After Amy Hempel
My mouth—it wasn’t mine. I prodded with my pointer, pressing around the gums and the molars to check. My jaw was aligning strangely. My skin tasted like someone else’s skin touching my tongue. By lunchtime, I was certain. I got in my car and adjusted the seat. I turned up the radio. I rolled down the window. Where was my mouth? I kept thinking. I drove.
My phone rang at two in the morning once. My mother had fallen face first and cracked her front teeth. At the hospital, there was dust floating in the air between us. The rising sun made me see it. I watched my mother sleep as the dust moved around.
Usually, you don’t feel it. Your mouth is just you, not a thing that you have. You might wake with a cold sore or with chapped lips, but it’s not like you and your mouth are drifting apart. I kept driving. By sunset I reached a house that I used to call home.
When my mother opened her eyes, she used her chin to tell me something. I brought her a hand mirror. She nodded so I held it out. As her lips peeled, we both peered inside it. All those gaps. Like little doorways. She looked like a child. She looked like an old man.
My face—in the rearview, it brought to mind the shape of my skull. My eye sockets might as well be hollow. It would take a while, but one day they would be. There are places you fit now where you won’t fit forever. The old places that fit will feel foreign and new. I didn’t take off my seatbelt when the car was parked. I didn’t feel like I was where I belonged. On the drive back, I turned off the music and rolled up the windows. I stopped feeling the feeling of someone else’s mouth where my own mouth had been.
Here’s what happens. You slip yourself into another. Not just a body. I mean into a life. Of course you make choices. Of course you leave parts behind. Once that happens, time passes. Your life is just you, not a life that you have. Later, it’s gone. You feel different one morning. You get used to it soon. All of it; living as if with an unhinged jawbone, your life like a mouth that’s been empty too long.