Excerpt – HOW HIGH THE MOON
I lost my first tooth when I was six years old. Well, “lost” isn’t exactly the right word, since it’s not like it just plopped into my chicken noodle soup out of the blue, or fell out when I sneezed. In truth, it got yanked out of my head by Teddy, who didn’t know what to do with a wobbly baby tooth that hurt when you bit down, so he asked some guy at work.
It took Teddy three songs on the radio to finally get the string wrapped around my tooth, but when he slammed the door—more like a shut than a slam—the string slipped right off. After a lot of howling by me, and pleading by Teddy for me to open my mouth so he could "see" it, he pinched the tooth between his fingers and yanked.
I screamed bloody murder and whacked his arm so hard that my tooth went pinging across the room. So while I bawled and bled into my hand, Teddy scooted around the floor on his knees, smoothing his hands over the linoleum to find my tooth, because I was wailing that I wanted it back. When he found it, I popped it into my mouth like I was Mr. Potato Head and my tooth was a part you could take off and put back on, take off and put back on.
Teddy took me by the hand and led me to the couch, where he sat me down beside him and tucked me under his arm. "I shouldn’t have pulled it like that, Teaspoon," he said. "I’m sorry. I should know by now that there’s some things in life that just hurt too much when you’re forced to let go of them before you’re ready."
"What things?" I asked Teddy as I sniffled, because I wanted to know what else somebody might try yanking from my head.
"Well, I guess a lot of things. Hope…love…childhood…"
"And teeth." I said, careful to keep my yanked tooth tucked up against my cheek. "You forgot teeth."
At bedtime Teddy tried to convince me to put my tooth under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy. I shook my head no, so Teddy said I didn’t have to until I was ready, but that I couldn’t keep it in my mouth while I slept because I might choke on it. So I hid it in a sock in my drawer in case the Tooth Fairy heard I’d lost it and decided to come snooping. I put it back in my mouth when I woke up, but after a few days, when the tooth started graying and feeling dry, like it wasn’t a part of me anymore, I put it under my pillow and the Tooth Fairy left me enough money to buy a Mars Bar.
For a lot of days after I lost that tooth, I couldn’t stop rubbing my tongue over the hole where it had been. I asked Teddy when I’d stop doing that because it had started getting on my nerves, and he said, "When you’re used to having it gone."
I don’t know why the words Teddy said that day stuck in my head like gum on hair, since most things Teddy said—or anybody else, for that matter—went right in one ear and out the other, but they did. I’m thinking about them now, as I walk toward home with Teddy, the neighborhood so quiet that I can hear the clicking of my shoes on the sidewalk as we move out from under one streetlight beam and into another, my mind rubbing over the last few months like a tongue over the hole where a baby tooth should be.