Wisdom Teeth

by Simon Cropp

In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, we are told stories of the histories of people under the terminology of root canals. The important formation of who characters are in this novel, such as Archie and Samad, Irie, and Clara, is linked to the metaphor of teeth and how possibly the procedure of removing decay from the roots of their heritage.

Allow me a digression:

And this reminds me of my own uprooting, when my wisdom teeth had to be removed. Wisdom teeth are the last sets of teeth to grow in, and they’re often impacted, so later in life, almost all of us have to have the dreaded procedure.

I was 22 years old and didn’t have insurance that covered procedures;, so for me, the removal of wisdom teeth had to be a budgetary affair. My dentist said he knew a guy. Oral surgeon in training. Had to get a number of contact hours in to meet the requirements of his program, and removing wisdom teeth was considered something he could do unsupervised. I remember there was a rule he had to follow: no an anesthesia. I had to be awake for the procedure. But people do it this way I was told. He’d give me a Valium, I’d feel like I was asleep, all would be right in the world.

I showed up for the day of the procedure with my friend Mike–as the Valium would render me likely incapable of driving. I remember now, the receptionist at the dental office had captured my withered, blackened heart at that time. She would look at me with these big blue eyes, smile, and I never heard a thing she said. Well, when I checked in, she said something like: “The doctor is running late. Run and get something to eat. Blue eyes, beautiful smile, blue eyes,” or something like that.

Mike took me to McDonalds and we pounded down a couple of McDoubles, because, you know, I was 22 and could do that.

We returned to the office, met the surgeon in training, and he asked where we’d been. I said, “Oh, since you were running late, the receptionist said to run and get a bite to eat or something. So we ate some cheeseburgers.”

The surgeon in training didn’t take this well. Began rubbing his balding head. He said, “Oh no, no, no, this won’t do at all. Not at all. We must reschedule.”

“Sir,” I said. “I am a manager at Blockbuster video–to get this time off–today and three more days in a row for recover–that was a feat, I tell you! Why must we reschedule?”

“You ate! You can’t eat before this. The Valium won’t work. You can take it, but it won’t work. Your cheeseburgers might get tranquilized, but you, my friend, will not.”

“But she said…” my friend Mike said gesturing to the receptionist.

“I said something like bread,” she said from behind the counter. Blue eyes, smile, blue eyes. Anger too! Oh no.

My mind scrambled. “I’ll take the pill. It’ll work. You’ll see.”

Despite his hesitation, the oral surgeon agreed. And we were off. I took the pill, went back to the room, rested in the chair, and sure enough, I began to feel something. A stirring in my brain. A numbing in my body. I knew it would work.

The procedure began. And all that something I had felt before, that numbing? It fled. Ran away. As the surgeon jacked my mouth open with some device that wouldn’t allow me to clamp down–after he numbed me–he began digging in my gums. And wisdom teeth, it turns out, don’t just come out a tooth. They come out in pieces. They are cracked and broken and jackhammered, and pieces of teeth and blood sprayed on his mask. Sweat formed on his brow.

All effects of the Valium gone, I suppose he saw something reflecting in my eyes. Horror? He brought in a second assistant. She sat down in a chair beside me and just held my hand. He brought in a woman to hold my hand! I didn’t flinch, though. I let him work. For two hours he removed slivers and chunks of gigantic teeth, but it was the roots, he said, the roots were the biggest he’d ever seen. Like the roots of a horse tooth. He brought in the beautiful receptionist and my friend Mike to look at my impressive roots.

So much pain, black smoke pouring from my mouth, but I continued on, wondering what it would be like to have real insurance.

Finally, he stopped. He took off his tooth and blood-soaked mask and said, “There is one tooth left. Upper right. I cannot do this anymore. It is too much. That tooth is not impacted. So it will remain. I cannot subject you to this anymore.”

“I can handle it,” I said around the mouth apparatus.

“You are stitched and sewn, here are two subscriptions for Vicodin. You will need them. Don’t talk or the stitching will break. Keep gauze in your mouth so clots can form. I will be here the rest of the day before returning to Denver. Call if you need anything.”

So Mike and I left. I felt particularly strong that day. Like I had done something most people hadn’t done. So I continued to play that role. I acted as if there were no pain. Of course, I filled the prescriptions. I b.s.’d with Mike, told him that’s how a man does an operation. Mike told me to stop talking. At the time I thought he was concerned I would break my stitching, in retrospect, I think he didn’t want to hear what I was saying.

I did break my stitching from talking too much. We had to go back to the oral surgeon in training that Friday afternoon. We caught him in the parking lot as he was loading up his car to head back to Denver.

“You may have to go the emergency room,” he said. “I can’t numb you. All my equipment is loaded…”

I looked at him, looked at Mike, imagine blue eyes looking at me from somewhere, and I said, “Just do it. Just stitch it. No numbing.”

He did it. And it hurt. But whatever.

I learned something that day–a fundamental lesson to my own self, to my own sense of being and history. I learned to never eat McDonalds again.

But then, these painful extractions, these lessons and formations of who we are in distinct moments, is this not what Smith meant with her epigraph: “What is past is prologue.”

