For someone whose diet is mostly sugar and tobacco, it was no surprise that I found myself awake at 4am, cradling my jaw from intense pain. Except I live most my life in denial and was actually surprised. Maybe I had some food lodged between some teeth or maybe I had bitten down on something hard. It never crossed my mind that I could have a cavity. “Why do my teeth hurt so bad?” I asked my sleeping husband. He didn’t respond, but he did snore. Discouraged, I grabbed a handful of Sweet Tarts from my night stand and went back to sleep.
The next day around two, which is when I wake if my sleep goes unchecked, I laid in bed with an achy jaw. I stared at the ceiling fan whirring above and tried to recall how I could have possibly gotten lockjaw. My neck, jaw, and cheeks throbbed when I tried to open my mouth. This kept me from my morning rituals of a cigarette and loud obscene name-calling. It was a welcome change for Kenneth who works from home and well into his work day.

My stomach growled and I had to eat something, proving that food is the only reason I ever leave the bed.In the morning or after 10 to 11 hours of sleep, whichever happens first, I really do try to make sure the first bit of food that goes into my body is healthy. I do this even in spite of my morning cigarette. In the kitchen, I stood at my pantry, unable to decide between the raspberry or strawberry PopTarts. I decided to have both and save the self-hatred, which was inevitable, until after dinner. Waiting for the first set of PopTarts to heat, I leaned against the counter and stretched my jaw. I could taste blood, even through the forced post-sleep cigarette.
Panicking and getting lost in “what if’s” I swiftly walked to the bathroom. In a moment of panic, I never allow myself to run. Running means the situation is real while walking quickly means the horror is safely confined to my imagination. In the mirror, I stuck a couple of freshly washed fingers in my mouth. I pulled at my lips and pushed my tongue aside but I couldn’t see anything. No signs of blood. The fear subsided at the sound of the toaster from the kitchen. “Bleeding teeth or cold PopTarts?” I weighed in my head. “Maybe the hot raspberry filling will cauterize any possible wounds in my mouth.” I decided on breakfast.

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