On a Wednesday night in late July when Greg was in Manhattan, Tierney sat alone on their uncomfortable living room couch. It was a fancy, Duncan Fife-style sofa that Greg's mother had reupholstered in green-and-gold brocade. Above Tierney on a high shelf was a photo from their wedding. It showed a handsome black groom in black tie, dancing with a beautiful white bride wearing her mother's white dress. The apartment windows were open, but it was little help. The temperature had topped ninety degrees during the day, and the night air was thick with humidity, a combination that was no friend to a pregnant woman. Trying to get comfortable, Tierney kicked off her shoes and put her feet up on the sofa.
All around her were applications from educators hoping to win grants from United Technologies. Part of Tierney's job was to make grant recommendations, and she was eager to finish reviewing the applications so she could start going over her department's budget for the next fiscal year. She always drove herself at work, but she felt even more pressed than usual. In two days, she and Greg were scheduled to head off on a weeklong vacation at a rented cottage on Martha's Vineyard. It would be their last vacation before the baby came, and she didn't want anything hanging over her head.
Feeling stressed by the work before her, Tierney began chewing absently on a paper clip. She bit down, hard, and felt the sickening crack of enamel: she had dented her smile.
Maybe it was the special care she took of her teeth, maybe it was the hormones of pregnancy, or maybe it was the anxiety of wanting to clear her plate before vacation. Maybe it was a combination of all those things. Whatever it was, the chipped tooth reduced her to tears. It seemed the worst possible thing that could happen, at the worst possible time. She called Greg.
"I really don't need this now," she told him. "I have to go away on vacation, I have to finish all this stuff, and this is the last thing I need." She made the same call to her mother. Joan and Greg echoed each other's assurances. Tierney, they said, it's no big deal. Your dentist will make your tooth as good as new.
Indeed, he would. But it would be a while before Tierney would need her smile again.
Mitchell Zuckoff, reprinted with permission from Beacon Press, copyright 2002