Monday, January 9, 2012

The "Lost" Tooth (And Other Tall Tales)

I knocked out my first tooth at age three. Stupid accident, but there it was -- a big 'ol gap on top that made me look at least three years older. And sure, the tooth fairy came, and I got a penny or something (times were tough), but in my mind, that one didn't really count.  That tooth hadn't wriggled for days, hung on by a thread, and finally fallen into my baloney sandwich. No. It'd just come out - BOOM - and that was it.

My first grade year, everyone was losing teeth. Everyone except me. Our teacher had this chart on the wall, and I don't even remember what it looked like or what all went into it; all I remember is that if you lost a tooth at school, you got recognized somehow. Like, I dunno, she wrote your name on the chart. Wheee! But I was so jealous of the kids who got to be on the chart. None of my teeth were even remotely loose. What was I to do?

I would like to state, for the record, that the Great Lost Tooth Deception of 1987 was not premeditated. It was too stupid to be so. It was just like this: One day, I was out on the playground, playing around the storm drain. I mean, yeah, sure, we had swings, we had monkey bars, but I preferred the ghetto simpler things in life. So I was playing on the ground, and there were all these rocks, and one of them was white, like a tiny tooth. It was even shaped like a first-grader-sized baby tooth. At first I just thought it was funny, this tooth-looking little rock. But then I decided to pursue a nagging thought in my evil little mind. Pretend this is MY TOOTH. Tell my teacher I lost it!

And that's precisely what I did. I don't remember what she said or if I got my name on the chart at all. You'd think I would. You'd think that'd be important. But what sticks out in my mind the most is going home that day and telling my mom I'd lost a tooth. Seriously. It was like by that point, I'd tricked myself into believing it had ACTUALLY HAPPENED. But my mom was smart. She knew I hadn't had any loose teeth. She knew how these things worked. She wanted to see the hole, the gap where the tooth had been.


And then it was all over. The jig was up. The tooth/rock went away, and we never spoke of it again.

Even though this was the only time (that I recall) that I ever tried to fake a lost body part, there were many other instances of deception when I was a little kid. Years 6 and 7 were the worst. I think I just wanted my life to be interesting, or at least sound more interesting than it really was.

I told one of my friends that my parents were divorced (WHICH IS TERRIBLE!). At church (CHURCH! I KNOW!) the other kids always had the Sunday School teacher pray for their pets, and I didn't have any pets (but oh, I wanted some), so I fabricated a family of guinea pigs for the Lord to watch over. I was jealous of people who had nicknames, so I told people that my full name was actually Mollina. I told people whatever I wanted to be true, and had really no idea how stupid I sounded or how wrong that was.

But I grew out of it, thank goodness. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I stopped being such a little liar around age 8, and that's the same year I got into creative writing. It was like something finally clicked -- that fakery and wackiness belongs on the page alone. I'm not saying I never told another lie as long as I lived -- I've told many. But, for the most part, they've been slightly less ridiculous. Still shameful, yes... woe... but less ridiculous.

I'm a teacher now, and a few years back I encountered a first grader who told ridiculous, outlandish lies. I will never understand what prompted her to insist that she had thirteen grandfathers and that her family did not know what birthday cake was, for they celebrated their holidays with the traditional Birthday Buffalo. Because at least my stories could have been true (except for maybe Mollina, because who names their kid that? Don't answer that.) Did that little girl really believe what she was saying? Did she speak with conviction, like I did at age six, as if the crazy stories I was telling weren't crazy, but real? And should I have told her straight-up that she was a liar? I mean, really, it's been, like, seven years, and I still think about that kid and want to throw a tomato at her.

And that's the truth.

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