Have you ever had a friend with whom you could say the worst things – not about other people or even yourself, but about life, about life itself? Terry is that friend for me.
Terry slapped a hand against his cheek, the one that had been so egregiously affronted by the broken tooth. He nearly flung himself from his chair. He swore some more.
A lot, actually: “Fuck, fuck, fuck! I have nothing now! Nothing! My teeth were all I had!”
“Your teeth – ?” I began.
Terry elabourated: “When I’m an old man and I have nothing else and I’m fetid and I’m dying and my kids have abandoned me and I’ve lost all my money and all my hair, I figured at least I’d have my teeth! Now what the fucking hell do I have? Nothing, nothing. Ass.”
I looked at Mae. “You probably won’t even make it to old age, Terry,” I said. “You can die tomorrow and with your teeth busted, it’d come out the same. That’s better than it sounds, isn’t it?”
“I could have been an old man with great teeth! That would have been…More than, better then -” he lost his train of thought. “Ow!”
Stephen sipped his drink.
Vain people are everywhere: places where you look and places you’d never think to look. I don’t know if that’s anyone’s fault. And maybe they are not so much vain people, but people that are vain about something. Who knows?
But ever know anyone vain about their teeth? Who, for example, brushed them vigorously in the morning and at night, who, for instance, flossed so religiously it was sacrilegious, it was obscene, and who, as a matter of pure fact, guarded them as carefully as a mother hen, as a tigress does their precious offspring?
Terry was very proud of his teeth; Terry was that proud of his teeth. And I’ll admit, up until then, they had been perfect: bright, gleaming, evenly spaced, with a good tooth-to-gum ratio. They reminded me of white picket fences, of flawless, snow-capped peaks, of Freud. The impression they left was one better than that of mere possibility, or potential: it was of defiance itself.
Understand. For Terry, losing one tooth (even a partial loss) was as bad – worse even – than losing them all.
Terry and I once watched Teeth (2007), a movie about a girl whose vagina dentata is first her only defence then her best weapon against her attackers; men close to her and also strangers; men who molest, assault, rape.
“The teeth,” Terry had said about it. “At least she has her teeth.”
And here we were now: a bubble tea restaurant where Terry could not say the same for himself.
Oh well. “Terry,” I said. “You might as well suck it up.”
Terry spat out each word: “Suck. It. Up?” So much for being amiable.
“Fine. Lose all your teeth, why the fuck not? Knock the rest of them out for all that they’re worth now, crumple up into the gutter ass-up and die.” I’m never sure if I’m more or less articulate when I’m mad, or approaching it.
Terry’s mouth twitched. “I can’t afford to go to the dentist. What if this ends up hurting all the time?”
Ah. “What doesn’t?”
I am now reminded of the time when I was in the fourth grade and I begged my mom to take me to the dentist because my teeth felt loose. I’d grab a tooth and wriggle and it honestly felt like my teeth, all of them, were not properly attached to the rest of me. I was terrified of losing them (again, see Freud…or maybe, actually Jung?). More: I was convinced I would lose them merely because it was a possibility. The dentist thought I was insane. My mom, who has a hard time believing allergies (read: other people’s) are real, concurred. Did she ever. A lot, actually. It hurt.
And Terry, finally, let it go. Insomuch as someone like Terry could “let it go” at a time like that.
In any case, he stopped complaining as much (that is, as much as he could have).
“I guess I really can die tomorrow.”
It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse. Hope for the worst so that anything less than that has to be better. Sometimes that’s even more than you can ask for.
(Most times, you’re not even in a position to ask.)
Terry knows that, and so do I.