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Every smile stung with pain. For years, every time I laughed, my hand automatically came up to hide what I found to be ugly in me, the mark of my past. I would talk to strangers, to potential employers, and think they know where I’ve been. They’re judging me. I stopped wearing makeup; I stopped seeing myself as a pretty girl. I never smiled in pictures.

Then there was the physical pain, insidious it would come, and I would cry. No insurance meant a dentist was out of my reach. My face would swell with infection, and I would find myself unable to sleep, losing hours at work, racking up another emergency room bill for a prescription of antibiotics I could fill for free at Publix. Each trip was accompanied by the refusal of narcotics. Relief would only come when the abscess started to heal. I lost the luxury to be able to mask that pain long ago.

I began working at Rethreaded, where there is no judgement, only love. It is a place where my past doesn’t matter, and I can strive to reach my potential. My expectations of people, and of an employer have surpassed anything I ever imagined. And then came the news that my life would forever change. Tears of joy flooded my face as I was told by Kristin, the director of Rethreaded, that a couple of dentists she knew wanted to fix my teeth. A few days later I showed up at the offices of Edwards and Cavendish, full of nerves and hope. The love and grace I received there go beyond words. Every detail was considered, and a plan of action was determined. Dr. Edwards told me it would be a long, uncomfortable process, but they would carry me through. Appointment after appointment I was met with the same compassion, and have become friends with one of their dental assistants. I could never thank those women enough.

Each smile shines brightly, and I laugh freely. I can choose to share my past or not. I am no longer marked, no longer do I feel instantly judged. I’ve stopped living in the fear of the pain. A smile can change the world. It changed my world.

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