Broken Teeth

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When I run my tongue along the top of my teeth I find jagged edges. If I push down hard, bits crumble away. I try not to smile or laugh in front of other people. Whenever I speak I take my hand to my face and cover my mouth. I rest the tip of my fingers on my top lip so no one can see the yellow-brown incisors or the black line that runs down the centre of my front tooth.

My sister has a gold tooth in front, half her front tooth, shiny gold. She does not put her hand to her mouth. Her teeth are in good order, even with the gold. The gold is a sign of good repair. She does as she is told. She goes to the dentist. But I keep my pain a secret.
I know when the ache is coming, when the raw nerve pulses underneath the flaky layer of tooth, all that is left of my big back munching teeth. I smear on a glob of ice-cold toothpaste, minty fresh, as a way of killing the pain.

At night, I cover my head with my pillow. I roll from side to side. I roll my head over and over to block out the ache. I do not go to the dentist because the dentist will look into my mouth and he will say,
‘What have we here? You haven’t been cleaning your teeth, have you?’ And I will blush. The roots of my hair will tingle; a shiver will run down from my scalp to my armpits. They will itch and prickle. And I will want to shut my mouth fast, snap like a turtle, snap. Get your hands out of there, I will say. Do not touch me.
‘If he touches you scream,’ my sister says.

My father touches her. I know. I see him at night. He comes into our bedroom. We sleep in beds one beside the other. Up and down beds. Long brown beds. Good strong solid beds. There is a passageway that runs between them, a dark river of space, which my father fills in the night when he visits. The door opens and he pads in bare feet across the open river of floor.
I turn to face the wall. I squeeze my eyes shut. I am an aching tooth, the raw nerves exposed, waiting for my turn.

But he does not come to me. He goes to her. The rustle of blankets, the murmurs, the sighs. The soft in-breath, out-breath. The silence. And then he is gone. My sister snuffles in her bed. She cries silent tears.

My sister is the chosen one. My sister with her crooked teeth, her plump body and her mouse brown hair. She is the one he loves. More than me, he loves her. More than me he chooses her, and more than me she grows fat and full of him.

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25 Comments on Broken Teeth

  1. jabblog
    June 2, 2011 at 1:54 pm (6 years ago)

    Even in the depths of fear and the following momentary relief, there is pain in not being the chosen one, in being rejected. Powerful writing, Elisabeth, and a sibling that's also a niece or nephew, maybe?
    I applaud you for writing out your anguish – I hope it helps you.

    Reply
  2. erin
    June 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm (6 years ago)

    oh. i don't know where to go within the great confusion of these emotions. i don't know where to go but to tell you i am here.

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  3. susan t. landry
    June 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm (6 years ago)

    a different pathway to the core narrative; it's so interesting what you're doing here. opening with the image of crumbling teeth, the disintegration of a facade of attractiveness, very effectively sets the emotional tone, the devastating conclusion.

    i have a friend who grew up in a similar situation, with a younger, "prettier" sister, and with the same result and the same horribly damaging emotional backlash: "if only i had been the pretty one, he would have chosen me."

    it's not difficult to imagine such a reaction, even if as adults we cry out against it, want to make it not so.

    and for my friend, and her sister, of course, so destructive. they are both well into adulthood now, with deep, invisible scars.

    brave, powerful writing, elisabeth.

    –susan

    Reply
  4. Ms. Moon
    June 2, 2011 at 5:05 pm (6 years ago)

    The layers of childhood sexual abuse are endless. The effects they have on the entire family are too.
    You have written about this wonderfully well.

    Reply
  5. Kirk
    June 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm (6 years ago)

    Wow. From the sudden and startling shift from the dentist's office to your father coming into your room, to your jealousy or envy (because you didn't quite understand what was going on?) toward your sister, this is poweful stuff.

    Reply
  6. Isabel Doyle
    June 3, 2011 at 7:08 am (6 years ago)

    I can quite understand the connection between dentists and rape. The mouth is also a private hidden place forced to reveal.

    You are a brave writer and human to publish these glimpses of horror.

    Reply
  7. Marshall Stacks
    June 3, 2011 at 7:11 am (6 years ago)

    'She is the one he loves. More than me, he loves her.'

    oh Elisabeth you KNOW incest is not about love.

    The dentist will not admonish when he looks in a mouth like that he sees $5000 worth of work coming his way.

    Reply
  8. steven
    June 3, 2011 at 10:47 am (6 years ago)

    elisabeth – the sharp edge of pain exposed so clearly here that the word "contusion" hissed its way into my head even as i read. steven

    Reply
  9. River
    June 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm (6 years ago)

    {{hugs}}. This must be so hurtful to write, to relive. But writing like this is also therapeutic, getting it off your chest as it were, even though the memories will never really leave.

    I get annoyed with dentists too, who tell me I haven't looked after my teeth, when the many, many, large, fillings upon fillings clearly show that I've tried to save them. Then they tell me I'm brushing vey well, because the teeth and gums are so clean. Huh!

    Reply
  10. Christine Robinson
    June 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm (6 years ago)

    That is an unthinkable kind of horror that would haunt forever. That such monstrosities can pervade every aspect of who we are – from dental care to professional outlook – it's criminal.

