Forensic anthropological facial reconstructions floated up, one by one, on my screen. Many of the subjects depicted were reportedly incapacitated and deceased by the way of dental cysts. The credit notes under the images stated my age as the age of the subject’s death. I felt warm and fuzzy: the innovation was here, prolonging my life, my desires, my desirability, and with them, my residue imprint.
Last year, in addition to the hybrid I have been for most of my life, I became a cyborg, too. Living in 6 countries is a privilege when it isn’t a dislocation, which it is, in my case that we study here. Arguably, so is the prosthesis: a privilege when not a dislocation, which it isn’t, in my case that we study here. Albeit I will live with this prop for the rest of my life, mine, is a benign story of an artificial part, centered around aesthetics more than around its function.
The right molar #5, next to canine, has never been happy.
#5 bid its goodbyes to the cruel world when I was 18 as I prepared to abandon the ship of disarrayed homeland for the promise of gloss or a version of “Go West” track. That music video from where I stand is mind bogglingly confusing in its, what is it — narrative, a metaphor? It samples the Soviet Hymn during the 1993 timeline of mass-exodus after the break down of the bloc. I do hope it is meant to be a self-parody of the promise of the escape. There must be a subtext there that eludes my ESL eyes, as many other high-school era references of my peers, do.
As my mother rushed around gathering — gathering papers, stamps, gathering signatures, to exit, responsibly, properly, legally endorsed fresh start, an antsy middle-aged man was about to fix me before I boarded a train and then plane, away from it all. He must have been handsome in another life, a decade before he started to drink. Everyone around these parts eventually did, particularly if they were a man, particularly if they were handsome. This was done methodically, as if to cancel anything that signaled a possibility of a better life because better was not on the menu for as long as anyone could remember. It was hard to reset the palate, no matter the produce at hand.
Smudged into the abyss of nondescript east-south-west beyond Minsk Circle Road was a standard cell in a cement suburban high rise. This was the home office of the formerly handsome dentist recommended by my father. The space was implanted at the center with a medical chair, a mid-century Soviet buffet and a dining table with crochet napkins trimming its sides. The dentist desaturated into the beige wallpaper, shakily attempting to charm me while extracting the departed nerve. His unsteady handiwork left a trail of breadcrumbs that followed me as I follow myself: everywhere I go there I am and there it was. A photo series of x-rays have diligently documented the decline of the root canal with a pocket of air the dissolving man left behind as if a hapless gift. A clubland for microbes, their sweaty techno pulsated on a loop in my jaw for 20 forthcoming years.
2005. Forgetting to breathe, swaddled in rental blankets of my Parisian apartment populated by a euro-normative French roommate and French rats, I bit a post-soviet chocolate candy. Denied a working visa, not chic or seasoned enough to be sponsored for working permit as an Eastern non-EU designer with unimportant education credentials, I stared at my analog mapbook that displayed swirling irregular streets of unfamiliar London names. Bethnal Green, soon to be my new dream address, burned anxiety holes through my eyes. The dream meant mostly survival crimes of photocopying whited-out, omitted and edited, work permits and the diet of canapé, mineral water and when luck strikes, champagne, at soirees and vernissages. The molar #5 didn’t like the hard body of candied nuts I bit into, and took its cue to escape for the 2nd time. Dental and visas have always been entwined in my life, like lovers that return to each other, as if bound by an invisible force, break up after break up.
Back in Toronto for rescue operation molar #5, and for a new legitimate UK working visa, L., my Ukrainian dentist abroad, shook her head: “Well… we knew this was going to happen. I will try my best, but I give it two years tops.” L. pressed play on her dentist chair and my world started to tilt. Now in business class position I clocked that the screen has migrated since my last visit a few years ago and was now on the ceiling, meeting my reclined gaze head on. National Geographics Channel narrated a scene in which whales stole baby seals entering the ocean waters for the first time and bouncing their meager bodies in air with tail and fin performed a sort of baskeballish activity. Clubbed to death baby seals were flopped about for whales’ amusement and eventually shrugged off and discarded to wash up to the devastated seal families at the shore. This answered the question I’d had about animals only killing to eat or was it ever, to toy, like humans do with things and people? The housecat story was hard to fact-check. These self-selectively adopted beings were incrementally fed and their parts were cut out or trimmed to suit human sanitary and interior design needs. Hunting was a distant memory for my animal kin companion, reflected in her lazy chewing and spitting of a moth, pawing at a semi-dead mouse she had no plans to consume, bringing a strangled bird or a stunned roach as a gift to my bed.
