I had bad luck with teeth as a kid. By my second birthday I had already had one too many run-ins with my mustachioed dentist. I guess my mother let me suck on my bottle too long so I developed something referred to as “milk mouth” and had to undergo a procedure to put caps on my front teeth. All I remember from that ordeal is being wheeled into recovery in what felt like a circus animal cage. Sometimes I’m not sure if that memory is real or a fragment from a nightmare.
Anyway, the real “teeth” tale to be told happened when I was in kindergarten. My closest friend at the time was a smart, quiet girl named Raven Lauro. I spent hundreds of afternoons over at her house since my mom worked full time and there was nobody to eat after-school grilled cheeses with at my house. Thankfully, the Lauro home had Fred, who was always there to offer a ferocious welcome. Fred was a six-foot, taxidermied, grizzly bear that Mr. Lauro brought home from one of his hunting excursions. Whether it was a Santa hat at Christmastime, shamrock shorts for St. Patty’s, or jeans on casual Fridays, Fred was decked out for every occasion.
Despite the quirky grizzly in the living room, the Lauros were perfectly disciplined like a family in an after-school special. It was always, “homework before playtime” with delicious, home-cooked snacks in between. It was only after all schoolwork had been reviewed, that we could head out to their fenced-in, suburban back yard. Raven and her sister, Georgi, had everything a six-year-old wished for on his/her Christmas list. The scene was furnished with an above-ground pool, trampoline, and of course, a sparkling, aluminum swing-set. The set was complete with a clubhouse, slide, two regular swings, and one two-seater teeter-totter swing. The teeter-totter swing transported us to the planet Pluto, planted us on many a pirate ship, and ultimately landed me in the emergency room!
Even though Raven’s sister was younger than us, we sometimes let her join in on our games- if only so it looked like we were making an effort to include her when Mrs. Lauro peeked out at us from the kitchen window. In reality, our kindergarten attitudes made it so we never let her be a captain or a princess. The roles of deckhand and pauper were reserved for Georgi if and when we paid her any attention at all. You’re probably asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with bad luck and teeth?” Bear with me, I’m working towards that.
I’m not sure what imaginary world we were frolicking in on the day of the incident- the whole thing is sort of a blur. I think the “kindergarten trauma” and “childhood nightmares” files are catalogued in the same folder in my memory bank so sometimes they seem one in the same. Anyway, the bulk of what I do remember goes something like this:
Raven and I were doing our thing on the regular swings unaware that her sister was picking up speed on the teeter-totter swing. I guess at some point I gracefully ejected myself from my swing and backed up towards Georgi on the two-seater. She must have gained some serious momentum because before I knew what hit me (the empty end of the teeter totter), I was down on the ground with a numb mouth and the Lauro girls were screaming. Mrs. Lauro came out in a panic and by the horrified look on her face I could have swore my face fell off. From here the memory becomes incoherent- bloody hands, nervous faces, and a rocking embrace. I thank my brain’s stenographer for not engraving the pain in full detail on the walls of my memory.
My mother arrived on the scene, oblivious to the accident, “Hi Fred, cool sunglasses!” After greeting the stuffed grizzly, she noticed Raven’s mom was cradling me on the couch.
“What’s going on here?”
“There’s been a mishap. I think it’s pretty serious…”
“Valerie what happened?”
Raven’s mom cupped my mouth. I think she came to the conclusion that if I tried to answer myself, the strings my teeth were hanging on would snap. Raven relived the whole thing for my mother who was already on the phone with Dr. Hilasfky, my dentist who eerily resembled Geraldo Rivera (but even creepier.) Supposedly, he had just closed the office and was half way home for the day but he considered my bloody mess to be enough of an emergency to turn around and meet us immediately.
As creepy as he was (I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be a convicted pervert), Dr. Hilasfky was a miracle worker when it came to kids’ damaged chompers. He also had an awesome “prize drawer” for drooling kids to rummage through while they were coming off of Novocain and laughing gas. This is where I attained my “Toothy Treasure” box that housed my four front teeth after he yanked ‘em out.
“Mom, you fink the toof fairy will know what happened to my teef?”
“Of course, I called her personally. She’s going to take extra special care of you.”
Miss Tooth Fairy must have felt really bad about my experience because a flip of my pillow revealed a crisp twenty-dollar bill (either that or she didn’t have anything smaller in her purse.) She also left the treasure chest of teeth for me to show off to all my friends at school. While most kids of my caliber were still tugging at their first loose baby tooth, I’d knocked out four at a time. This phenomenon gained me new status on the playground. I went from playing the wimpy “damsel in distress” to lurking around in the “bad-ass vampire” role. I hissed at bullies- my black smile haunted them on their nap mats. My new set of teeth must have grown in just in time for picture day because there proves to be no evidence of this toothless tale. All that remains of my teeth trauma is fragmented memories of teeter-totter swings, blood in hands, accessorized taxidermy, and kindergarten politics.