Sorry cinefiles, I'm not talking about the shark movie. In honor of the fact that it's "snip day" for Thunderhead, I thought it would be a good time to tell another tooth misery story. Earlier this year, I told you about my battle with orthodontia. In there, I mentioned that one of the lines I was fed was that if I had my wisdom teeth out, my headaches would go away. Fast forward a couple decades, and we see how well that worked out. Well, this is the story of the week or so in the summer of 1995 after I had them removed.
I had just graduated from high school and was staring down the barrel of my last summer before going off to college. I had been accepted to a very small, very snooty private college on the east coast. Come to find out, at the time, I was the only student they'd ever had from Nebraska. (My experience with being a novelty isn't new.) No pressure. I got this.
My summer was a whirlwind of falling in and out of love, weekends full of moments in the name of "the last hurrah before college" and buttoning up life in Omaha before I packed it up for Pennsylvania. One of those things on the checklist was I needed to have my wisdom teeth out.
My folks made the appointment. The only involvement I had was to answer "Fuck yes!" to the question of "Do you want to be sedated for the procedure?". I remember getting onto some sort of bed. I don't recall if it was a gurney or an exam table. The next thing I knew, I was slowly waking up in recovery. I had no more blinked twice when the nurse said "Oh good, you're awake. Go rinse your mouth."
I shuffled down the hall, musing between "I think a medical professional just told me to go wash my mouth out." and "Why couldn't they clean up themselves when they were in there?". In the bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror, I discover the surgeon's mom must have never taught him to clean up his room. There were bone chips and clots all over my mouth. As I gargled and spit, it looked like the aftermath of getting a little enthusiastic about earning my red wings in the sink. I think it's fair to say that this set the tone for the next couple weeks.
I expected a few days of soft foods. I'd asked my mom to stock up on pudding, noodles, and soup ahead of time. After about 4 days into having nothing but semi-solids to eat, I got pretty tired of it. You can only have so many banana slices before you want a steak. That's when I discovered I couldn't open my mouth. I'd get it open just far enough that I could have stuck my knuckle between my teeth, but no further. I didn't notice before because you don't need your jaws to do too much work when you're sipping soup or eating jello. But, my craving for something I actually had to chew proved I had an obstacle or two I needed to overcome.
Over the next few days, I worked on opening my mouth wider and wider. My best guess is that because they'd propped my mouth open for the time they needed to perform the surgery, my jaw was now rebelling and refusing to cooperate. Over the next few days, I slowly, I worked on getting those muscles and the joint to relax enough to open. It was like breaking through a bamboo doorstop stuck in a hinge. It creaked, crunched, and scared me more than a little that something was mechanically broken. I massaged the joint through my cheek. I tried to apply gentle pressure to my teeth using my thumb and index finger. I chopped my teeth together to build up momentum, hoping I could use the "body in motion" principle to force my jaw to cooperate. Nothing did much to help, and it was frustratingly slow going. To this day, I don't have a good answer for why I never went back to the oral surgeon to complain about my problem.
But, complain I did not. Well, at least to anybody who could do a damn thing about it. I'm sure I griped to those around me frequently. As the days of virtual lock jaw stretched out behind me like fresh bubblegum on an August sidewalk, my frustration simmered. I began to resent all mushy foods, griping that they were forcing me into the role of baby bird. Besides, this was the summer before I was to go away to college. and by away, I mean all the way to the East coast. There were times zones involved, fer Pete's sake! I was supposed to be out misbehaving, and there I was, on the couch, bitching at a single serving cup of Jello. My friends had had enough of that.
I don't even remember what movie we saw, or why we still had time to go to Burger King afterwards. But, what I do remember is that it was an evening where the humidity hung in the air like freshly laundered sweaters on the clothesline. The sun had mostly set, and the sky was green with impending weather; angry and frightening like mean drunk home from a bender. I remember the lightening, slithering from cloud to cloud like some sort of harbinger eel.
What possessed me to step up to the counter and order a goddamned Whopper that night, I will never know. I had just been in a movie, stuffing popcorn into my mouth one kernel at a time. Logically, I should have known better and gone with the chicken nuggets. However, my irritation level had reached its peak. When that happens, the results tends towards emulating a truck full of roman candles in a Zippo factory.
When my order came up, I grabbed my plastic tray and half trotted, half stomped to the back of the dining area where my friends had chosen to sit. This particular Burger King had a glassed in solarium. My friends chose to sit there so we could all watch the weather roll in. The wind had picked up, and the meager trees in the parking lot islands were swaying in its gale. With that as our backdrop, we shared a meal together.
Well, they shared, I swore. Try as I might, that burger was proving to be impossible to eat. Before my first attempted bite, I had treated my burger like a panini and squashed it in the waxed paper wrapping. Dripping mayo, tomato and mustard, I raised it to my mouth, only to discover my front teeth were still in the way. As my friends are eating, watching the rain sweep over the parking lot in waves, I was focused on my damnation. The dietetic downfall in my hands was winning!
I don't remember what it was that caused my friends to stop talking and start staring. Maybe I was growling. Maybe I was swearing. Maybe it was that I had a bread, condiment, and meat smoothie in my hands that I was not able to eat. However, whatever the reason, suddenly the hail and raindrops the size of dimes, and the drumming of the storm on the windows all around us was no longer as interesting. They were intent on watching me, tears streaming down my face, frustrated, and trying to pry my jaws open enough to get a taste of that illicit burger.
With my thumb on my lower teeth and my index finger on my upper, and through curses and crying, I tried to force my jaws open. At first, I applied gentle pressure. Then, I got angry and used that as my motivation to really get to prying. Were there a crowbar in the room, I might have resorted to using that. My jaws might as well have belonged to Dorothy's Tin Man, they were not budging. So, there I sat, puffy faced, snotty nosed, and hungry in front of an uneaten and mangled meal.
I don't remember how it all ended. Maybe I tore of small pieces of that whopper and shoved them into my mouth. Maybe I forced my friends to sit and wait for me to finish because I was stubborn enough to eat the whole damn thing in bite sized pieces. I'm pretty sure I didn't have a Tasmanian Devil episode. I mean, it's not like I was escorted from the property in handcuffs.
In the end, what became of the hamburger isn't important. That event set the tone for what would become a running theme in my adult life. I thrive on the ridiculous (in the entertaining sort of way), I don't tend to complain until I really have to, I'm stubborn, and larger than life, and react emotionally to the weirdest of things. Oh, and I have a terrible diet. That hasn't changed at all.