The Tooth

Victim on left

Well, the mystery’s finally been solved after 30 years, the one last great debate. An astute dentist in Traverse City did it: Cracked open the cold case of “The Tooth.”

It started three decades ago outside of my mother’s best friend’s home. Mom and Dad disappeared into the house for a quick hello and to drop off a dish on a warm September night. They left their 6-year-old twins in the backseat with one instruction, a warning that came from the end of my father’s ominous finger: “Do. Not. Fight.”

Well, fighting is what we did best. No way were we going to be able to divide the backseat down the middle, after dark, without witnesses or line judges. There would be war, tears and, as it turned out, blood.

It started with standard issue pushing and shoving before the house door even shut behind them, moves that were well perfected and evenly weighted between our identical thin, bony bodies. We could shove each other all day without so much as causing a shift in the air. It was the cowboy boots worn that night that would set the stage for a whole different battle.

The night was clear, the moon a half crescent above the car windows that went up or down with crank handles. Inside, Mom and Dad were trying to wrap things up just as their daughters were getting started.

The brown vinyl seats set things into action. Pushing and shoving turned to sliding and falling and finally, kicking and screaming. We were fighting like any decent blue-jeaned girls from the outskirts of town would over an absolutely invisible line in the dark.

That’s when it happened. One of us kicked the other. Square in the mouth. And out came part of a tooth. A front tooth. And plenty of blood. No one remembers much after that except Dad going absolutely ballistic.

But the funny thing was, years later, no one could remember who kicked out whose tooth. Both of us claimed to be the victim. My mother feigned memory loss, so upset was she to have her tuna casserole play such a key role in our childhood. My father, so furious about it all, was never interviewed.

For years I claimed my final memory of the scramble was a size 3 cowboy boot framed against the night sky. After that, the rest was dark. During a Business Law class in college, I scoured the chapter on statue of limitations.
But the final verdict wouldn’t come for another 15 years when I decided to whiten my teeth and, as it turned out, one tooth did not brighten along with the others. One front tooth.

Yet, my senses had been dulled and I didn’t connect any dots. Of course, I have one stubborn tooth, I thought, trying to bleach it longer than the others. Then I started seeing a few photos of myself with that one tooth staring out at me, a shade darker. Still, I made no connection. I simply headed to the dentist for an opinion on the problem tooth.

After prodding and poking, the dentist said, “Do you realize that tooth has been repaired?”

Realization hit me there sitting on another brown vinyl seat. I’d been trying to whiten whatever kind of material a dentist in 1980 would have used to fix the damage of a boot heel.

I’d had all the evidence I needed on the front of my face all these years.

Yes, the case was cracked. It hadn’t occurred to me that dental work would have been involved. I was only 6 at the time and I’d blocked out all my other dental visits, hadn’t I? It all made sense.

But when I told my sister, thundering in my righteousness, she just laughed. I, however, was handed a quote for a thousand-dollar veneer. And that is how it ended: the case cracked, 30 years later.

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