My teeth were never perfect – a little small perhaps and slightly off kilter/crooked on the sides – but they were mine, a part of the fabric that helped forge my smiley usually optimistic spirit, and up until last Monday I had managed to keep all of them intact. That was until months of severe tooth pain while eating on one side led to a botched root canal that caused a tooth to break in half while I was eating hard candy in the days prior to the crown I needed to protect it. Unable to be saved at this point, because of the way it had broken, my only option was to have it pulled. This option did not seem glamorous. In fact, I spent the days leading up to the extraction worried that that I was going to look like a homeless person. I was not ready to say goodbye.

And then I remembered the time my strong jawline and that tooth – number 5 – saved my life. At that point it became a loss worthy of its own obituary due to its significance in my road to ultimate survival from a violent domestic violence-addled relationship with a monster named Frankenstein fraught with verbal abuse (his most common names for me were “faggot, nigger and whore,” usually in that order and repeated ad nauseum until the mere name calling gave way to threats and further emotional terrorism. 

On very special nights when the monster became an inebriated one man torture chamber, he’d get physical to get his point across and assert his power. Really physical. This behavior resulted in fists to my face that left black eyes, him shoving me against walls, him throwing me across the room that left brusies, him trapping me with furniture by pushing it up against me until I couldn’t move, him chasing me around the house with a knife and forcing me to cut myself with it to prove I was neither “faggot, nigger or whore” (and probably also pussy in this instance).

The most terrifying night of violence occurred on May 2, 2009. I usually managed to monitor his drinking and mitigate exceptionally out of control violence to a certain extent (a good co-dependent always knows how to “manage” their addict as best they can) but demon Frank was no match for my feeble attempts to stop this evening’s particular rage. I’m not sure I have ever seen someone as inebriated as Frank was on this day. But in his almost robotic drunken stupor (hence Frankenstein) he seemed pretty determined to hit, push, kick, entrap and ultimately force me on the floor with his very strong hangs death gripped onto my neck in a very concerted effort to choke me out. With all his dead body weight on me, I couldn’t break free, and as he forced his hands around my with more and more pressure, I couldn’t breathe.

As he screamed that he was going to kill me, I remember feeling my spirit sort of leave my body and look over my sputtering, grasping, almost lifeless body as if I really was going to depart this world at only 34 years of age. Then suddenly, I caught a narrow window of escape. The sloppy drunk’s fingers were getting close to my mouth. And that’s when I opened my mouth, dropped my jaw on the mother fucker, who then recoiled in pain long enough for me to kick him, get up, hastily grab my keys and get away from him.

OK, I didn’t get away from him for too long. In fact, he followed me to where I went for sanctuary – his ex’s apartment nearby. In fact, he took a cab and made me pay for it. His ex-Tom had told me he would provide refuge for me if it got too bad on some nights, and he would know – Frank spent the better part of 10 years beating the crap out of him, resulting in multiple hospital stays. Frank got even worse there and really let Tom have it. I’ve never seen so much unbridled rage really. What I had experienced was almost a cartoon compared to this. We called the police, who ultimately let him go because the fact that he could have taken out two fags is like population control to the Phoenix Police Department. Frank went home and passed out. I stayed at Tom’s. Frank repaid Tom for protecting me a few weeks later. Tom died the next day (I was out of town). The Phoenix Police Department didn’t investigate or press charges on that either. Somewhere, Frank is free. And someone else is this season’s Patrick or Tom.

To be honest, I’ve spent the greater part of the four and a half years since then feeling survivor’s guilt, especially because Tom put himself in a dangerous position to protect me. After all, Frank was determined to kill me, but in a brief burst of intrinsic “save your ass,” I was able to quickly think on my feet and cause him physical pain for the first time in our torrid history, which changed the dynamic of our tortured union.

Parts of this story are kind of humorous to me all these years later. For example, after he eventually passed out on May 2 (no matter how violent he got, he ALWAYS passed out. Thank God). The next morning, I was able to convince a judge that Frank was a danger to himself or others and he was placed on a mandatory 51-50 hold, much like Britney Spears was several years ago when her life had spiraled out of control. When that happens, the police come to your house and basically carry away the crazy nut-ball in handcuffs. He didn’t go quietly, of course. My bite had left a mark. In fact, I might have even drawn blood. (I wonder if he still has a scar!) Needless to say, he made a last ditch effort to convince them it was ME who was the violent crazy sociopath who beat up the people he claimed to love. They didn’t buy it though and I got to watch him perp walked out of my house in handcuffs, put in the back of a police car and hauled away. He didn’t seem so scary then. Pathetic really.

So it’s not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows that dynamics of domestic violence that he charmed, wormed, manipulated and lied his way back into my apartment when he got out of the hospital with the usual promises of, “I’ll never do it again.” “It’s going to be different this time.” One consolation in this was that he had been so terrified in the hospital (I guess Mr. Tough Guy didn’t want to be Big Joe’s Bottom Bitch) that he had shit his pants on the way home. Too bad he didn’t have a diaper! He was looking more and more pathetic by the minute. For the first time, the power had shifted. I had (finally!) retaliated in a physical nature and he didn’t want the wrath of my jawbreaker again. He even went to AA meetings for a while. Granted, while that curtailed the physical outbursts, he was till mouthy, threatening and a dick in general. “Faggot. Nigger. Whore” “Faggot. Nigger. Whore.” That was just regular “Good morning, how are you doing” conversation for him. What a charmer he was.

Eventually, his verbal daggers took their toll and on the Fourth of July – Independence Day – I gave him the afternoon to pack up his things and get the fuck out of my house for good. Of course, he also liked to call me 10 times (sometimes 20 depending on how drunk he was) in a row for months afterward threatening a doing whatever he could to keep me looking over my shoulder until he finally disappeared for good.

I only saw him one time after that, waiting for the bus like the pathetic, drunken, no-driving, violent miscreant that he is, only now with a really pronounced beer belly and a more weathered appearance to boot. There’s no doubt in my mind he had moved his psychotic vitriol on to someone else – he couldn’t exist without asserting what he thought was power and control over someone he thought was less than him. The truth is, he was the one who was beneath me, beneath Tom, beneath whoever came after us. He was weak. He was pathetic. He was lost. He was basically a child. For these reasons, I can forgive him for his abuse all these years later. I can’t forget, but not forgiving him still would give him power. And thanks to that quick life-saving maneuver by my teeth, he never gets that again.

As Lady Gaga sings: “Show me your teeth!” Well guess what Frankenstein. I showed ’em to you and I never looked back. That tooth that was pulled from my mouth on Monday, is more than a tattered bicuspid to me – it’s part of the fabric of my survival. So thank you, tooth number 5, thanks for being a catalyst that started my recovery and ultimate rebirth. I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter. I’m stronger than yesterday. I owe it all to you!

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