Why There is a Tooth On My Desk (or, For When the World is Taking Pieces of You)


There is a tiny tooth in a plastic sandwich bag on my desk. It’s strange what you will accept as normal, once you are a parent. Saving a bloody tooth? In a sandwich bag? Beside my books and on top of a binder? It’s the size of a small pea, the color of a not-quite-white seashell. It’s shaped like a broad, flat shovel. I guess it’s about six years old.

It is the remains of Abra’s toothy, childhood grin. This was the one that stuck out, the one we affectionately referred to as “the fang.” It’s been replaced by a gaping black hole, the kind that sucks in time and matter and space and leaves you wondering where a childhood has gone, where it’s going. Black holes are ruthless. None of us can escape them.

Her grandmother convinced her to pull it out. At first Abra wanted to do it herself, so she vanished into the bathroom with Sam as support, and I heard them talking, conspiring, strategizing. Sam got bored and came out. Abra emerged a few minutes later, nearly crying, blood on her chin, the tooth pointing out at an awkward angle, like a broken bone.

She sat on her grandmother’s lap and her grandma said, “Tell me if it hurts,” and before she knew what was happening, she was sitting there with a tiny pearl in the palm of her hand and an empty space in her mouth, six years of her life pulled right out.

This world just keeps taking pieces of us, doesn’t it? There’s no way around it. It just keeps yanking and tugging and leaving us bloody and hurting with gaping holes. Things don’t work out the way we had hoped they would, and our writing gets rejected yet again, and we have to find another job, and relationships crumble. People we love get really, really sick. Sometimes they die before we do, which seems a terrible injustice because while none of us want to die, even fewer of us want to be the last one standing.

Little pieces of us, big pieces of us. Gone. Chunks of years. Vanished.

The only thing we can really hope for is that someone will be there when it happens, that someone can help us take the piece out when it gets stuck, that they can clean the blood off our chin and lay the piece in our palm so that we can study it before moving on.

If we’re lucky, we have people who will help us bury these pieces under, way under the pillow so that it doesn’t hurt us anymore. So we can sleep easy again. But if we’re really, really lucky one day we’ll wake up and realize that thing that was taken somehow transformed into something beautiful.

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