Games of morbid fascination. Life and death drives in a perpetual conflict of interest. Me too. I’d like to be the white noise, or I’d like to be a cyborg, because things are moving too fast, baby/ and I can’t keep up, baby/ My model is of earlier kind/ Regrets of life cycle timing. I digress.
L. is a kind of cyborg magician. Her immaculate practice is buttressed on each side by a perfect accident of irony. The L. dental office is set between two cavity friendly Ukrainian and Polish bakeries, both specializing in old-world classics with new-world materials of refined flour and sugar. Retooled, the 2005 version of molar #5 was once again miraculously repaired and reinstated, and left Toronto anew, managed to survive several London visas and financial crash, and another relocation, and too many visas to count during the 10 years spent making it, in New York.
Decade later, as I was about to leave the pinnacle of capitalist extasis that began to feel like home, until all the sources of money dried out and some, the techno club of the molar #5 has burnt down and a full blown mutiny was seeping from my gum. Imagine the zeros on those invoices. There was no looking back at the crumbled monument to my resilience. It was time to weaponize this mouth with the sharpest tools for the glossy life that kept on slipping away decades at a time. Be mine! You will be.
Here are some insider pro-tip not colloquially discussed, at least not in my circle, of what, besides the astronomical costs, an implant entails. No one really talks about the time factor involved or more specifically the length of time you will be toothless or lisping: three to ten month, the latter more likely. Depending on the location of your situation it will affect your self esteem, and dating, and sex life. Please don’t tell me how you are so above it, I am not buying. Bereft, is what the gap feels like shedding clots of congealed blood onto your tongue. What is also not colloquially discussed is the fact that you will be padded with someone’s remains, the allograft, bone matter from a deceased donor or a cadaver that has been cleaned and stored in a tissue bank. The dust of someone whose driving license generously stated, like mine does: Organ Donor. Because why wouldn’t I be dead and sharing? I will be sharing as worm food or ashes even if I tick a box not to. This graft matter has to agree with you, or else you may begin to rot. There will be a hole drilled in your skull. A dentist, if you are like me and are doing it in Minsk because it’s the cheapest place on earth to do this thing, may say to the nurse while tears roll down your grownup cheeks, not from pain but from terror: “See that bit of meat hanging right there, can you nip that off?
From experience, I can recommend a solution to sex life issues of the cyborg transition process, and it is: suburbia. Sleeping with ghosts from the life past who remember you intact in your whole, taught and youthful beauty. Or, sleeping with 2nd generation Canadian youth in the parks and in your semi-suburban apartment where everyone can hear your thoughts, but no matter you are young again by association and you can EXPRESS YOURSELF. 2nd generation is the best of all worlds, aware of “the elsewhere” but distant from its traumas, too cool to care about the void in my smile. Though the self-esteem of a hybrid like me took a dent nevertheless. So, if you are one too, be prepared. Meditate. See your therapist, take walks, don’t look at social media. You know. Following the transition I am inclined to suggest that perhaps aesthetics must be further adjusted to include body decay as acceptable natural progression. If we are to be really body positive, why not a hollow pocket in my jaw.
I keep thinking about impressionism at the time of steel cage crinoline dresses and how bewildering the proposal of fragmented painting must have been to the eyesight and mores of the European public at the time. Impressionism was a manifest of uncertainty of depiction, or reference to impression, an iridescent sliver of light spectrum, a tint of first smog, nacreous scab, and not yet an allograft of a cadaver, now merged into my jaw secured by the titanium grip. If the implant is my crinoline now, then I need to revise my uncertainty settings, lest I be convinced of my invincibility. I would only be readying for yet another rude awakening.
Updating in the background are wants: the old-school glitz, a touch of jet-set, body updates, body maintenance and, simultaneously — acceptance of all earthly temporality. But then — the desire for infinite life, too. The want to experiment, the want to care, the want to poker face my irreverence towards “the system.” What will tomorrow judge my choices for implant as? Meanwhile, there is a whole set of sensations to grapple with. It may be the titanium talking, or the matter of the deceased who may have been a speed junkie that ran themselves into a ditch. Sharp and tenacious, my redux jaw feels firm and certain as it imagines itself ready for a new spin on that glossy dance floor. Or is there another option? I am open to suggestions.
Born in Belarus, and based everywhere, ANASTASIA KOLAS is an artist, writer and the founding editor of Nacre Journal. Anastasia is a graduate of the Bard MFA program and has exhibited internationally. She is working on a collection of auto-fiction essays titled “Fashion,” based on her life across countries and continents, her past work as a fashion designer, and present travels through The Arts and its theories.