What I did not know that day cost me.

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The F Word – Naomi

For much of my adult life, I have been very independent. After graduating from high school in Hawaii, I moved to Kentucky for my undergraduate work (yes, I know this sounds crazy on many levels). After I got my degree I moved to Colorado, because, why not? I made these choices on my own and I paid for it on my own. I have worked continuously from the time I was 16 until I turned 34 when I quit the career I obtained a Masters Degree for, the career I worked in for 12 years and was objectively good at. I quit this career which I had dedicated almost half of my life in pursuit of to be a housewife and stay at home mom. And when I made this announcement to my friends and family I heard a resounding intake of breath followed by the somewhat insulting question, “But I thought you were a feminist?”

Yes. I thought so too. And I am. But it depends on who you ask, I guess. In her essay “Feminism with a Small f”, Buchi Emecheta discusses some of her philosophy surrounding the concepts of feminism and what they mean to her. She writes, “Being a woman, and African born, I see things through an African woman’s eyes. I chronicle the little happenings in the lives of the African women I know. I did not know that by doing so I was going to be called a feminist. But if I am now a feminist then I am an African feminist with a small f” (175). So, maybe I am a white middle-class feminist with a medium f? Can feminism really be only one thing and does it matter who provides the definition?

This essay resonated with me, particularly the passage where she states, “We need more Golda Meirs, we need more Indira Gandhis, we even need more Margaret Thatchers. But those who wish to control and influence the future by giving birth and nurturing the young should not be looked down upon. It is not a degrading job” (180). Making the choice to stay home with my children was an incredible privilege and I recognize that. And that does not make my contribution to society any less than if I had stayed in the workforce and put my children in daycare. I have struggled with feeling like I’m doing a great thing for my kids while at the same time feeling like I’ve been subordinating myself and degrading the work women have done for years to create equality with men.

I could continue rambling on about my fears surrounding what I’m doing to and for my three daughters. But I will end by saying that Emecheta confirmed in me that I am neither doing something extraordinary, nor am I doing something derogatory by choosing to nurture my children at home.

Emecheta, Buchi. “Feminism With A Small ‘f’!.” African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. 173-185. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.

In Search of Identity

During our class discussion of Absolute Beginners tonight there was some discussion about identity regarding the narrator. The idea was posed that the narrator is trying to find his own identity within the realm of 1950s London. It is interesting to think of the identity of a nameless character in a landscape that is also finding a new identity. London is moving past the old societal norms and expectations, but there are still instances when it seems like the adult generation is attempting to hold on. At the same time, the narrator is in the last year of his teenage years and is stuck between the realm of teenager and adult. Absolute Beginners is about finding an identity, both as a nation and as an individual.

One of the things that set the narrator apart from other characters in the novel is the language that he uses. The narrator sometimes uses words that seem to too sophisticated, and even complicated, for teenage use; such as when he uses “masticate” instead of “chew.” The narrator also describes his encounter with Ed the Ted saying, “Ed the Ted said nothing, just looked sinister, and stood breathing halitosis on me” (Macinnes 55). According to the OED Online, “halitosis” is “an abnormally odorous condition of the breath; foul breath” (“halitosis” n.). Halitosis is an extremely sophisticated word for something as foul and menial as bad breath. The sophistication of the narrator’s language is able to set him apart from other teenagers who are more childish or brutish than he is. On the other hand, the narrator using sophisticated words when they are not necessary can also set him apart from the adults as well. The language that the narrator uses is out of place sometimes for the situation. This implies that perhaps the narrator is not as smart as he thinks he is, and he is just throwing around fancy words without considering his context or his audience. This would imply that the narrator is not an adult either. Even though he knows big, fancy words he still has not mastered language on an adult/educated level. This reading suggests that the narrator is stuck somewhere in between his beloved teenage years and adulthood and he does not have a category anymore that he really belongs in.

In the same way, London is also in a transitory phase during this novel. London is caught between the old ways and the new, and I think there are instances in the novel where this tension shows. The narrator makes a point to show the reader that the old London is dying and that Victorian houses have gone from grand and beautiful to essentially the ghetto. Youth culture is beginning to take power in a way that was not seen before, and to the narrator London is the place where teenagers rule. At the same time, though, there are still people holding on to the values and traditions that defined the past. The narrator’s mother exhibits this when she discusses the narrator coming home after his father dies; “‘You want me back,’ I said, ‘because you’ll want a man about the house’ [. . .] ‘To keep the dear old place respectable, till you get married once again'” (Macinnes 53). The narrator’s mother cannot let go of the expectation that she needs a man of the house for appearances, even if she is the one who currently runs the house already. The word “respectable” places a lot of value on appearances, Appearances and tradition are things that the narrator’s mother can’t seem to escape, even in post-war, progressive, young, and new England.

The search for identity as a nation is just as present as the search for identity as an individual. I think that in both cases, the nation and the narrator, do not find the identity that they were seeking and the tension will continue unresolved

“halitosis, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 4 November 2016

Macinnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. Allison and Busby, 2011.

Samantha Hudspeth