Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections of the past year on the verge of my first implants & the "home stretch"

There has been a lot on my mind lately. My 5th and most recent fundraiser on October 24th was the one year anniversary of the day that my 3rd front tooth, #8, broke in half while in Trinidad, California on a 6 week bicycle tour down the Pacific Coast with my best friend at the time and former partner, Pinar.
October 24th, 2010. Trinidad, California.
 In some ways it felt like the worst day of my life. It was certainly the key toward letting go, releasing nearly 20 years of pain, alienation and isolation and my first step toward moving forward and changing my life, even if in that moment I had no idea how to even remotely begin that journey.

I could barely speak to or look at anyone for days. It continued to create distance between us for the remainder of the bike tour. On our last night together before the drive from San Luis Obispo back to Phoenix an also the eve of my 33rd birthday on November 10th, I found myself with a horrible toothaches, awake most of the night listening to songs I recorded 5 years prior during my final months in New York. My voice has changed a lot since I left the humidity of my forest upbringing and Lake Ontario, partially I think due to allergies and the pollution of cities, the dry heat of the desert and continuing decay of my teeth. Listening to me screaming lyrics felt like hearing the voice of a friend from beyond the grave, a voice I felt I would never hear again.

It was hard to come back to Phoenix. When I left 2 months earlier I had dreamed I would find a new place to start over in and in a way returning felt like just one more thing to be "ashamed" of even though we had successfully completed our 1,100 mile adventure. This was further complicated by not all of our memories being as perfect as I may have hoped, by knowing that our dynamic as partners and friends would be different than it once was, by knowing that I had never opened up to anyone but Pinar about my secret, and that I had no idea how to begin. How do you come back "home" after that when no one really knows shit about how you are feeling and all you have been through in the 2 most intensely beautiful yet tragic, life-changing months of your life? How do you put on a fake smile (when you don't even smile to begin with) to reply to all your friends questions, "Yeah, it was SOOO awesome!" when you are also totally fucking scared to even look at them?

I returned to Phoenix with about $3-400 to my name, homeless again, broken-hearted and completely unsure how to even begin to tackle the road that lay ahead if I were to finally begin to fix my mouth. (I did however, have the strongest legs of my life!) Pinar left to continue her own healing journey alone in Peru, I moved in with my friend Robyn temporarily and tried to figure out what was next for me. It was around this time that I wrote my "Ask for Help" note on facebook and stenciled a shirt, began trying to make money bartering bike repair services, and worked part time cooking and baking vegan food at the downtown collective and hangout space, Conspire.

I tried searching the internet for dental resources, but found little hope or answers. I began to talk a little about my secret with a few close friends. Everywhere I tried to call, from non-profits with once a month dental lotteries, resources for the homeless and a few random private practices, none seemed to have any answers or guidance for someone like me or were over a $100 just to even look in my mouth.

After talking to a friend who is an ER Doctor it was suggested I pursue a dental university as a possible cheaper option, but after calling around I could not be seen for over a month at the closest one. I tried again at A.T. Still University in Mesa and finally made my first appointment in 20 years for early February.
I still had a lot I was trying to process about the past several months of my life, and was repeatedly dissapointed upon Pinar's return that I could not find the time I felt was needed to work through all our experiences before she would leave for college. The night before she left, at the end of my rope, I wrote what would be the first attempt at an autobiographical narrative trying to put into perspective what the fuck happened in my childhood to make me this way and somehow put into words what it was that I felt happened to me to make me stop brushing my teeth. I wrote the majority of it in one sitting with virtually no editing, and cried several times reading it aloud on the phone to my former partner as she drove further and further from my life toward her own new journey to begin. It was the first time in my life I felt any of it even made sense or registered to me, like the first step away from over 15 years of denial was finally over. Shortly after I posted my secret to about 40 of my closest friends on facebook, and after such an overwhelmingly supportive and positive response from friends and acquaintances alike, a few days later took a deep breath and posted it to the world.

