Elegy

Telluride Daily Planet Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dear Tooth Fairy,

I’m going the public route with this letter — since I doubt you’d think to look for one under my pillow — even if I had a tooth to include with it. I’ll say right up front, though, that I tend to see your mission as the tiniest bit ageist.  It’s the old folks losing their teeth who should be getting the bulk of your attention and love at this point in time. Kids have Santa and the Easter Bunny, for better or for worse.  Who do old people have???

Of course, you know — with your perfect tiny fairy recall — who I am: the one who knocked that first tooth out extra-prematurely with a fork in the cafeteria of my 1st grade French school in 1963 — probably just hungry and watching someone else and not paying attention. That tooth was hanging by a thread, and remember, they had me go to the spigot outside and pull it out, my mouth under the running water? Then it was gone — for a long, long time. Long enough for me to be known by that gappy, forked-out grin.

Later, when you came to collect teeth from under my pillow on Cascadia Avenue in Seattle — my small room with the red Chinese wallpaper my father chose because none of the rooms in the house were allowed to look like kids’ rooms — you will recall my long braids sticking straight out, perpendicular to my head on the pillow, a small but compulsively routine act used for calming myself just enough to slip into uneasy sleep in that gigantic house. That and the two stuffed animal snakes rammed tight up against my sides like sentries. I hoarded money back then, even tooth money, remember? I hid it so well in my room, I lost it completely.

Anyway, there must be something about this time of year that makes me think of you — of teeth falling out and being collected. Maybe it’s all that overripe fruit falling to the earth in soft thuds, or the leaves turning colors and unclipping from their branches as if on timers and then whirligigging down, down, down in motions much slower than we see them, we with our assuming eyes. That sweetly decomposing autumn smell when everything around us seems to loosen its hold on life force — and so why not teeth, too, I guess. Is this your biggest harvest season? That’s one question.

And, also, times must have changed for you, like they have for us all. How, for instance, does a little tooth-shaped plastic box alter the entire game plan for all the bony enamel-coated structures you’re trying to snatch and gather at what I’m assuming are break-neck speeds to do — I don’t know what with, and where? The literature is scant on this.

Also, that whole question of dentists pulling teeth and then, what, just throwing them out? Into the garbage??? You know, of course, that though I never had teeth pulled until I was 25, I was traumatized in childhood by the few times in the D.D.S. chair with a dentist who didn’t believe in Novocain for “small things” like cavities. After my 24 hours of PTSD, I’d try to figure out the physics of how a Kleenex he gave me “for comfort” turned from a solid tissue to something half as thick, as if its molecular structure had uniformly disintegrated from pain, fear, and palm sweat.

Not that I’m saying your job has anything to do with people’s pain or bad teeth, like my mother’s, whose wartime years in Paris left her malnourished, and her teeth drilled and propped up at every angle. She was one who might have benefitted from a fairy like you late in her life, though.

From what I understand, your type migrated here with our 19th century Anglo ancestors: were you stowaways? Or do fairies spontaneously generate where people believe in them?

Well. Belief or non-belief is not the point of this letter. I’m just writing because while it’s true I may be having and forgetting dreams about losing my teeth and whatever that means, or feeling the heartbreaking beauty and longing the fall brings and whatever that means, right now, to compensate (and whatever that means), I am pondering all the children’s loose, lost, and collected teeth in the world, and I am imagining you all having built something white and delicate, a world made of brilliantly constructed and crannied enamel, with towers and columns and caverns and finials everywhere, something a lot like Petra, that ancient city in Jordan carved entirely into its stone walls, fashioned so implausibly it takes your breath away.

Because when things are lost, others are created.

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