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Bone on Bone

My son starts grinding his teeth in the Fall of 3rd grade. As he sleeps. The scraping, the pressure – I hear it through the thin walls of our shoebox in the Tenderloin. Our third apartment this year. He in the bedroom, me on the couch. It keeps me up all night. Just as I’m finally adapting to our walls made pink by the neon flicker of Peaches, the strip club across the street.

I ask him one morning, are you okay? Does anything hurt? Head down, shoveling stale Cheerios, he shakes his head. 

The grinding intensifies each night. That crunch, heavy like cement. In the fitful space between waking and sleeping, I dream his teeth fly out of his mouth and shoot across the room one by one. Not fragments, but whole teeth. Adult teeth, with long red sinewy roots that trail behind like streamers. I wake with a screaming headache. 

Again I ask in the morning, are you okay? Lifting his head from his cereal, he looks at me, nods, and wipes a bit of old milk from his chin.

I buy him a mouthguard from CVS. He refuses to wear it. The grinding continues. Like the shifting of tectonic plates, a pressure that could move continents. Amplified by a father’s guilt, when it reaches my ears it jackhammers. And with Peaches still winking her neon nipples at me through the paper thin drapes, I can’t sleep for days. 

I return to CVS. Buy earplugs, a night mask, Jack Daniels. At night, I bury my head in the thrift store couch cushions, breathing in decades of cigarettes and other people’s sweat.

I have to see it for myself. To watch him sleep, my son, my small boy, making these horrific sounds that shake our fragile walls. Just past midnight, I stand in his doorway and wait for my eyes to adjust. Bone on bone. The grinding now accented by squeaks and clicks. My eyes adapt, and there he is. Asleep. Eyes clenched like fists. His teeth and the bones in his face grinding and shifting, popping and dislocating, rearranging themselves. Desperately trying to reconfigure into a different little boy, one who lives in an apartment where the walls are still white, one whose father makes fruit salad in the morning: fresh apples and mangoes and peaches.

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