look at me and decide I was just a wreck waiting to happen. He would decide he was lucky – not having to put up with all this bullshit anymore. He would feel relieved, free and spared of a duty he didn’t want to perform. No more heavy objects to move, no more groceries to carry, no more sympathy to impart, no more concern to burden himself with. He would shake his head, from side to side, knowing all along that I was just a big bundle of destruction. He would want the story but not the trouble nor the obligation. And I would search his eyes and wonder if he ever really cared at all or if he was just really good at turning himself OFF.

I feared this – seeing him today – almost as much as the thought of not having teeth.

I feared the fact that I would define myself as he has defined me. Broken.

But I am not beyond repair. I am not destroyed. I am not done yet. And, perhaps, comparatively, I’m even better off.

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for the solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on this earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could." Ouise Erdrich, The Painted Drum (274).

Written at 9:45 p.m.