In high school, I got hit in the mouth with a field hockey ball. The goalie cleared a line drive from the center of the field straight into the bottom of my mouth.
If you’ve never seen a field hockey ball, they’re solid plastic and can reach up to 100 miles per hour when hit by a stick.
The ball slammed into my face, and I immediately covered my face with my hands.
“You’re fine. You’re OK,” my teammates said, as they all crowded around trying to get a look.
But, I knew I was not OK because I could feel that two teeth on the bottom had gotten shoved into the back of my mouth, and that there was a gaping hole in my lip where they had punctured it as they went through.
“I’m not OK,” I mumbled, slowly lowering my hands. And, I could tell by the looks on their faces that the damage was severe.
My dad rushed me to the dentist. Two root canals, stitches and a brace later, and my smile was saved. And, my poor parents, who had already spent way too much money on braces and headgear and retainers, breathed a giant sigh of relief. And I, who at the time already knew that theatre was going to be my life, was relieved that my money-making smile was not damaged forever.
Fast-forward ten years, and I’m waiting tables and acting, or “living the dream,” as a customer told me once.
I go to the dentist for a routine checkup, and the dentist takes x-rays (again, routine). I’m lying in the chair, and she walks in with this grave look on her face.
“Not a cavity?!” I exclaim. I’d never had a cavity. (I still have never had a cavity.)
And, she said, “No. One of your root-canaled teeth is disintegrating, and it’s going to fall out if we don’t pull it first.”
“What?!” I’m in a state of shock.
And she says, “The space is too small for an implant, but we can give you a dental bridge.”
Visions of dentures and puréed food for the rest of my life start floating in my head. And, I realize that my smile, after all this time, is finally starting to let me down.
This smile that had gotten me through all these auditions, through lots of rejection, through headshot shoots (had been Photoshopped when the photographer didn’t think it looked right), and had gotten me through nights at the restaurant when customers tipped me a dollar on a bill of $100.
The smile that I kept plastered on had started to crumble–the smile that I put on when I told everybody that I was going back to grad school to get my master’s in journalism.
That, “This whole theatre thing is great, but I’m in it for the art.” That, “I don’t really want to be on SNL, I just take improv classes because I love it.” That, “Sometimes you just have to recognize when something has hit an end.” That, “I’m just going to focus on my writing.”
You know what?! I don’t have to worry about what I look like anymore. Maybe I will gain ten pounds just because I can. In fact, maybe I will dye my hair blond. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.
But, the truth was, I hadn’t really let the reality that I was giving up on my dream sink in until that moment. Because, in that moment, I realized it didn’t matter what my smile looked like anymore. It didn’t matter if I whitened and I flossed and I brightened and I brushed. It didn’t matter if I had the perfect smile. It didn’t matter if I weighed as much as it said on my resume. It didn’t matter if my hair stayed the same length. It didn’t matter if I was skinnier or fatter or taller or shorter than the girl next to me. It didn’t matter anymore.
And, that was both the most devastating and the most liberating feeling in the world.
Two weeks later when I was lying in that chair for three hours, awake, listening to the roots get pulled from the gums, and smelling as my teeth were sanded into vampire-like points, I sobbed silently under those giant UV glasses.
And, the tears ran down my face and collected in my ears. And, drool came out of the corner of my numb mouth and went down my neck. And, I could feel the blood pooling under the giant piece of gauze in the newly formed gap in my mouth. I ugly-cried with so much drama and theatricality–one last scene.
I have three fake teeth. But, you know what? I’m fine. I’m OK.
Raised in a small New England town, Bethany came to the Midwest in 2002 to study theatre and poetry at Northwestern University. She has since performed at the Goodman Theatre, The American Theater Company, Donny’s Skybox Theatre, iO Chicago and Stage 773, and has been performing with Storytown Improv for the past five years. In 2011, Bethany’s love of storytelling brought her back to Northwestern, where she earned a Master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism. She currently serves as publications editor for Science in Society at Northwestern, and editor-in-chief of HELIX Magazine. Her work can also be seen in The Ecologist andDiscover Magazine. To learn more visitwww.bethanyhubbard.com