By Leah Scheitel
I was once known for my teeth: perfectly straight and naturally charming. I have been complimented on my “tooth to gum ratio” more than once, and they were the envy of all of my friends who had to suffer through years of orthodontist appointments and braces that made puberty even shittier. Simply put, they were my best feature.
One night in early April of 2013, I had some friends over for a dinner party. It felt like an Odd Couples party – my good friends Andy and Holly, Facto and his date Monica, and me and this guy Graham, who I never want to date, let alone sleep with. We are too similar and it would get messy.
We made plates of nachos and drank bottles of booze, or at least I did. I had more than my share of gin, which was a mistake that I will never forget making, no matter how hard I try. After the third plate of nachos, it was decided that we should meet some friends at the Rumpus Room, a bar about 10 blocks directly west of my apartment. Andy was sober and had a spot saved for me in his car, but as I saw Facto and Monica grab their bikes, I decided that I wanted to bike with them. It wasn’t even a block later when Facto yelled at me.
“Leah, slow the fuck down! You’re not wearing a helmet.”
I looked back, with the intention of telling him to shut the fuck up, and I didn’t see a speed bump in the middle of the road. From what I understand, I hit the speed up with way too much momentum, which–ironically–those things are designed to control. It jammed up my gears and I swerved into a parked car. I took the side mirror clean off with my shoulder and my face before eating a mouthful of pavement. It must have been bad, for all I remember is Facto holding my bloody head in his hands, just repeating that everything was going to be okay. I was hysterically laughing and demanding that no one tell my mother.
“Oh man,” I said in between fits of laughter, “I had such nice teeth. Please don’t tell my mom.”
While this was going on, Monica was collecting the bits of teeth that she could from the pavement and a lady in the neighbourhood called 911. Even a ride in an ambulance couldn’t stop my laughing and crying combination. I don’t remember much from that exact time, but Facto admitted that it gave him nightmares for months. I gave my friend a stress disorder from seeing me knock my teeth out and then laugh as if I was in the front row during an Eddie Murphy stand-up routine.
From that moment on, my life will be forever split into two eras: before the crash and after the crash.
Most people think that it just took a few teeth away. I wish that were the case. It took so much of my confidence with it. It’s an odd experience, to lose something so inherently valuable and that is so easily taken for granted. But when you can’t bite into an apple, let alone any solid food for nearly two years, you realize how fucking important teeth actually are. They are not just decorative pieces dangling out of your mouth.
I spent the rest of the night in the emergency wing of Vancouver General Hospital. I received four stitches in my chin, bandages on my left shoulder, and braces on my remaining teeth to reduce the damage to them and to splint them. I had broken nearly all of them at the root, and it is just like a broken arm, where they have to be braced and unused to heal, which meant seven weeks on a liquid diet and a shit-ton of pain pills.
Throughout the night, Facto and friends wouldn’t leave the hospital. They stayed, without water, and waited for every update that they could gather from the rather rude nurses. If you ever want to feel true love, knock out your teeth. It makes friendships sparkle in the perfect light, where they love you and always will.
I called my brother from the hospital bed around 4 a.m. and explained through a shattered mouth what had happened.
“You have to make me laugh about this,” I cried. “Nothing in my life can never not be funny. The only way I can do this is by laughing at it, and you have full right to mock me about my trailer park mouth for the rest of my life.”
I don’t think there has been a moment where I have made my brother that proud. He says he’s going to get that engraved in my tombstone.
I thought it was going to be a hard couple of months, I would get a surgery, and have the teeth put in, like Chiclets or something. And here I am, 18 months later, facing two more surgeries on top of the two I’ve already had, and still toothless. My mouth has changed every six weeks for the past year and a half, I have no idea what a normal mouth feels like anymore. Is it supposed to be swollen, and have bits of bone excreting from it? I can’t tell.
