1. Something inside my head is rocking back and forth. It strains against every word and every giggle. Lets the wind of my breath whistle around it in new ways. I push it around with the strong, slim tip of my tongue. Listen to a new sound, something like the sound of my father’s cereal when it’s wet with milk. Crackle, crackle, crackle, snap.


  1. This is my first and most favorite secret: I’m falling apart on the inside and nobody knows it but me.


  1. I lost my first tooth biting into a bagel. I was sitting in the break room of the real estate office where my mother worked back then. I think the bagel tasted like something savory, cheese, caraway, but maybe I’m just misremembering the animal taste of blood. It was a front tooth, so there was no hiding what had happened. I walked around with a window in my mouth for months.


  1. There would be another time, a few months later, when I would lose a tooth in the school cafeteria. Something in the bottom row. That one gets swallowed: the payout from the tooth fairy is forfeited, to avoid causing a scene. Sucking the blood out of the new, slick cave in my mouth until the shiny-new-penny taste goes away.


  1. But in the office kitchen, I didn’t swallow anything. Just let the fresh blood flood the sponge of bread, the lost tooth sticking out like a little pearl. My mouth, a mussel: soft wet bundles of clam-flesh, pearl atop the body of the oyster, alien-textured shell of jawbone and hard palate closing around it all, in a shape like clasped palms.


  1. An old lover and I are falling asleep. There are heavy hooks in the back of my brain dragging me into the darkness, and she is already underneath it, out like an uneasy light. She leaves sounds on in the background while she sleeps. Tonight, a soft-spoken man is telling me and the sleeping body next to me a scary story about a box discovered, buried in the woods, filled with pliers, hundreds of teeth, and a note: start pulling.


  1. I never asked for an obsession, or this brain, or these lumpy pearls in my jaw.


  1. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve dreamed this: I roll a thought forward in my mouth, and the sheer weight of it knocks all of my teeth into the rescue-net-shaped hollow underneath my tongue. I press my teeth so tightly together that they shatter, like cough drops when you bite down on them. In my dreams, my teeth explode. It’s hard to say where the blast originates. The base of the root, long like a fuse? The soft, live interior?


  1. Who can say. For most of my life, this is the only dream I’ve ever had. It’s been a while since I’ve had one but now they follow me around during the daytime, too. I’ll open my mouth to say something to you and then snap it closed again, lurch my tongue forward to catch what I am certain will fall out.


  1. I had two teeth extracted. That’s the word the dentist used: extracted. Not removed. Not yanked. Extracted. The teeth were my pointy fangs. According to both the dentist’s chart and my mother at the time, the teeth were primary maxillary canines. Prototypical versions of the adult-sized cuspids that would sprout from my skull a few months later. Crowding, they said. Not enough room for the others to grow. I listened to the queasy crackle of teeth leaving my skull. It sounded like a thick potato chip does when you tap it gently between your molars. Or maybe more like when you get some sand in your kale, and the little pearls of earth crunch against each other. That sound, but coming from inside the hole where your tooth used to be.


  1. Afterward, the dentist let me keep the teeth. She stuck the two bloodied stubs in a small plastic treasure chest, orange like a Halloween candy bucket. I used to take them out at night and roll them around between my fingers like worry stones. I would examine them, as closely as my developing astigmatism would allow, under the glow of my bedside lamp, the syrupy light making the pink tones in the Hello Kitty lampshade throb like frogs’ hearts.


  1. When my wisdom teeth came out nearly a decade later, they let me keep those, too. Three whole, milky teeth with jabby roots. The fourth they had to hack into three manageable pieces before they pulled it out. The oxidized brown of the dead pulp inside. I rolled them around in my palm after the terrible thing happened. The television was on and I don’t remember what was shouting at me. Game shows, loud men in restaurant kitchens. Little pieces of me in a hand, enamel clinking, ice in a glass of wine.


  1. I worried that I’d secretly been born a vampire, and that my parents had yanked all of my supernatural powers out through my mouth before I could find out. I imagined the sequence in The Little Mermaid when Ariel yields her voice to the sea-witch, Ursula, whose curvaceous body reminded me of the comfort of my mother’s. The teenage siren’s body lurches and thrashes in a swirling cloud of spooky light, the light of her power spooling out of her mouth. The power she’s yielding to get some sailor with decent hair and no personality. Later I would relate to that part, too.


  1. The beam from the dentist’s overhead lamp filled my eyes and so I couldn’t watch the light leaving my own face.


  1. Last Christmas, I found the Tooth Fairy’s cache of teeth: a dozen little yellowed kernels, all heaped into the velvet-lined well of my mother’s jewelry box.


  1. Ever since my braces came off, my front teeth click around a little bit. The bone sockets are looser than they used to be, bored out by the teeth pulled around on tense wires. The effect is much more noticeable when I’m sick, when my gums thin out and retreat in the face of the common cold.


