Discover Prompts: Day 11 – Bite.

I had braces for 5 years. I got braces (and glasses) during the first week of my senior year in high school (rah!). The braces straightened my teeth but did nothing for my bite. Try as we might (aggressive retainer, palate expander, rubber bands rubber bands rubber bands), we could never correct the cross-bite.

I say “we” because dental and orthodonture work is a collaborative venture between doctor and patient. I should say “he” because despite his fancy office and degrees, he didn’t fix my bite! I did all that was asked of me.

So when I came down with TMJ disorder, he pulled out all the stops to get me appointments and set up consultations with doctors and surgeons to avoid getting sued.

Since I was 21 years old (35 years now), I’ve suffered from a bad jaw, due to a horrible cross-bite. Sometimes I don’t realize how chronic the pain is. I can’t just eat foods. I have to plan what I’m going to eat so as not to set my jaw off. I spent 10 years post-surgery starting when I was 22 eating a no-chew diet of soft foods. The surgeon did arthroscopic surgery to clean out the joint. In doing so, they cleaned out the fluid and the debris and discovered that my discs were mangled, all corroded and wrinkled like an 80 year olds, with holds in them. I can only imagine what they look like now, if they’re even still there, given all the popping and cracking and POPPING and CRACKING that they do constantly.

The surgeon said that the surgery would last 10 years, and true to that, 10 years to the day of the surgery, my jaw popped/cracked big again. It was 10 years of eating soft foods, practically drinking my food. I finally said “enough!” and I started eating what I want and managing my symptoms.

On top of all of that, I was part of a study of TMJ during the 80s and 90s, and after 7 years, they finally published their article: they concluded that the surgeries that so many people had gotten were no longer advisable. TMJ problems, for the majority of cases, could be resolved with physical therapy and behavior modification. Thanks. Thanks a lot, guys.

But I’m not here today to discuss my bite, but that of my first dog, Tippy, a mutt that we got for free in front of the grocery store when I was 3 or 4 or 5 years old. Tippy was my dog (the other kids had a brown curly haired dog named Chipper. Tippy was half Pekingese and half Cocker Spaniel. She was black except for a while flash on her chest and a white tip on the end of her tail. She had the most severe underbite I had ever seen in a dog. Her bottom jaw stuck out and showed constantly. She wasn’t pretty, but I loved her and she loved me. She would lick me all over and would race around the house with zoomies when I played with her.

The rest of the family tolerated Tippy. She got fat through her life and she was a barker. If someone knocked on the door, she would keep up a ruckus until my dad yelled at her to stop. He’d take a step toward her and she’d run, a result of too many newspaper swats on the butt to shut her up. We had one particularly loud set of friends, the Guilmettes, and Tippy did not like Colin Guilmette. When they visited, Tippy would bark and bark and bark, even when we put her into the back bedroom. When my dad scolded her, she would get back at him by jumping on their bed and peeing in the middle of it.

My aunt lived with us for a while and she thought Tippy was a hoot. She used a phrased, “You can’t teach a dog new tricks,” which I didn’t really know, which set me off when Tippy was about 8 years old to teach her new tricks. I taught her to roll over on command and to sit. I was probably inspired watching my brother train his new Golden Retriever.

I came home from school one day and saw my mom sobbing uncontrollably on the phone, so much so that I thought my dad had died. Chipper was floating on his side in the swimming pool, dead. He was old and blind and mostly deaf. He wasn’t too steady anymore. It’s likely he had a heart attack and fell in the pool. But of course, my family decided that Tippy pushed him in and that’s the story that stuck. I had to pull the stiffened corpse of Chipper from the pool and wrap him in an old woolen blanket so we could dispose of him.

Most of the time when I played with Tippy, I got right down on the ground and wrestled with her. My aunt Marilynn also loved Tippy, and Tippy would give her lots of affection too. My friends would all see me get down on the ground to get kisses from Tippy. They wanted to do the same. But she would stiffen up when they got down on the ground with her. And it happened, again, and again, and again.

Tippy would go on to bite every single one of my friends in the face. She wouldn’t break skin, but she would snap and create a lot of noise and there’d be a raspberry red mark on their cheek. It would happen so quickly. And with that Pekingese underbite of hers, it was like watching the Alien monster snap suddenly, all teeth and horrorshow. I tried to see what caused it. Once I saw that one of my friends put his hand down on her tail as he was lowering himself to her, and that set her off. But I don’t think each of my friends did that exact same thing. In all, she bit about dozen of my friends in the face. But never me. Tippy had nothing but kisses for me.

I was away at school when Tippy’s time came. She grew fatter and fatter, though she was always able to climb up on our old white couch in the den and get her matted black dog hair everywhere. Finally, her back legs gave out and she began soiling herself. She always became matted on her back legs, and Dad and I would have to hold her down and cut the mats out. For such a smallish dog, she was hairier than most any dog I’ve ever seen.

My dad called me one morning and said that he had to take Tippy to the vet. She couldn’t walk and she couldn’t control her bowels anymore.

Other than a mouse and probably some carnival goldfish and other family pets (cats, litter after litter of feral kittens, turtles, and Chipper), Tippy was the first pet of mine that died, the first pet who slept in the same bed with me, who rolled on the floor with me, and who licked me uncontrollably and zoomed around the house with joy when I played with her. I’ll never forget that ugly mug. And all those bites. No wonder those friends never kept in touch.

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