All That Rot

I had a one-night stand once who pulled a toothbrush out in the morning and went into the bathroom with it as though he was accustomed to flitting from one girl’s apartment to the next depending on the day. I thought it was odd. Now I know I probably should have been doing the same. But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, considering “Scientists reviewed more than two-dozen studies conducted between 1990 and 2006 to determine whether negative life events and psychological factors might contribute to an increased susceptibility to periodontal disease. They found that 57 percent of studies reviewed found a link between stress, distress, anxiety, depression and loneliness and periodontal disease.”

I’ve been depressed and lonely for so long, it feels natural, healthy. My baseline. When my mouth started rotting, about three years after I was too old to engage in one-night stands and have it be written off as mere youthful whimsy, I automatically assumed it was because I had flitted from one guy’s apartment to the next, all without a toothbrush. Surmised that because of my lackadaisical pussy and according lackadaisical dental care, this was why my teeth were loose, on the verge of falling out.

Unfortunately, by the time I realized what was happening, that periodontal disease wasn’t merely a cautionary spiel dentists had been giving for the past twenty years out of nowhere (when really it was because I hadn’t been a child anymore and that’s the only time they talk to you about your actual fucking teeth instead of the gum recession that comes with age), it was too late. And I was in a foreign country, Poland. Known for kielbasa more than its access to adequate dental care, least of all knowledge of the specialty called “periodontist,” I wasn’t sure what to do, how to proceed. Returning to America wasn’t an option. The entire reason for fleeing in the first place had been bankruptcy. Nobody would touch me there–neither medically nor physically. And the more I thought about my teeth slowly falling out one by one, the more I realized just how many times I might as well have carelessly fucked without ever worrying or feeling guilty about not brushing my teeth once at night when I went home with them and once in the morning. Maybe without all that anxiety, I could have delayed the inevitable decay of my mouth for longer, gotten at least two more years of being deemed “desirable” by Poland’s standards. But no, I had to spend those non-orgasmic nights in constant anguish over whether or not I should be so bold as to either 1) ask if he had an extra toothbrush and then infer the worst about him–that he fucked so much he had an STD (but then, who was I to judge for that?) or 2) actually deign to use the one laid out so carelessly on the sink or in the cheap holder likely bought from Ikea. All that stress practically every night is what likely accelerated the disease. For it couldn’t have been my crippling sense of heartache and desolation alone. It had to have been the compounded stress of feeling guilt for fucking.

Religion, naturally, played a part in this guilt I couldn’t help but carry with me into adulthood. In fact, it was rebelling against religion and all of its oppression that led me on this penis bender in the first place. It was just that, once I was on it, I couldn’t get off “the ride.” That is, not until fleeing to Kraków, where I somehow received a grant to conduct a study and write my findings about the Jewish quarter and its natural pairing with the well-preserved medieval setting of the city, building on this notion with the thesis that all Jewish quarters exist outside of time (referencing South Williamsburg and Midwood throughout the text). Literally plopping them down in the most “modern” backdrop–New York–can’t change them, so it’s almost a pleasant shift to see them function amid environs more suited to their way of life.

Being that I once considered myself Jewish only to grow to despise the absurdity of it as much as Woody Allen, it’s not without irony that I’m here. Which leads me to believe that perhaps destiny brought me to this dental hygiene wasteland in order for me to rot to my fullest potential. For that is what I have been doing for the past ten years, ever since I turned twenty-three. Just flying by the seat of my pants and hoping to land on my feet without a plan. But now I’ve landed face down with my teeth smacking the pavement.

Will they come out all at once, or will it be one by one? A decline as gradual as my own. I’d prefer for it to be swift, to just wake up one morning and be completely toothless, with my fallen yellowed angels surrounding me on the bed, as dead and useless as I’ve become. Unless you count documenting the already obvious about Jewish people to an institution paying me a pittance to do so. I think I only agreed to it because it would get me out of America, the only place that could possibly save me from my decay right now despite being the very place that caused it in the first place.

In any case, I felt the only thing to do was what my mother had always advised in matters pertaining to tooth and gum health: gargle salt water. Or was that merely a cure for a sore throat? In any case, I decided to take myself to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. It wasn’t the high tourist season yet, and it was relatively empty. As I ambled through the old corridors that spoke of underpaid work and small lives that contributed to other small lives by producing table salt, I found myself in the cavernous space created from rock salt. I had heard that the briny water offered medicinal properties. Maybe it could cure me. If not mentally, at least physically (but oh, you can’t heal the physical without the mental first).

So I slipped in, like it was a silken dress made to wrap around my body and it did. The only trace of me that was ever found was fourteen of my thirty-two teeth, floated up to the surface like little pebbles themselves. In the end, maybe the water did heal me, for at least keeping some of my mouth intact as I entered the next realm.

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