This orangutan is not a winner. 

The day I discovered that I could put medically-tested goop into a personalized tooth tray and watch it erase all my sins was a day of revelation.  Even in today’s distracted society, you can still catch a break with a great smile.  A great, white smile.  My dentist had opened up a world where I could turn back time and return my smile to its virginal innocence.  My dazzling white smile gleamed of purity and commitment to ideals.  A smile just like I’d always imagined the young Farrah Fawcett must have had – before the mental health issues, and drugs, and Ryan. That Farrah Fawcett.

At first, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt about myself.  Sure, I liked smiling; now I loved it.  “You don’t know what I did last night, do you?” my smile would beam. “Finally,” I told myself, “I’m that girl who gets the guy, and is grudgingly admired by the girls.”

I decided against trying to explain all this to my husband but instead I asked him to check my teeth really carefully. I was leaving town for a week, in just a few hours, and I needed to look my best. I dismissed his attempts to redirect my attention to more significant things that still needed taking care of if I was going to be ready to go in a few hours.  Ready?  Anyone could be ready!  I needed to ready with white teeth.

White teeth – the trademark of a winner.  A leader!

Stained teeth, however; are the dirty little secret that tells the world who you really are.  A tea drinker… and who knows what else? I could feel my heart rate rising just thinking about it.  I put the last few drops of precious whitener into the trays, hoping just one more hit would do it.  I felt like Kramer in the Seinfeld episode where he got addicted to smoking cigars, ruining his dazzling smile.  “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous!” he said to Jerry.

My internalized ranting migrated from “inside voice” to “outside voice” and I was now forcing my husband to listen to a string of tooth-stain related anxieties. I couldn’t get the frickin’ stains off my teeth.  Couldn’t he see them?!

Breathing all the way in, I notice that I am breathing.  Breathing all the way out, I notice that I am breathing.  Breathing.  All the way.  In.  Out. Noticing.

Suddenly, out of left field, I remember and begin to connect with my breath, bringing my attention back, over and over.

I am twitching and my breath is shallow and tight. I allow myself to notice this, too. It doesn’t feel pleasant to notice it, but I let myself stay with the investigation of feelings, thoughts, and sensations. I would definitely rather not be feeling these feelings, but somehow as I sit with them, noticing that I would rather be elsewhere, wanting to cry and scream and escape, I breathe in the sensation in my tight upper back, my (flabby, I note bitterly) central core and my elbows, knees, lower back, top of my head, suddenly noticing all these places in my body that are buzzing or dulling with sensation.

I try to stay gentle and rekindle a sense of humour, reminding myself that even if I had the whitest set of Farrah Fawcett’s going, I would still die at the end of the story, just like the teenage goddess of my youth did (and in her case, not so pleasantly) in spite of great teeth … and great hair (which is another whole story).

My mind is still certain that thoughts, like stained teeth, are facts.  As I continue to notice my breath, to notice my body and to watch my thoughts as passing bubbles, I feel less weighed-down and my breathing starts to lengthen.  My teeth are there.  I’m there with them.  I’m still prickly with the nearness of all this sensation, but as I continue to notice my breath, thoughts and feelings, I finally notice, it’s also OK.


Elaine Smookler