  1. I feel sick most of the time.


  1. In waking life, I feel crumbled teeth rolling around on my tongue. It happens in the middle of class, in line at the grocery store, trying to fall asleep on a Tuesday night.


  1. My lover tells me she once had a dream: peeling the skin away from the bottom of her foot, she found teeth inside. A bleeding, calcified geode inside the arch.


  1. I live in fear of losing my teeth. This hasn’t made me especially attentive to oral hygiene. I don’t floss because I’m constantly visualizing the floss becoming taut wire, like the Pampered Chef cheese slicer that lived and rusted in our kitchen drawer. Sometimes I fall into bed with nighttime tea splashed all over the inside of my mouth. Even through my forgetfulness, I’m fretful. I was even afraid of my baby teeth falling out. My last, one of the mandibular ones on the right side of my jaw, stayed in my mouth so long that it dangled from the gums long after the adult tooth had fully erupted.


  1. My teeth are very long and horse-like. They even tilt out at that distinctive, equine angle. With my mouth closed and unsmiling, they push my lips out a little bit. Smiling like I mean it pulls my nose up into a crinkle, which pulls my upper lip up really high, which reveals the full length of my horsey teeth and also the full length of my gums, right up to the seam that attaches my upper lip to my face.


  1. The teeth in my family vary in beauty and quality. The divide happens on the maternal line. My mother has beautiful teeth that are uncorrected and straight and white without even trying. My father’s teeth are the ones that ended up in my mouth, and my brother’s. Country bumpkin, corn-fed Kansan.


  1. I’ve never had straight, beautiful teeth. Shaped like garlic cloves: curvy in incorrect places. The grooves are unusually deep and therefore each one is more susceptible to decay. Things can get in too easily, settle into the crevices, never leave. The teeth themselves have an unusual shape: highly stylized. The edges: less straight up-and-down than the average human set. Whenever I see illustrations from scary stories of toothsome creatures, things with fangs all in hysterical rows in the damp cave of the mouth, I feel a little pang of recognition. Hey, that looks like me.


  1. I’ll never forget the first time someone told me I had beautiful teeth. It happened in a parking lot. The parking lot belonged to the worst Italian restaurant in the county. Not even pressed white linens and real candles in little glass cups could save this place’s reputation. We were walking away from the place and the sky was threatening rain and I hated myself. Something this woman said made me laugh sincerely, and the visual must have surprised her, because she gasped: “oh, you really have such beautiful teeth!” Not a beautiful smile. The teeth inside the smile.


  1. I never know how to feel about my smile. It’s goofy, or maybe cartoonish. Too many teeth in there. My smile looks like an affectation. There’s no such thing, on my face, as a half-smile, a knowing or slightly sexy smirk barely plucking at the corners. I wear lipstick to cover up the grayish-purple natural color of my lips. What I mean to say to you now is that my lips look dead. I look suspiciously corpse-like. Bare-faced, I look pallid. Embalmed. Deoxygenated.


  1. Smiling with my lips closed looks dreadful. My teeth are just too big for that. They bust out of the seam of my lips: I can’t keep my mouth pinned closed, and the edges of my overbite leak out.


  1. The things I eat get stuck between my teeth. Strings from mangoes and celery stalks. Grains of soft rice and ribbons of sliced red onions. Poppy seeds.


  1. According to folklore, vampires love to count. Maybe love isn’t quite right: they’re obsessed with counting. The proper term is arithmomania. Arithmomania is associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Count von Count loves to count. He can’t get enough of the rising numbers, the syllables rolling off the tongue. It makes him giggle with delight. If you find yourself in a graveyard late at night, leave a handful of poppy seeds on top of the vampire’s grave. They will be so excited to count out each itty-bitty seed, hunched over their work, that they won’t have any time to suck you dry.


  1. I counted letters in words. Over and over. Maybe the word is “compulsively.”


  1. Last night, I discovered a small hole developing between two of my teeth. It isn’t a hole in either tooth, but a round, clean space between the two, just above the gumline. The exact size and shape of a poppy seed.


  1. Get over here, my father says. He is so tired of this. Tired of watching me sneak my finger inside of my mouth. Watching me rock the loose tooth back and forth in its socket, suck the blood and spit out from underneath my fingernail, tasting iron and playground dirt and my own body’s creations. In his hands, a clean tissue. I stand up so high on tip-toes that the arches of my feet bite back screams. He tilts my head so far into the kitchen sink that I’m afraid I will fall down the drain, my head chewed up beyond recognition by the garbage disposal. One rough, dry hand presses my jaw into my neck; the other, pinching fingers swaddled in the tissue, grabs hold of the loose tooth, and yanks.


Panic Attack Nutrition Facts

It is normal to burn as many calories during a panic attack as are burned by moderate physical exercise that lasts the same amount of time.

[a beating]

the / kneeling / is / not / like prayer.