Chippy, Cracky, Blacky and Can-Opener…
Those were the names of my four front teeth before I had them fixed. They were vile and disgusting. I became so self-conscious I would rarely smile and would speak with my hand over my mouth to hide them from sight.
Things didn’t start out this way. Up until grade nine I had “normal” teeth. I never needed braces and my check-ups always went well. One day, as I was walking to the lunchroom (not watching where I was going) someone opened a door into my face. It hurt like a motherfucker. There was a lot of blood. My journey to becoming a tooth fairy had begun.
Once the swelling went down and I was able to examine the aftermath of the attack – ok, the “accident” – my heart sank. Chippy and Cracky were born. Blacky didn’t start out as Blacky but progressed from grey to slightly darker grey to “Oh My God my tooth is really getting grey” to its final, inevitable incarnation over the course of several years. Can Opener was an evolution as well, the result of a tooth that slowly turned sideways until it resembled the sharp blade used to cut the lid from cans.
This was my new mouth and my new reality. I was ugly.
My challenging choppers prevented me from fully expressing myself. My dreams of being an actor were shelved. My extroverted personality slowly turned in on itself. My self-esteem plummeted. I became so obsessed with my own mess of a mouth that I effectively began to shut the rest of the world out.
Being gay, especially young and gay is hard enough without the added burden of terrible teeth. I was not promiscuous but it wasn’t by choice. It’s hard to pick someone up when you refuse to open your mouth.
I got my new teeth in my mid thirties and contrary to expectations my life was not suddenly “perfect”. It took a long time to unlearn the bad habits – internally and externally – that I had developed. My new pearly porcelains were straight and gleaming white and much to my dismay hardly anyone noticed. I had defined myself with Chippy, Blacky, Cracky and Can Opener but nobody else had.
I was inclined to write about this when the other day one of my crowns snapped off leaving me looking like a toothless hillbilly – ok, a gay toothless hillbilly! On the way to the dentist I bumped into an old “friend” and found myself instantly reverting back to old habits. My hand came up to cover my mouth and I had difficulty maintaining eye contact; the feelings of shame and ugliness all came flooding back.
Ultimately we all want to be comfortable in our own skin. We want to “love ourselves just the way we are” and not care what others think of us. I am so in awe of those people who just don’t give a damn, who have learned (or been taught) that they are perfect just the way they are.
I am not there yet. I, like most of us, still wear my mask. I’ll continue to (slowly) chip away at its confines, a work in progress until the end.