It starts as such a small thing. Something like a seed caught between teeth, within a tooth, cracking through the enamel.
I’m forty with four children and, now, of all of the times, in the midst of a pandemic in which the world has shuttered itself, I have approximately four new cavities erupting along the ridges of my lower teeth. A cluster of aching.
You have no sense of self.
A friend said this to me yesterday as we sat in our office. We were there to continue to navigate how our small business can pivot enough through this strange new normal to make ends meet – but this thought had been weighing on him. This idea that I lose myself from time to time – all of the time – slipping between the cracks of other people’s lives, visions, passions.
He’s not wrong. Decades ago, before motherhood, and then into the early years when my children were babies and I wrote my way through sleepless nights and grad school, I had been a writer. Now, (or at least, before the world shut down), I drive kids to co-op and speech therapy. I do web design and some marketing and run a small photography business where I capture the moments and milestones of other people’s lives. I ask people what they need. I putter in circles and see myself only in the passing reflections of my relationships.
He said it with such earnest concern, I wanted to feel something. Instead, I touched my jaw.
And you need to go to the dentist.
Cavity (Noun): an empty space within a solid object, in particular the human body.
A few weeks ago, I sat on the picnic table in our backyard at four in the morning, neck bent to the stars. It was insomnia over nothing, save for the restlessness in my soul, and as I scanned the sky for meteors, I had a similar conversation all in my head. Self, where did you go?
Where is the girl who sat up at all hours under twinkling lights, scribbling in journals? The young adult who wrote novel pages on lunch breaks? Who gave birth to two children while completing a fiction manuscript for her MFA thesis? Where are the words? The passion?
Somehow, it seeped out along the calendar pages of the past years. In the speed and whirlwind of the lives of those around me, I somehow, slowly, slipped away….and found myself on a picnic table at four AM begging for stars to fall – or sitting across from my best friend listening to his voice tell me pieces of things I already knew.
Cavities don’t just happen. There’s a lack of care, or attention, or a willful desire to just fall asleep to the reality that inaction has consequences. My flossing has been lax, I drink far too much coffee, there are the occasional nights my melatonin sweeps over me and I let myself fall asleep without dragging my body to the sink.
But, that’s just how it starts, as such a small thing. Something like a seed caught between teeth, within a tooth, cracking through the enamel.
My dentist is closed now, given the world as it is, but the woman’s gentle voice on the line assured me that someone will listen to the messages daily and I quickly left my story in their inbox.
I nearly, nearly, forgot to leave my phone number for a return call.