There’s this reoccurring dream I have where all my teeth fall out except for the bottom two. It feels sort of cruel, that the only two teeth left are my crooked ones. I mean, not so much that you’d notice unless you were my dentist or, I don’t know, someone who was just really, really into noticing imperfect teeth. But enough that if you had to choose only two teeth to hold onto, they wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice.
So I’m in this dream (almost) toothless and I’m crying and begging someone to help me but it sounds laughable because, have you ever heard someone without teeth?! It’s like randomly remembering a joke while at a funeral. Shouldn’t laugh. You know you shouldn’t laugh. But damn, it’s still funny.
I’m flailing my left hand trying to get someone’s attention and picking up all my lost teeth off the floor with the other hand. I’m crying that I can’t afford a new set of fake teeth. Who will love me looking like this?!
I wake up clutching my mouth.
I look up dream interpretation on Monday when I’m at work to see if my subconscious knows something I don’t, like maybe I’m about to win the lottery or better, win free tickets to Magic Mike Live Las Vegas. I’m disappointed but not surprised to read: teeth falling out can be a symbol of losing power or feeling inadequate.
You feel wobbly in various aspects in life. I nod. You may be experiencing a lack of self-confidence. Another head nod.
Yesterday my mother called me beautiful and for the first time ever, I told her to stop. Of course, this just fueled her more and she began going into detail. (Your cute heart-shaped lips! Your clear, green eyes!)
She used to joke that my confidence didn’t need plumping. I never fell victim to the comparison game and got swept up in being liked, in being admired. I teetered into self-absorbed and once, to her dismay, said to her at a Bob Dylan concert, “I think I’m the prettiest one here!” Yeah, you’re right. I probably deserve all my teeth to fall out. What a goddamn asshole. I was seventeen though. Aren’t we all assholes then?
When my mom calls me beautiful now, I tell her I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. I get scared to say that because in call-out culture, I’m afraid someone will say I’m being fatphobic towards myself. Which, I suppose I am. I sit at my laptop and pinch together folds of skin I don’t remember having a couple years ago. I suck in when my boyfriend wraps his hand around my waist.
Mom says I’m beautiful and I tell her to stop. I’m getting embarrassed.
“It’s okay, you don’t need to feed my ego.”
Ironically, now is the only time I’ve ever needed my ego fed.
I don’t remember when my power was stripped. Well, I do, that day and that conversation. But I’m not sure if it was all at once or it became gradual. I don’t know if self-hatred takes time or it can happen in an instant. I’m in love with someone but it’s not me. Who was I before all this numbing? All this defeat? All this decision to just be okay with being mediocre?
They say a person can’t take your power. That only you can choose to let them take it.
I hate whoever said that.
I have three post-it notes above my bed. One lists out how much money I’m allowed to spend that week. The second, a list of things to do (very mundane—clean litter box, meal prep, get more toilet paper). The third, the date I should have paid off my debt. I ran up my credit card again. Nothing important. Bottles of wine. More numbing. Food delivered straight to my door because I hadn’t showered and I didn’t want to face the world. Mom says a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck but it still makes me want to cry. It makes me remember.
Dad saw so much in me. Even the shitty videos I made as a pre-teen, he’d send to his colleagues. He’d boast my talent and creativity, knew I’d be making waves in the film industry whether in front or behind the camera. My parents raised me to follow my passions. I was never dulled or dissuaded. They supported whatever made me happy.
I don’t know what makes me happy.
I set an alarm for midnight when my paycheck hits. These days, it’s the closest I get to feeling alive.
Sometimes when it’s late and I’m drunk, I try to talk to God. It’s awkward, like reaching out to an ex. I never know what to say. I stumble. I imagine She wonders why a nonbeliever is reaching out. Maybe She is love. Maybe She doesn’t care that I’m turned off by organized religion. Maybe She still can’t help me.
I tell myself tomorrow I will be better. Be better with money. Be better to my body. Be better at trying.
I tell myself to keep saying that. To keep believing in tomorrow.
Even when I don’t want to.