The minimum number of teeth a person will lose in their life is 20. That's just counting baby teeth. If you lose an adult tooth, then your count is higher. Of course, your wisdom tooth situation also gives some leeway to that number. So it's safe to say that most people know the sensation of losing a tooth, or more specifically, pulling one out of your mouth.
When I was a kid, I was oddly excited to lose teeth. It was a sign of growing up. That and I just like the taste of blood. Whenever a tooth started to grow loose, I would spend every waking moment wiggling and jiggling it. I'd twist and turn and push and heave with my tongue and little appendages, feeling each strand and sinew of my gums snap and pull until iron coated my tongue and fingertips. Then I'd go show my brother my mangled tooth to gross him out. When I got bored, or the little piece of bone hung on by just a thread, I'd yank it out no problem. The pain was never really a problem for me. In the days following, I'd burrow my tongue into the empty socket where my tooth once was until I felt the telltale bumps of a new crown. As it grew in, I'd obsessively feel, and point, and look and run my fingers over it. And when it was over, I'd forget all about it until the next baby tooth started to loosen. Until all of them were gone, and I forgot the twisted sensation of pulling out a tooth.
All this to say that plucking out your eyes is a remarkably similar sensation.
For starters, the slimy feel of my right eyeball and its socket felt almost nostalgic as I stood in the bathroom and slid my fingers past my eyelids, into the moist cavern of my eye socket. I made sure to cut my nails short to avoid any unnecessary complications. Like the teeth, I wanted these to come out clean, unscathed. So I poked and prodded. Felt my eye move around my socket more freely as I jostled it around, just like my teeth all those years ago. Eventually, I removed my hands. They came away wet, and I duly noted blood streaming down my face, mixed with tears.
I knew this would be harder. Some instinctual part of me willed this to stop, screamed at me to do anything else, that this was terribly, awfully wrong. That gouging out my eyes with my bare hands was not, in fact, something that I needed to do.
I reached back inside my right eye socket with three fingers, arcade claw machine hand poised to grab and pull. Like a child's hand wrapped resolutely around its tooth. But I didn't pull. Not yet. First, I had to twist.
My vision turned. Dizzied, even more so than before, I pitched forward into the bathroom mirror and steadied myself against the counter, blood dripping in a consistent heartbeat into the sink. I breathed in and kept going. Like before, I felt each and every thread attached to my skull snap. Not all at once, but one after the other, until the connecting tissue held too strong to twist further. Then I twisted in the other direction and laughed. I looked so silly in the mirror, twisting and twisting, the image in my mind turning and turning as I did it. It was like those teacup rides, or a never-ending carousel. Spinning and spiraling and turning and twirling and twisting. I giggled meekly as I felt more and more snapping. Once more, I withdrew my hand.
My eye was still connected to me, but only by a single thread, and it was removed entirely from the socket. It rested against my cheek and swung gently from side to side. The cool air of the bathroom clung to it and the inside of its socket, like stepping from a hot, sweaty, humid summer's day into sterile, air-conditioned heaven. It was time to finally tear it out, but I hesitated. My left eye looked back at me in the mirror, grinning. The right stared down into the sink. It was all so ridiculous. I couldn’t help but laugh into the empty air. I cackled, head fully bent back, doubled over, clutching my gut. Full belly laughter. My laughing died down eventually. I thought to myself that I ought to make sure I didn't drop my eye in the drain.
It didn't come out on the first yank.
At some point or another, we've all had our hair tugged on. By an over-enthusiastic playground bully or an exasperated mother with her hair brush. The pulling of skin on the outside of your head is familiar. But, pulling the skin on the inside, where it wrenches sinuses, bones, and skull-- is another thing entirely.
My head jerked forward, and with it, a mangled cry of pain and agony, but mostly frustration tore its way out of my throat. Why couldn't it have just been clean? I should have twisted some more. I clung to the counter, knees wobbling as I gathered myself. My breathing came out shaky and short, my whole body trembling as I tried to stand unsupported again. The eye was taunting me. All at once I was filled with a tearful frustration, a rage that crawled through my shoulders, down my arms, and into my blood covered hands. Without thinking I quickly gripped my eye in a tight fist and began to rip as hard as I could, again and again and again as I could feel that very last thread coming away more and more with every tug. Each jolt brought with it a guttural, sob or scream, separated by deep, wet, exasperated breaths. Snot mingled with the blood, tears and drool decorating my face.
After some time it came out and into my hand. I was far from done, though. The nerve that once attached my eyeball to my brain hung limply, and grazed against my hand like a wet piece of yarn. I gingerly set it aside. Shaking hands lifted, and rickety fingertips slid easily into the gaping hole in the right side of my face. Poking, prodding, stroking the wet walls of bloody, abused flesh in my eye socket. I teased the skin at the edge, pulling it and watching it snap back into the form it no longer had reason to retain. My hands emerged after a few minutes of testing and searching before delving back in, this time into the other side.
My left eye joined its counterpart on the bathroom counter. Everything was dark.
I felt around for the faucet and ran the water at a cool temperature. I washed my hands, then ran them meticulously over my face. Each crevice had to be free of red. Once I had done the best I could, I tried to clean the counter. I carefully moved my eyes from the vanity to a table next to the toilet, where we kept magazine after magazine. I never understood why we kept them there. My eyes sat atop the glossy paper, fluid soaking through the picture perfect celebrities on the cover.
Once I cleaned up my mess, I took my hair down, now that it wasn't in the way. In one hand I carefully cradled my eyes; the other death gripped the handrail. Meagerly, I made my way down the stairs. I had just reached the landing when a voice called from the kitchen.
Footsteps made their way towards me and gathered my hands in theirs, equally careful, with a voice as unrecognizable and nondescript as a complete stranger.
"They're beautiful. You're beautiful."
I didn't cut out my tongue, but I could only find it in me to nod. The hands carefully took my eyes. I don’t know what they did with my sight, but the hands that cupped my face were warm, and lacked the slick residue that clung to mine. I couldn’t find it in me not to lean into them. The person I could not see scooped me into their arms, sat me at a table, and fed me a meal I did not know. My teeth punctured into something weirdly spherical. It popped like a water balloon in my mouth. My best guess would be a cherry or a grape, but it felt too big on my tongue, too slimy. I have to trust blindly.
That night as they curled around me in the bed I had not slept in, I slowly, achingly, without making a sound, reached a finger under the bandages they wrapped around my head. Endlessly soft, endlessly unfamiliar. I poked into the holes. I don't know what I thought I'd find this time.
Still, I was relieved to find the erupting, growing, white bumps emerging from the back of my eye sockets. I removed my hands and curled deeper into the stranger's embrace.
It wouldn't hold me much longer.