“Beniamino!” I called to my husband downstairs in the kitchen. Like a parent who calls their kid by their full name when they’re really in trouble, I used my husband’s full name to call him. But he wasn’t in trouble. I was. “I need help!” I shouted.

“What?” Ben called from down the stairs and around the corner. “I can’t hear you.”

I took a deep breath. For years my husband has had trouble hearing. He has even had his hearing checked several times, confirming his hearing loss. But he won’t buy hearing aids. “They cost $3,000, porca miseria,” he says. But a column about living with someone who has hearing loss is a tale for another day, and I had to put off getting aggravated at my husband, too. I needed him.

This story actually begins late last year. Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I noticed a photograph of stained and pitted asphalt. The photographer’s feet were at the edge of the picture, and a single floss pick was in the center. “Parking lot of Meijer in Urbana,” the caption read. It was ugly. But to my surprise I found that floss picks had their own hashtag (#flosspicks). From there I found a whole Tumblr dedicated to photographic documentation of these bathroom items in public places: on sandy beaches, along sidewalk edges, within clumps of grass and in parking lots. 

That day I decided that I would finish my package of single-use floss picks and never buy them again. When they ran out, I started pulling from my husband’s case of floss tape to take care of my teeth and gums.

This story is actually about life during a global pandemic, not just flossing. Although the  prolonged, low-grade anxiety about the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness was always on my mind, I tried to keep to a routine and find small moments of happiness, times when I could lose myself in the moment and not think about how vulnerable we all were. My escape: long, hot showers. While the steam builds up, I think of nothing at all. Or the opposite: as it probably happens to you, too, the water hitting my skin drums up some of my best ideas.

While losing myself in the hot shower, I also mindlessly flossed my teeth like I do every day. Slip the string between two teeth. Slide and shift to clean. Slip the string out. Repeat.


Suddenly, the floss was stuck between two of my back teeth. I pulled a little harder. Stuck. I pulled from a different angle. Stuck. I thought about pulling even harder but stopped. For the past couple of years, my dentist has warned me about two teeth that need attention. Was this one of them? If I pulled too hard would I break something? Just the day before I received an email saying that, to avoid the spread of the virus, the office was only open for emergencies now. I couldn’t see the teeth. I couldn’t feel the problem. I needed help.

This story is actually about who you need in your life. During the week of our 24th wedding anniversary, I walked down the hallway, through our home and to my husband. “I need help,” I said to him again when I was closer and he could hear. He turned around, looked at me and laughed. I had a long string of dental floss hanging from my mouth, like the dogs who slurp up the long strand of spaghetti in Lady and the Tramp cartoon, but just by myself.

“Don’t just yank it,” I said to my husband as he pushed me here and there, trying to find the place with the best light so he could see the problem. “It’s stuck on something, and I’m afraid if you pull too hard it will break the tooth or dislodge one of those old fillings.”

“Okay,” he said.

And then he yanked it out, handed it to me and laughed again. He went off to do his own work.

This story is really about… what? Being stuck? Being afraid? Needing others? Not knowing what you really need? This story is really about all of that.