When she spoke into the silence the sound of her voice shocked me so much that she had to repeat herself, loudly.

“What’s wrong with your teeth? They look awfu!l”

I fought the reflex to cover my mouth. “They’ve been like this since the braces came off mom. I haven’t had the money to get them taken care of.”

“Oh so it’s my fault you look like this then?”

“No! I’m grown. It’s my responsibility. I just haven’t had the resources.”

“Hmmm, I’m always apologizing to you. You really need to get that taken care of.”

“I’m not blaming you for anything mom. I’m sorry if it sounds that way. I will get it taken care of”

She turned her attention back to the phone cases while I sat there trying to figure out why I felt my chest suddenly hollowed out.

I felt itchy.

I was scratching until the sales clerk came back with her new phone.

I walked her through the contract and payment, assured her on the uses, took her across the way to Best Buy so she could get a car mount which I dutifully installed right away. I synced her contacts and gave her a tutorial.

She smiled at me later as she dropped me back off at the apartment I rented out for the week.

“I’m going to brag to all my co-workers about today. And don’t tell Wednesday this but you’re marrying up!”

Her smile was wide enough to fall into.
Two rows of perfect white teeth that always made me hate my own. I wasn’t getting married but I knew what she meant.

“Wednesday and I are blessed to have each other” I remember responding. I smiled back at her with closed lips.

She tilted her head to look up at me before sucking her teeth and laughing while patting me on the arm.

I stayed in the parking lot until her little grey car disappeared.

My hands unclenched.
My lips loosened.

I’m was thinking about this moment today
As this Black woman
Hair grey and locked
Tied up and shielded
Looked down into my mouth
I felt like a child again
My heart started beating so fast
I started apologising

She looked at her assistant and asked him if he could manage the person she was supposed to be seeing. She wanted to focus on me instead.

I keep apologizing until she put a hand on my arm and said:
You don’t have to apologise. You have to promise to never neglect yourself like this again. You’ve had braces. They did you wrong. They left the cement all over your teeth. You couldn’t clean good enough and stuff latches on to it. This must be very uncomfortable for you. It’s going to be uncomfortable for a bit more. Can you bear it?

I said yes
And she started
They started
It was a full mouth debridement

Pieces of me came off. It hurt. I hummed and lifted my whole leg at times. I cried not just from pain but relief.

I could taste time on my tongue as she drilled and scraped up stories and shame from my bones.

As my eyes rolled to the side I caught a glimpse of the gold against her skin. It was a necklace inscribed with the word “magic”
I laughed.

When she was done she handed me a mirror.
I expected to see the worst of me exposed but what I saw was two rows of beautiful teeth. Crooked and gapped but beautiful and strong.

And big!

So much under the tender surface

“You’re going to swell back up but in three weeks everything should settle down, you have good teeth. You have one cavity but we’ll get to that. You’re to come back and see me in a month for scaling, then ad exam, then a deep clean. I’m giving you a prescription for mouth wash. How do you feel?”

“Like you have changed my life.”

She smiled behind her mask.
“I’ll see you in a few weeks. Remember to floss and to never neglect yourself like this again”

I went home and curled up in bed
Staring at my teeth through the camera on my phone. I’m overwhelmed by the medicine I received today

From this woman
Old enough to be my mother
Who looked into my mouth and instead of shaming me saw someone who struggled with self care
The Black woman
with magic around her neck
who dug into my flesh and bone and retrieved pieces of me

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