My daughter missed her dentist appointment this week. In general, she is a very responsible teenager. I only bring it up because every time I hear the word dentist, I can’t help but run my tongue over the edge of my top right front tooth. You see, I have a chip in my top right front tooth. It is not a large chip. You wouldn’t notice it unless you knew it was there. I think it gives my smile a little je ne sais quoi– like Lauren Bacall but without the glamour. It is sharp and jagged just like the memory of how I got it. Every time I go to the dentist, they offer to fix it for me. They don’t understand; it can’t be fixed. And frankly, I don’t want it to be fixed. You see it is like a living reminder to me that there are consequences for not being nice to people. In a way, it is a kind of penance I suppose. Although my transgression hardly deserves 42 years of penance. Still it is the little sins, the little scars we hold onto the longest.
I am one of four daughters and I was (am?) the tomboy of the family. I was the kid who was always climbing on top of something, falling off something, getting covered in mud, making a fort- you get the point. I was the sole reason bandages and Bactine were purchased in our home. I was once kicked out of ballet class because I could not control my urge to Grande Jeté right into the line of tutu wearing girlie girls. Sad day for my mother who was definitely a girlie girl. Happy day for my sisters who were tired of being knocked over like dominoes. My mom wanted me to be a little more ballerina and a little less Tarzan. I wanted to be Tarzan. I won. I Grand Jeté’d myself right into the woods and built a fort.
On the fateful day my tooth was chipped, I must say I cannot remember what set me off. I imagine it was a conflict between what I wanted to play and what my older sister wanted to play because the target of my rage that day was her extensive collection of Barbie Dolls clad in evening wear that would rival anything you might see on the red carpet. Now in family lore, it is said that I played with Barbie Dolls. I do not believe this. There is no photographic evidence at any rate. I expressed my anger by enthusiastically removing the heads of all of her Barbies. I popped them right off. I was probably smiling when I did it. I was really mad, and I knew that would make her really mad. It, in fact, did. So, she grabbed the closest weapon, a full bottle of Sweet Honesty perfume, and hurled it across the room while screaming like a Banshee. It connected with my face just on the tip of my right front tooth. I knew right then I crossed a line. But I was seven and though the magnitude of my actions were clear, I did not understand right away just what I had done. I was angry. I wanted her to know how angry I was. Somehow in my seven-year-old brain, removing the heads from her Barbies was the right amount of wrong to express my anger. But I was wrong about that. As soon as that bottle of perfume hit my mouth, I knew it. I drove her to physical violence with my beheading.
So, my chipped right front tooth is never going to be fixed. I am never going to cover it up so that I can’t see it. I am never going to fill it in so that I cannot feel that jagged, sharp edge. I doubt my Barbie beheading would have turned into a life of criminal activity. But it very well could have turned into something worse – a life lacking compassion or empathy. I also doubt my behavior scarred my sister, though I should probably ask before I make that assertion. It doesn’t seem to have scarred our relationship and I am grateful for that. So I will accept my chipped tooth as part of my whole- the part that makes mistakes, atones for wrongs, learns and moves on (but keeps the chip lest I forget).
1967: Five short years before the dreaded tooth chipping.