As a child I loathed the process of losing a tooth. Nothing seemed more unnatural than my own tooth trying to disconnect and wiggle itself out of my mouth. Some people deny hair loss, wrinkles, or growing old. I denied the experience of tooth loss. When a tooth would jiggle as my tongue pressed up behind it, my stomach would shoot up to my throat and I’d stiffen with dread. I rejected any conventional method for speeding up this experience, such as pulling it out with a string. For each baby tooth I lost I would just wait in agony until it relinquished its hold on its root leaving behind a bright red and raw gap.
One morning I awoke, during this age of rampant tooth loss, and realized that yet another one was attempting to flee my mouth as if seeking freedom and independence. As I was heading out of the house for school my mother inquired as to what I had packed for lunch that day. I shook my head and explained that I wasn’t eating anything due to the evacuation going on in my mouth. With good intentions, I’m sure, my mother handed me a cookie thinking that I might regret my decision later and be hungry. It was one of those nutty cookies that were in the shape of a windmill. I carried it to school almost positive that I’d be carrying it back home later that day.
During the lunch period I sat at the table sucking on the windmill cookie, having to my own surprise succumbed to hunger. This is when my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Special, spotted me and inquired where the rest of my lunch was.
“I don’t have anymore lunch,” I explained to my second grade teacher.
“And why not?” she demanded in a stern but concerned way.
“I’m losing another tooth and I didn’t think I’d wanna eat.” I sucked on the windmill cookie until it dissolved in my mouth.
“Well children lose teeth…that’s what happens. You still have to eat. I’m sure your mother would be upset if she knew you didn’t take your lunch today.”
This is where the adult in me looks backs with hindsight and wishes she could clap a hand over that seven year olds mouth before I let out the next sentence, “My mom knows already. She’s the one that gave me the cookie.”
Mrs. Specials turned a shade of pink completely flustered by this new revelation, “Well, I absolutely cannot believe such neglect! This is atrocious!”
I had no idea what atrocious meant, but I was keen enough to gather that it wasn’t good and someone was in trouble. The teacher trotted off momentarily leaving me to suck on the last half of my cookie while my fellow classmates stared at me with confusion and interest. A minute later Mrs. Special reappeared at the lunch table and handed me one dollar and one quarter, “Put down that cookie and go and get a hot lunch right now.” She ordered.
I took the money and started off for the lunch line, which snaked along the cafeteria wall. Behind me I heard Mrs. Special offer up one more insult, “Your mother must care more for that Animal Shelter than she does for her own child.” The teacher huffed and then stomped off.
Earlier that month my mother had given a presentation to my class about the Humane Society, since she was their volunteer President, a “tiring” and “thankless” job. This had included bringing in some rescue animals and educating the students about care and responsibility for animals. At the time Mrs. Special and my mother seemed to have gotten along just fine, but looking back there must have been some underlying tension that I wasn’t privy to at the naïve age of seven.
I’d never been through the lunch line or eaten the school’s hot lunch. Completely bewildered by the experience, I remember the confusion as I looked at all the options and wondered how the process worked. There were numerous ladies shuffling around in hair nets behind the food and one smiled as she handed me a tray full of steak fingers, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and a small white milk. I slid the tray down to the cash register where I proudly presented the clerk with my crisp dollar and the warm quarter I’d been clenching in my fist. I’m positive that now that food would taste like dog food, but then it was the most delicious experience. Every morsel on my tray was devoured, which made Mrs. Special proud when she stopped by later to inspect my progress.
Later that evening I would divulge the experience to my mother sending her into a volatile state of hysteria. The next day she took me to school personally, refusing to let me “set foot in that woman’s classroom” and instead making me sit with her in the principal’s office. Mrs. Special was called in for a meeting, once the Principal was made aware of the situation. There in front of me, my mother, and the elementary principal Mrs. Special would cry and beg for forgiveness, which equated to keeping her position with the school. Everyone was focused on the teacher and her tears. I’m sure I felt her frustration, sadness, and stress. This is probably why I didn’t realize that my tongue was inching itself under the bottom of my loose tooth, pushing it ever forward until it broke lose sending it fumbling out of my mouth and a pool of blood gushing down my chin.