There are some families, big Irish/Catholic ones with multiple children milling about. Their hard-working, hard-scrabble parents find a little piece inside themselves that isn’t too tired or overwhelmed, something miraculously intact from their own childhood and use it to create Christmas magic.
My parents weren’t like that.
This wasn’t their fault really. Even though I was only the youngest of three, my brother and sister took up so much psychic real estate that my mom and dad really had little room to keep up the charade of bullshit things like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
My sister Lisa outed the Tooth Fairy to me on a warm spring night made more beatific by the new landscape of my first grade mouth. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll allow that I was probably significantly obnoxious about that empty space in my mouth and unrelenting in relaying to my twelve year old sister just how and where I was going to spend my anticipated loot. It was too bad, really, that she had all her grown up teeth in her head. It was too bad, really, that a magic fairy was going to have to bypass her matching purple bedspread en route to mine to bestow upon me cash and prizes.
It was too bad, I said, that she had to lay over there across the room being Lisa tonight instead of Jaime. Poor, poor Lisa.
Lisa sat up. She looked at the window between us and then back at me. She bit her lip and hesitated, wondering if she should go ahead and tell me something important. I looked at the window too, trying to follow her thoughts. What was it?
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” she confessed.
“What?” I asked her.
“You can’t tell Mommy.”
Oh, we were having a moment. She was bestowing some of the preteen gems of her experience on me. We had these moments from time to time - real sister, bonding times, like the year before that when she used my ears as a launching pad to start her piercing business. We all had to start somewhere. Bleeding, traumatized, I was still happy to have captured her attention for the whole time she held the needle. Even when she had to re-pierce the right one after she noticed how uneven it was. Even then.
“I promise,” I promised her.
She hesitated again, and I nodded, egging her on, begging for it. “Okay,” she said. “Know what the Tooth Fairy does?”
“Leaves you money under your pillow,” I said. No brainer.
“Yeah, but if it’s a slow night and they don’t have a lot of teeth to bring back up to God to give to all the little babies being born, know what she does?”
“No.” I hadn’t really thought that through. What did they do in such an instance?
“They bring a tool box, “ she told me. “With pliers in it. And if they don’t have enough teeth, they will rip out the rest of your baby teeth. Really. They did it to Michael. That why he’s so annoying sometimes.” She listened outside, and I did too, though I didn’t know what for. “Sounds like a slow night,” she said, and rolled over underneath her purple blanket. “Good night.”
I wrapped myself in purple as well, though the comforter gave me little comfort. I kept a strict watch that night for a tool belt wielding monster and in the dead of the night, after I had nodded off sitting upright in my bed, movement across the room made me scream in terror. Even after the lights came on and my mother stood blinking in the middle of our bedroom, dollar in her hand, my brother brought into the commotion, the screaming wouldn’t stop. I screamed for me, for my poor annoying brother, for babies needing teeth, and for my sister, living all these years holding onto the knowledge of such horror like a champ.
It wasn’t until my mother came clean that there was no Tooth Fairy that I got a hold of myself. That window still sought to terrify me, however, long into my childhood and beyond, past the time when Santa Claus was demystified to me that very winter when I asked my mom, “Is Santa real?” to which she replied, “Of course not,” with a shrug. That news shed so casually was a relief really. Magical creatures who come in the night to bring me stuff had lost their luster anyway.
And that winter, when my next door neighbor Richard began to tease me about having a loose tooth in his own mouth, I quickly looked up to his bedroom window and conjured a worried face.
“Don’t tell your mom,” I told him, and carried on the tradition that had served to separate the humans from the animals since the dawn of humanity: I told him a story I’d once heard.