Last week I had an emergency wisdom tooth extraction. It left me puffy, swollen, and – with the exception of a few words forced out of my mouth’s good side – unable to speak. It was weird spending a few days impersonating a particularly dribbly, side-talking Clint Eastwood. But, judging by other people’s responses, not as weird as it was for them.
My boyfriend was the first to come undone. “It’s eerie – you coming into the room but not saying anything,” he’d protest. I tried to imagine how unnerving it must be to have half of the household (of two) go silent. And when I spotted him in the kitchen at midnight, batch-cooking mashed potatoes for my recovery and filling the silence by singing “your lovely facial lumps” to the tune of My Humps, I, too, was unnerved. But also touched.
When I felt stronger, I went to my local shop. It still hurt when I moved my face, so when I ran into a mutual friend I could only shrug. The mutual friend wanted my opinion on a high-profile Twitter spat and looked disappointed that I didn’t seem bothered. I’m not – and it felt good to remember that.
Later I called Mum, who chatted away as normal and I’m not sure even noticed that I was on mute. This confirms my suspicion that my family role is part daughter, part audience.
People say silence is golden, that sometimes it is wise to say nothing, to let people reveal themselves and your own thoughts be heard. Perhaps that is the wisdom of the wisdom tooth. Maybe when they arrive with all their thunder and pain, forcing us – even just for a while – to move our sore mouths a little less, they bestow a lesson for living well: listen, observe, try being quiet now and then. Then maybe adulthood won’t quite be like pulling teeth.