I asked this question in a dream in conversation with Mrs Milanova one Sunday afternoon when we had elected to have a session out of the usual rhythm of our days.
This dream happened during the pandemic where it is not unusual to conduct therapy sessions over the phone. I wore headphones to drown out the presence of my younger siblings who morphed into my children when they were young. These children broke into the room of my childhood as I tried to talk to my analyst and threatened to interrupt.
Sometimes it was hard to hear her in this bedroom from my past, a sea of beds with little room in between, where we four young sisters slept, cheek by jowl. I moved from bed to bed, restlessly trying to find a way to be comfortable and as our conversation flowed I realised that Mrs Milanova sounded unusually cheerful and forthright.
‘You sound as though you’ve been out to a boozy lunch,’ I said to her some way into the conversation after we had talked at length about my struggles, about my energy, which she said was boundless, about how much it surprised her.
She pointed me in the direction of a paper she had written, which further alerted me to the fact that she was more disinhibited than usual. She would not as a matter of course refer to her own works as though she was promoting herself.
She was silent for a moment before she admitted to a gin or two with lunch and then reverted to form, only more stiffly.
I did not like her formality and tried to keep my own thoughts open and direct to bring her back. I saw my face in the mirror and as I talked my right cheek began to redden and the skin fell away in lumps. Then out of nowhere my front tooth fell out.
It fell so strangely I could not even find the lost tooth in my lap or on the floor. It was nowhere to be seen. But when I peeled up my lip to look to where the hole should have been, another shorter tooth was taking up half the space alongside my other tooth, both at half tooth height. New teeth erupting in the place of the lost one and I was relieved to think I need not go about with a missing front tooth.
There was more to this dream, including my efforts to traipse across a wet park wrapped in a doona because I was in summer clothes on a cold day and struggling to get through a boggy centre and back to my car.
My alarm woke me with all the disorientation that comes in the transition between sleep and wakefulness. But even in the dream I was aware that this was a dream, and my ordinary teeth were still in place.
I have long associated the stuff of teeth with aggression, that we must bite into and tear off our food. Without our teeth we are as gormless as babies.
It’s a good dream to my mind despite losing some of my strength with the tooth that falls out, but this tooth I know is rotten at its base, destined to fall in time and the fact of the two new ones below, albeit only half formed, is a comfort.
I have teeth on my mind given I chickened out of my last appointment to have a gum graft to my bottom teeth. I’ve had two such procedures in the past but this one felt more daunting. I’m older now.
So I put it off for a month or two. It’s too daunting just now. I will wait till I have the courage.
Is this the measure my dream? When in doubt delay. When in doubt, don’t be as brave as you might once have been. Give yourself space to hold back. Is this the stuff of the two new baby teeth that emerge? Or just plain cowardice?