It’s gross, really. I should have thrown it out a long time ago. But there it still is, in a plastic Ziploc bag in the bottom of the bathroom drawer at my mom’s house. If you don’t know what it is already, you might not recognize it on sight, might roll it between your fingers trying to figure out the mystery of this pea-sized white stone that someone felt the need to preserve. It’s small enough that you might assume the bag is empty and toss it directly in the trash.
But I know what it is, remember tiptoeing up to Colin’s little-boy body nestled in a Spiderman sleeping bag with a folded dollar bill pressed to my palm. Remember the way his mouth hung open as he slept, the moment of triumph after exchanging tooth for dollar bill. He stirred as I left the room but didn’t fully wake. In the morning, he wouldn’t remember hearing the door close, and his eyes would widen with the magic of believing a fairy had made the exchange.
Now all I have of him is this tiny yellowing bone that has sat forgotten in a drawer for the last nine months. He was only a temporary fixture in my life, like the tooth was in his. Except unlike me, he has little memory of this tooth’s existence even though less than a year ago it seemed like it would stay forever. It’s been replaced by a bigger, more permanent tooth. He doesn’t remember how it fit into his mouth. He doesn’t remember the way he poked at it with his tongue, bumped his finger against it saying Look how loose it is!
In retrospect, I should have seen him coming loose from us. Coming loose from me. Or maybe I came loose from him. Maybe both.
My nephew, James, refuses to pull out a loose tooth. He lets it get looser and looser until it hangs by a thread and finally, finally that thread breaks and the tooth comes out on its own. That’s what we did with Colin. We let the tie get looser and looser. With each angry shove, every degrading word toward my daughter, Cierra, he became wigglier. But like James, I didn’t want it to be true, didn’t want to face the pain of final separation. He was ours, and I wanted him to stay, even when the connection was so tenuous that we could hardly function with him hanging there, ready to let go.
The night the final thread broke was spent at the beach with hot dogs on roasting sticks. The whooshing ocean and crackling fire played the score for our evening over the backdrop of the driftwood-stacked shore. The idyllic scene was almost a cruel a set up for the pall that fell when Cierra removed her shoe later that night. She revealed her swollen red foot, a gash covering nearly the length of it, and told me what he had done. “Do you really think it was an accident or are you saying that to protect him?” I asked. Her eyes pooled with tears, “To protect him.” She was barely able to get the words out. Somewhere inside her, she knew this would be the end for him—for us. When he moved in, we said it would be permanent. We said we’d adopt him, and he’d be with us forever. That allowed us to ignore the threads that gradually broke free when he rolled the big garbage can right into her. When he shoved her while she ran at full speed, sending her crashing into the rough sidewalk. When he rejected her kindness with his acid tongue, put her down or manipulated her for the tenth, thousandth, millionth time. Suddenly I was able to see how loose he had become, how irreparable the damage was. I told him before he went to sleep that night that it would probably be the last night he spent in our home. It was.
Now he has found something I hope will be more permanent with a big family and lots of other pearly teeth. Maybe this time the threads will hold, will sink down deep, rooting him in place in his new home. Still, I notice the hole he left when he came loose from me–still poke at it with my tongue once in awhile, just to feel the empty space.
Abby Kidd is an educator who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, daughter.