A love letter written to survival and community.

I have been living with this broken-toothed grin for fifteen years as of this morning.

I had just locked up my bike outside of the Villa Kula house to cook Wednesday Food Not Bombs. I was probably looking forward to baking vegan banana bread or something. I always enjoyed to the sense of connected purpose that Wednesday mornings brought.

Nobody was awake at the house yet, so I decided to walk up to Auraria Campus and check my email. Remember what it was like before we all voluntarily started carrying these nightmare boxes that allow us to stay connected to absolutely everything much to the detriment of our mental health, all while they monitor our every move and we had to go places to check our email?

I don’t remember what I was so distracted by when I stepped off the curb onto Colfax Avenue, but I remember hearing a woman standing behind me scream “No!” and feeling the truck hit me. The last thing I remember before blacking out is a passing thought of “shouldn’t getting hit by a car hurt worse than this?” I met that woman later and she told me how after the car hit me I sat up and tried to pull myself off the ground before I passed back out. I’ve always thought trying to walk off a broken pelvis and two lacerated internal organs while basically blacked out tops the list of ridiculous shit I’ve done to prove to everyone I’m the toughest tiny person they know. She told me how when she went to work that day and the first thing she said to her co-workers was “I think I just watched some kid die.”⠀⁣

I came to on the street with that woman holding a napkin to my bloody face, doing her best to assure me that I would be okay. I immediately got this sinking feeling that I’ve thankfully only had a few times in my life. There’s probably a concise word for it in another language, but it’s the feeling that comes immediately after doing something as innocuous as crossing the street, something that seemed so innocuous and normal, and your life changes forever. There was your life before that thing, and now there is your life after.

I wiggled my toes inside my boots and felt a sense of relief at knowing my spine wasn’t broken. After that i became aware of a pain in my mouth and stuck my tongue out to check on my teeth. They weren’t entirely gone yet, but they were mangled. Doctors told me later that the impact of hitting the street face first broke my teeth, ramming what was left of them into my jaw, necessitating their complete removal. They also told me my teeth absorbing the shock of my hitting the street saved me from death or a traumatic brain injury, for which I have always been so thankful. I remember that gratitude on the days when my back hurts, or my shoulder won’t sit right riding my bike.

The weeks after that day, the crew of punks I ran with in Denver, and all around showed up harder than I ever could have imagined. I remember yelling at the doctors before they would let anyone see me that I was so scared and I just wanted my fucking friends. You can imagine the relief that rushed in when I finally got to see familiar faces in the ICU. I remember feeling so thankful to be alive and to be surrounded by the love that pulled me through the scariest day of my life.

I endeavor to carry that love with me always, to carry all the love living through that accident allowed me to experience and share over the last fifteen years, on days where life on this planet leaves me so drained and demoralized, that it’s all I can do to keep living on it. I wish I could say those days have been few and far between, but they have not been, and I’ve always had a problem with being dishonest. I endeavor to offer that love back to everyone in my life, and I’m not afraid to admit that I fall short in that more often than I wish I did. I think of how many of our friends are gone, and I’m grateful for not having joined them in the hereafter, regardless of the ache their absence leaves.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Thank you. For all of our friends who are gone, I’m glad you aren’t one of them. Thank you for the privilege of our crossing paths. Thank you for the love and light you have shared, that you bring to your people. Thanks for hanging in. All we have is each other and that’s really not the worst thing in the world.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

Fig. 1

Sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office
Steel toes tap together in nervousness
Dressed in bravest black, winter 1996
Drill bits scrape the mess
Growing in my mouth for the first
(of many) times in my young life
Stare out the window
Catch a lone small town
Punk rocker on their
Way somewhere else in the snow
Footprints sunk into the white
Show where they been
But offer no hint
Of where we’re going.

Fig. 2

First dentist trip in three
And a half years
Mental illness met poverty
Long enough for fifteen cavities
To carve their way in
To a mouth well on
Its way towards rotting
Digging in for the duration
As childhood ends
Sugar coated swath cut
Through enamel and dentine and pulp
Floss and rinse and dig
And brush and drill
Scrape plaque away
With a mad desperation
But never reach the
Source of the rot.

Fig. 3

Sipping black coffee
Burning belly filled:
One part all hell
Ready to break loose at any moment
One part bag of peanut butter pretzels for breakfeast
Bought with food stamps and pocket change
Basking in the glow of
Spring’s latest lover
One morning in the sun
Spinning
Blissed out on three hours
Of sleep weighing down
Eyelids pried open
By caffeine and lovesickness
Frantic need for connection
To fill every hour with
The sweetness and agony
Of feeling it all
Feel a sickening snap
Cracking in the back of my mouth
Reach a finger still warm from last
Night’s lust in and wriggle part of a molar out
Shrug like you can’t win ‘em all
Put the blackened tooth chip
In my pocket, like a keepsake.

