Originally published on my blog: noteworthythoughtsblog.wordpress.com

Teethmarks are like finger prints. They are a unique identifier, not just to the naked eye, but also to the scientific eye. Archaeologists who study the teeth of skull can determine the age and gender of the person to whom the skull belonged. Forensic scientists can use teeth marks to identify someone, just the same as fingerprints and DNA samples. Teeth, like other parts of the body, can tell stories about someone's identity and someone's history.

If you look closely, one of my front teeth is shorter than the other. To be precise, it is my right front incisor, which would be on your left if you're looking at me. This is because I have chipped it twice, and, therefore, have had it repaired twice. My teeth are mostly straight, but there are gaps between them. Surprisingly, these gaps are met by numerous dentists with praise rather than scorn.

When I first starting writing this post, it was actually something completely different. It was a love letter to my teeth, which are not the perfect teeth that braces-clad teenagers strive to attain. As I wrote the story of my teeth, however, I found another story unfold around it: my family history.

Growing up, my brother and I had naturally straight teeth. Both of my parents boasted the fact that they never needed braces, and, now, my brother and I can boast the same. However, I remember as a child jabbing the edge of a spoon between my two front teeth. I'm not sure why I did this, but, as painful as it sounds, I found it quite satisfying. I don't remember why I stopped, but it was probably because one of my parents told me to.

Then I noticed that a gap had grown, right there, in between my front teeth, where my brother had none. I'm still not sure if this strange habit of mine was the cause of the gap, but the gap was, and still is, present nonetheless.

When I was six or seven, I stayed at the house of one of my biological mother's friends. I didn't know them well. I shared a room with their daughter and remember being in awe when she told me she slept on top of her covers with all the lights on. At this house, I felt like I usually did– carted around by my mother, who, it seemed, placed me in these people's care the same way I'd toss my car keys on the side table by the door. She was hasty and eager to go ride horses, as usual.

I never felt close to my mother. She fed me at dinner and picked me up after school. She threw me birthday parties, which was the only time I ever remember having friends over. She ignored my unrequited requests. She bought me clothes that didn't fit, as if she could will me into something other than plus-sized pants. I rode horses and played sports because she wanted me to do those things; I never made a request, as far as I can remember, to ride a horse. I always felt as if she were some sort of fish in a tank. Her words and actions were blurry to me. They were a performance. In hindsight, I don't see anything of substance, almost as if my childhood spent under her care was some sort of absurd dream. So, being at a stranger's house was normal, because my mother told me it was, but it was also strange, because I felt that it was strange.

It is always these times, however, when a child is awkwardly placed in another's care, that things go wrong. I was eating lunch on a high stool at the bar in my mom's friend's strange and glamorous kitchen, which felt really cool until I fell onto the ground, teeth first. The memory is so foggy that I don't remember if my outrage caused me to laugh or cry. But there I was, holding a tiny white fragment that had been connected to my right front tooth just a split second before.

I was confused and scared and I don't remember when I went to the dentist. I don't remember how my mother reacted. Possibly with frustration that she had a problem to fix, as if my tooth were an engine leak in a car. After paying to ride horses, she now had to pay for the damage that I sustained while in a friend's care. Anyhow, I went to the dentist one way or another, where they glued my tooth together, handed me a sticker and a new toothbrush, and sent me on my way. At the time, all of this felt normal, but it's only writing about it in retrospect that I realize I was treated more like an object than a small person. My tooth was repaired.

A lot happened between the first time and the second time I chipped my tooth. My mother moved out to a farm house we had bought and left our family behind. My parents got a divorce. I watched my father struggle as a single parent to two children while he worked a full-time job as a lawyer. The mother of one of my brother's classmates, who experienced the same struggles as a single mother with a full-time job, reached out to my father to let him know that if he needed any help or advice he could come to her. A year or so later, my father married this woman and welcomed her daughter into our family as his own daughter and my new big sister. Similarly, she mothered my brother and I, shaping us into the people we have become. This is still confusing to others, because I call her my mom casually, because "stepmom" doesn't serve her justice. But, when I speak to her, I've always called her by her first name, Kate.

One thing that awed me about Kate was that she listened to what my brother and I wanted. In fifth grade, I was obsessed with Green Day, and I wanted to be a rock star. I remember laughing in the car when "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" came on the radio and Kate said, "Isn't this that band you like? Green Face?"

Regardless of her being able to recite band names, Kate saw my love for music and got me guitar lessons. This was the simplest and most normal thing in the world, but, to me, this was strange. I thought of how hard I would have to beg my mother for guitar lessons only to complain about the money it would cost her and to have her call me spoiled in the end. So, when someone saw that I liked something and gave me something that I wanted without my request seemed unreal to me.

Kate was also very active and creative when it came to things like Halloween costumes. Before school on my thirteenth Halloween, she gathered these items from my father's closet: a large tweed jacket, old worn jeans, and a bright red stocking cap. Dressed in these ordinary things, I became hobo for Halloween. It is only now that I realize how insensitive this costume was. Maybe, then, what happened next was the social justice gods sending me an ironic message. After school, I plopped on the couch, took off my goofy teeth, and turned on John Carpenter's Halloween. In the middle of the movie, somebody else wanted to join me. That was my yellow lab, Abby, who was less than a year old at the time. Given her age, she was still in puppy mode but not quite puppy sized. When she jumped on my lap, I tensed under the sudden addition of her weight, ground my teeth together, and the chip– the same one from circa five years earlier– popped off again.

I ran upstairs nearly in tears to Kate.  I was laughing because I felt like crying, and crying because I once again felt victim to an outrageous happening that I blamed upon myself. Because of this I was, again, a financial burden to the family and an inconvenient appointment at the dentist's office.

Instead of being met with frustration, Kate comforted me. She told me it wasn't my fault. Then she called the dentist.

The procedure at the dentist the next day was more painful than the last time I chipped my tooth. They "glued" the chip back on, and they did something that sounded and felt like filing my tooth with one of those– I cannot think of a more eloquent way to put this– really fast drill thingies.

 

Most people don't notice my teeth, but there are perfectionists out there who believe that my broken teeth are a result of negligence and carelessness. While this may have been the first time my tooth was chipped, it was not true the second time it was chipped. It's safe to say that negligence is what caused my tooth to break a second time. It's been ten years, and my tooth is still going strong. I have no qualms about biting into food or flashing a toothy grin. In fact, most people compliment my smile, and I'm pretty sure it was a deciding factor for some of my past bosses when they hired me.

In short, my teeth are a part of my body that cause me the least trouble. They, like me, have been through some confusing and crazy times. They came out on the other side of their trials, not broken, but beautifully unique. The happy ending of a strange tale. Just like me, and just like my family.

Published by Alex Worthy