    Thank you for writing and sharing such profound and personal pain. I hope you feel the compassion that results, and that those who've experience similar oppression find some bond in this writing.

    Christine

    Reply
  11. Marylinn Kelly
    June 3, 2011 at 5:56 pm (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth, Such a vivid handling, such intuitive connection of shame to shame. Reading this gives me, perhaps, some understanding why my younger sister stopped speaking to me. She will be 61 this year and for most of our lives we were, I thought, good friends. I continue to pay the price for having been the one chosen, only to pay further in the loss of her. I have yet to able to write publicly of these things. Your courage is remarkable.

    Reply
  12. Ellen
    June 4, 2011 at 12:10 am (6 years ago)

    I don't know of incest, only what I have read. But I know hurt, pain, and the inevitable question of was it something I did or didn't do. That you have the heart and soul to heal and go forward is healing. I am moved by what you write.

    Reply
  13. Enchanted Oak
    June 4, 2011 at 12:40 am (6 years ago)

    Good use of metaphor. Such a small snippet of writing, but It springs out of the words just like a Jack in the Box.

    Reply
  14. Annotated Margins
    June 4, 2011 at 7:31 am (6 years ago)

    wow! A gripping piece of writing… sent shivers down my skin.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    June 4, 2011 at 11:01 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the kind words everyone: Janice, Erin, Susan, Ms Moon, Kirk, Isabel, Helena, Laoch, Steven, River, Christine, Marylinn, Ellen, Enchanted Oak and Mike.

    This is one of those posts where it's hard to know what to write to each and everyone, without reaching into truisms.

    And so I think it best simply to acknowledge you all and to thank you. I'm glad this piece of writing resonated for you.

    Reply
  16. Rob-bear
    June 5, 2011 at 9:09 am (6 years ago)

    Gutsy writing about pain — and pains. I hope your writing helps you sort out the experiences and emotions.
    Blessings and (gentle) Bear hugs.

    Reply
  17. Jerry
    June 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm (6 years ago)

    I've hesitated commenting for fear that my words would sound shallow. First of all — your writing was exquisite, haunting and soul gripping. Second, and I'm not even sure if this was metaphorical or not — but visit a dentist and explain that you are not there for criticism but rather for you to work together to make your teeth right. A dentist would be pleased and helpful. Finally, no matter the circumstance — to feel that your father abandoned you for another is a devastating rip into your psyche. Few understand the interaction between fathers and daughters. One of the keys of self appreciation is to know that a father approves or and accepts a daughter.

    And now — knowing that you understand this and can write about it is a little bit liberating, I suspect. I hope that you are discovering your value, and continually do so. It will never go away, but perhaps its importance in your life will lessen.

    Warmest and kindest wishes.

    Reply
  18. Jim Murdoch
    June 6, 2011 at 10:49 am (6 years ago)

    I don’t have a great deal to say this time other than this is a marked improvement on the previous telling. The inclusion of the teeth metaphor adds another level of understanding and a separate way into the text. The key section though is the advice your sister gives about the dentist’s probing that, when it comes to her father’s intrusions, she found herself unable to comply with. Then of course we have the pains you both had to endure, yours primarily physical, hers mainly physiological. Then again, which is worse, the pain experienced in the dentist’s chair or the imagined pain? I would suggest the latter. Since you’ve included this layer there’s also the opportunity to use the imagery still further I think. By that I mean that the passageway can instead become a cavity, a hole that your father fills. Also waiting rooms are part and parcel of dentists’ practices. That is another area that can be mined, you and your sister waiting, because no doubt you went to visit the dentist together as children and neither of you would know what he was going to do to you, if anything. In the dentist’s chair you would have been the one to get the most attention but in the bedroom it was your sister.

    Reply
  19. persiflage
    June 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm (6 years ago)

    Too much to bear, Elisabeth. Far too much.Such iniquity. People used to say 'It does not bear thinking about." But how to be free of it?

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2011 at 10:56 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for the kind words, Jerry. As you suggest, I know how important a father's positive appraisal of his daughter is for that daughter's future feelings of self worth and how things can go astray in its absence.

    Thanks, Jerry

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2011 at 10:59 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks jim. Delicate spaces and places these metaphors as you would know. i too haven't a great deal more to say other than to acknowledge your helpful comments here, about the writing that is.

    I feel sorry for dentists. They get such a bad press. All these horror stories from traumatised individuals.

    Thanks, jim.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    June 7, 2011 at 11:00 am (6 years ago)

    I think that writing helps us to be free of the iniquity, Persiflage. It's amazing how writing about things can alter your perspective.
    Thanks for your kind thoughts here.

    Reply
  23. Kath Lockett
    June 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth I've read this a few times over the past several days, utterly unsure of how to respond or comment.

    How I wish that you (or anyone) did not have the actual experience in order to write about this so hauntingly. Clumsy comment I know but if I ever met you I'd hug you. Tightly.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    June 16, 2011 at 10:24 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for your kind comment here, Kath. It's often hard to respond to life that screams at you to pay attention and at the same time insists you remain silent.

    I share your quandary.

    Reply

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