Fig. 4

Oh, good. You’re awake.
Do you remember where you are?
You were crossing the street
When you walked into the path of an oncoming car
The good news is your spine isn’t broken
You are bleeding internally
But your organs did not rupture
And your shoulder will heal
And even retain most of its mobility
The bad news is what’s left
Of three of your teeth
Have to come out now
The force of the pavement
Rushing up to reshape your face
Left your teeth shattered
Rammed the remaining roots
Back into your jaw
You are in shock
And heavily sedated
You probably won’t
Even remember this
Or feel it.

Fig. 5

It becomes an identity
A way to laugh at the pain
Taking a mouth full of
Broken teeth as my name
Example:
The words
“busted teeth, broken heart”
Inked forever into my skin
Or it’s a cute party trick
Like the time I decided
To spit my new set
Of fake plastic teeth
Out of a mouth, healed
But still fresh enough with phantom pains
That come when the weather changes
Into my best friend’s
Glass of wine at
A fancy restaurant
Oh sorry. You were drinking that?
I guess I’ll just finish it.

Fig. 6

The nerve pain wakes me
Up one morning in summer
Shooting through my jaw
I call out of work
And spend the day at home
Part of it on the phone
With the same best friend
Seven summers later
Holding an icepack to
The side of my head
“I’m paying the price now
For never quite taking care
For always living with
A low intensity self-loathing.”

Fig. 7

Floss and feel
The very last piece
Of my very first root canal
Come loose from its molar mooring
Spit silver and blood and mercury
Into the sink
Pick up the piece
Bury it in an
Unmarked backyard grave
“Here lies my last self-destruction”

Fig. 8

A piece of my broken tooth hurts
So I do what any person would do
Reach into my mouth
Wiggle the last shard back and forth
With a single-minded determination
And pull it out on my gums
Throw it in the trash
Without ceremony
Or reverence
Having long since
Grown used to this
Saltwater. Rinse. Repeat
The hole closes up.

Fig. 9

You used to do meth, right?
No, why?
I don’t know. I just thought you did.
Did you think I used to do meth
Because I’m missing my three front teeth?
No! I swear! I just thought you used to do meth
Like, I thought you said something about it once
Fact: I’ve never done meth.

Fig. 10

I hate it when my friends
Call me “Creepteeth”
Except maybe I bestowed
That nickname on myself
Making an identity
Out of pain again
Or as a way to make peace with a
Self-conscious smile
I can’t remember now.
I just always knew something
About standing in the shadow
Of so much beauty
I could never ever know

Fig. 11

Morning routine of brushing
Serves as a reminder
Of roads to ruin raced
I have long since
Gotten used to the taste
Sour mouth, brown spit
Washed down the sink
Followed by the reprieve
Of toothpaste and blood-spit
Swirling down the drain.

Fig. 12

A dissolute pain
As company for
The past 8 days
With yesterday spent
Entirely within the confines
Of a borrowed twin bed
This isn’t even my room
And I’m tethered to it
Anyway
Every time I move
Nausea rushes in
Making the world
Sickeningly spin and spin…

Fig. 13

Not a single shred
Of solace to seek
Beneath a gray sky
Sighing with rain
While hours crawl
Into another lost day
Shuffled through in
A nauseated narcotic daze.

Fig. 14

I write from my sickbed
Good reasons to
Just stop feeling
Anything at all
The numb warmth
Creeps through my limbs
Like crawling skin
Filling the void
Ever writhing within
This tired body
Spreading outwards
Beneath my skin
I get why people get addicted
To this shit
There is an elusive beauty
Found within numbness
And I hate it all the same
Just like I hate that
Someone somewhere out there
Learned they could line their pockets
And the pockets of their children
And their children’s children
Selling the cure for pain
Then selling the cure
For addiction
Or the punishment
For those deemed unworthy
Or unable to afford
The cure
Somewhere
Someone owns all of this
And I wonder what it would
Be like to rip his throat
(Yeah, I’m making an assumption here)
Out with my jagged teeth
But then again
The thought of strange blood
And bacteria in my mouth
Fills me with an unquiet revulsion.

Fig. 15

I write a litany to numbness
To later be forgotten
In an overpriced notebook
That I paid $20 for
Instead of stealing
Somewhere along the
Road that always led nowhere.

Fig. 16

I listen to a tinny
Clash bootleg and feel
My spirits wanting
To soar like so many songs
Long since sent into unsuspecting airwaves
I write my way down
Every road back home
And write down reasons
To convince this body
To keep breathing
And greet another day
As a blessing
On the outside
Where the beautiful
People are ugly too
I want to live long and strong
With that invincible
Heartbeat as the backdrop
Sometimes I just think
That a set of invincible teeth
Would also be just the kind
Of company I would like to keep.