I put on a brave face, and went tree-planting for the season. In retrospect, it was the best thing I could have done. This accident had taken away my ability to eat, to do any sort of physical activity, and to sleep properly. And because of the amount of codeine I was on, it took away my ability to have a decent bowel movement. I needed to gain some control back, and planting was the perfect answer for that. And I also needed to make money, as I was facing a mounting dental bill that would ultimately accumulate to more than a down payment for a house in the Vancouver real estate bubble.
Throughout this especially shitty time, I wasn’t without some good luck. My planting crew turned out to be miracle workers, and had a day dedicated towards raising money for my dental bills. The “Plant for Leah’s Smile” day raised over $5000, with many planters giving away an entire day’s wage to me. The amount of love and support I received is outstanding, and something that I hope to be able to show to others. And while I put on a good face and smiled my toothless grin as best I could, I was beginning to hate myself. All of this was my fault, and keeping myself busy was my answer to never dealing with the guilt of a drunken mistake. I was festering in my guilt, and I felt so ugly without my teeth. It didn’t matter how many people said that the teeth were cool or how many bad blow job jokes I made, I was rotting in an emotional mess.
These rotting emotions are something I’ve never been able to openly talk about, and therefore my ability to articulate them isn’t sharp. It’s hard to explain the levels of self-hatred for an injury that was so easily avoidable. I could have had one less drink, or accepted the ride to the bar from Andy, or passed out on my couch. But my stupid decision caused so much unnecessary pain. Not just for me, but for my mother, who I’m sure spent her inheritance on my mouth. And it cost me a year in the dentist chair, time which would have been better spent counting ceiling tiles, picking my ass or doing literally anything else except letting them pry away at my mouth with their torture tools.
It also cost me what was left of my depleted self-esteem. This is often overlooked, but shouldn’t be underestimated, and I ventured into a dark place after the accident.
The first guy to sleep with me after my accident did so days after my first surgery, where my mouth still had sutures in it. I was convinced that he did so purely out of pity and purely for money from my friends, who knew how badly I needed some affection. Even now, after I’ve asked all of them, they deny it and I don’t believe them.
My teeth became the mascot for my already low self-esteem. While I made a show and pretended to be strong, I was wilting on the inside, and no one, with the exception of my counselor and my mother, was any the wiser. Ultimately, I think this may have backfired on me in the end, for when I actually needed help for the little heartbreaks that occurred throughout the year, most people thought, “Nah, Leah’s got this. She’s dealt with things much greater than this. She’s conquered her mouth.”
To say that it doesn’t bother me when I see my checkered smile in the mirror would be a complete lie — it still does, and I’m not over it. But at least I can say that I’m trying to work on it. The accident wasn’t without it’s fucked up blessings, and I’m grateful for them, such as being able to have a conversation topic anywhere I go, and giving me a silent resolve when things get shitty. But I also don’t want to hold a blind optimism that this will make me a better person, and everything will be okay in the end because I can’t say for sure if it will. And, instead of being heartbroken and disappointed that fixing my mouth doesn’t fix the holes in my esteem, I’d rather be prepared for that. There will come a day that I can’t blame my shitty dating life on an ugly mouth. I wonder what I will do about it then.
It’s been a year since I wrote this essay, and have since completed the new and “improved” mouth. My last dentist appointment was August 4, 2015, and to be honest, I miss the dentist chair. It became a level of comfort that I can’t explain, but when my dentist, with his “dad-bod” would press up on my mouth to adjust my plastic pearly whites, causing my head to float into his belly, I started to purr. It was never sexual, ever. Just this strange sort of comfort that no one but him could give me. And I miss it.
This mouth thing is going to be an issue for me for the rest of my life. Even now, when I’m living with teeth so great that I get compliments on it, I get easily offended, and tell people to backpedal from that $45,000 comment they just made. Now, people just want to tell me how great my smile looks and all I want to tell them about in return is how shitty it was, which takes away from the charisma of a conversation. I don’t mean to be a downer, but when people take my teeth for granted, or tell me how pretty my smile is, I take offense, because it wasn’t always this way and it took so long to make my shitty mistake okay again.
And in case you were curious, my dating life sucks, a year and a half later, proving men are more complicated and sensitive than a broken mouth.