Journal 3: The Tooth of it All

Try this, page 180: Recall an experience that changed you.  Write about it with one of the traditional openings of a story.

Long ago and far away, I was six.  It was early evening and I was at a soccer practice.  I was terrible at the sport – the kind of goalie who kicked the ball backwards and the kind of forward who tried catching the ball – but at the time I didn’t fully understand my lack of talent.  The trees were starting to turn colors, and I remember the grass looking yellow.  That could have been the result of the Yellow Rains that came every year to Seoul, where we had just moved that summer for my dad’s job.  I didn’t know anyone yet, so I hoped that I could find a friend or two on the soccer team.  My mom was there, standing against the fence and talking to several other parents. 

After a few minutes of listening to the coach explain some rules about the game, we broke to start a scrimmage.  I volunteered to be on defense.  With two other girls, I started walking towards the other end of the field.  I recall it being far away from the rest of the team, but in reality it was probably only a hundred feet or so away.  While we walked towards the goal, I started wiggling my tooth.  It had started wobbling every time I took a bite of food and I had, in the two weeks since it started, gotten into the habit of playing with it.  The tooth was one of my front teeth, but on the bottom.  So, as we walked, my tooth wobbled and wiggled as normal – but then something changed.

It popped.  There was a strange feeling of release and all of a sudden, my tongue hit air instead of tooth.  My mouth filled with the stomach-turning taste of blood.  Tears welled and I felt sick.  In this miserable state I ran towards my mom.  The distance seemed doubly long and I wondered if I would ever make it.  Finally I reached the fence.  My mom was talking to another parent.  I started crying harder when she didn’t see me; finally someone else noticed and pointed me out to her.  She grew immediately concerned.  She asked, “Did a soccer ball hit you?  What happened?”  I couldn’t say anything.  I managed to find the tooth in my mouth and pulled it out to show her.  She flinched – she hated teeth and the blood that came with them – but understood what had happened.  Or so I thought.

She fished through her handbag for some tissues and applied them to my face.  Another parent ran to get the coach.  My memories from this point on get hazier, but I recall being shepherded home.  My mother told my father and there were hugs and congratulations on losing my first tooth.  The tooth itself was cleaned and placed in the special tooth holder my grandfather made just for this occasion.  That night when I went to bed, I placed the tooth in the small slot for lost teeth in the wooden contraption – shaped like a tooth, of course – and shoved it under my pillow.  It took me awhile to fall asleep because I was so excited at the prospect of the Tooth Fairy herself coming to get my tooth. 

When I woke up the next morning, I felt under my pillow.  The container was open and a dollar bill was wrapped up inside it.  I felt victorious.  Not only had I passed the important stage of losing my first tooth, I had gained a dollar to put in my money bank – a huge success for a girl of six!  It took me a week to get used to the strange feeling of a gap in my teeth.  I realized that I was slightly disappointed that I lost the tooth that early, because one of my favorite Christmas songs had a line that went “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” and I dearly wanted to be able to say that for myself.

For years after I lost my first tooth, though, my mom had the story wrong.  I thought she understood at soccer practice that it just fell out, but I would hear her telling people on the phone that “a soccer ball hit Carly in the face, and she lost her first tooth!”  I would try to correct her misconception, but she never seemed to believe me.  In fact, to this day she may remember that soccer ball hitting me and knocking my tooth out – but that’s not the way it happened!