What followed in the months to come is hard to even put into words. I am still struggling every day to understand all that has changed in my life as documented in this blog, struggling to find enough time alone with myself and my thoughts and my mouth to really take it all in and realize how far I have come. I got a call mid-January from the dental school saying that my appointment had been moved up a few weeks and on that fateful day I would meet a very special dentist that would change my life, with each appointment helping me to find the strength to face my fears and little by little rebuild something I thought I had lost forever.

In the past 9 months and 36 appointments I have suffered through 13 extractions, 12 fillings, 2 root canals, 2 crowns, probably a 100 shots, dozens of X-rays, like 15 impressions without gagging, and have managed to find almost 2,000 miles worth of rides from friends and strangers to my Mesa appointments without ever missing one, with the exception of my grandmother's funeral. My blog has been viewed over 45,000 times in over 75 countries, and between it and the 5 fundraisers I have hosted I have raised nearly five grand from all over the US to make my grand total just over $12,000 counting the $1,000 my insurance covered and my savings. My autobiographical narrative, largely summing up what for years felt like the only "life story" I could see yet never speak of alone has been viewed 17,000 times. In a way, it feels like I have sold like 500 copies of a $10 book to the world. It feels like for once my writing actually really is making a difference and having a positive effect on others around the globe.

I now have 17 healthy, finished teeth out of final 24 I will have, am no longer in any pain, and can most of the time feel comfortable even opening my mouth to total strangers, now wearing my story on my sleeve everywhere I go. I am slowly relearning to eat foods I have long since avoided and/or forgotten, and trying to visualize myself with a real smile on my face again, even if my face oesn't quite yet seem to naturally contort into one correctly.

Tomorrow morning at 8:30AM will be the most expensive and intense appointment I have ever had, at over $3,000, and I am paying cash. After never really finding the discipline to save over maybe $1,500 at once my whole life and always being in debt, it is truly empowering to know that for once I have been able to pull out all the stops and make lots of daily sacrifices for the greater good of myself, to be able to confidently KNOW and say that in a year and a half I will have found a way to raise 22 thousand dollars. After that, I hope that as predicted, it will truly feel that anything is possible. I can't even begin to imagine how in addition to all I have learned and grown and healed and overcome, what new doors being able to smile again will open for me, what doors I have kept locked for so many years that I will now choose to open.

Tomorrow I will finally get my last eyesore of a tooth that you can still see extracted, #8, along with its 2 nearby friends buried deep beneath the gumline that I lost when I was 20 and 25. I will probably have bone grafts at those sites to help regenerate supporting bone for future implants, and will also be getting my first two mandibularly molar implants at sites 19 and 30. On top of all of this, I will be fitted with a provisional denture for my top 5 missing teeth to wear for the next several months mostly for cosmetic reasons but also to restore some function and stop my other teeth from collapsing. I am frankly not quite sure which one of these makes me more anxious! Though they will look somewhat different from the finished product months from now, tomorrow afternoon will be the first time I have seen myself with this many of my upper teeth in nearly 14 years. It is going to be a trip, and I am sure probably going to somewhat freak me the hell out and be really weird to get used to. I am really curious how it will effect my voice, and what it will be like to begin chewing everywhere after my extraction sites heal. I am actually kinda scared for the most in quite a while, but definitely still excited. I am not supposed to exercise for 5 days, and plan on staying in bed watching movies for most of the week, and all of my readers out there have ever been thinking about sending a "get well" card, this is most certainly the one! My birthday is also coming up on November 10th, wink wink.

I hope that you all have enjoyed and found meaning in my story, and I am eternally grateful to have found so many compassionate and supportive listeners also eagerly awaiting to see the new and improved me. You all help me to continue to find the strength to move forward and to strive to find a focus and balance in my life as never before. I hope you will think of me tomorrow morning and send me as much positive energy as you can spare. It is probably going to be my longest appointment yet. For now, I will bid you goodnight, and leave you all to wait in suspense of my tomorrow's pictures! Thanks, as always, for reading...


  1. All the best, Paul. I'll be thinking of you.

  2. Hope you're recovering nicely!