Day 21: Gritting Teeth

Day 21:

I remember his teeth. He had an overbite. His smile was a facsimile of Michael’s; they both shared those big buckteeth. One time, when we were at his semi-annual dental examination, I asked the dentist what we should do about his overbite. He said, “Enjoy it. Enjoy that big, adorable smile. He is going to need some serious dental work down the road.”

He never got there — down the road. But he never stopped smiling. Even in his very last week, when morphine coursed through his veins to calm the nerves and dampen the pain and he was bloated from steroids and his blood oxygen was diminishing so extremities are were starting to shut down, he still smiled for every picture. He smiled on his last full day of life when he played his unclothed version catch with his four-year-old nephew from his hospital bed. And even when he played his dementia clouded last round of Uno. He put down four cards at once and declared himself the winner, with a big smile. None of us were heartless enough to say otherwise. That smile won us over and him the game.

I remember the first time he smiled. Of course, everyone says, newborns are really passing gas when they look like they are smiling. But with him, even though he was only four weeks old, I knew. I could see from the shine in his eyes that his heart-warming, gum-baring grin was a genuine reflection of inner joy and warmth. I didn’t know, back then, how bucktoothed he’d be. I didn’t even know what color his eye or hair color would become.

With his sister, it was clear from the start. Her rich, espresso colored eyes, with their flakes of gold were fixed from the moment she arrived. But many babies often start out as grey. “Eyes like the sea after a storm”, as the line goes from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. His stormy sea eyes became a sun-soaked, soft summer pools of blue. Red-hued hair lightened to the color of golden straw. After it fell out, the first time, it grew back as dishwater blonde. Does anyone even know what color dishwater blonde is anymore? All dirty dished are stacked, and then packed into a machine. It’s a color lost to technology. We’ll rename it toffee and chemo colored. Though he disliked toffee because it alway got stuck in his teeth. Chemo highlights hair with a change to course texture and tinge of grey from growing up and old through the experience and being soaked from the inside with toxins. Eye and hair colors evolved but that smile stayed the same with two pearly white teeth poking out.

Somewhere, in the bottom of sock drawers and jewelry boxes, I have an assortment of baby teeth collected and socked away by the Tooth Fairy. She would leave a two-dollar bill, in exchange for swiping the tooth from under his pillow. I don’t know why the Tooth Fairy had me keep them, maybe it was for this very instant – now, in the case I have his teeth but I don’t have him. I wish I had been more organized and dated and identified each dental remnant. I should have archivally housed these artifacts in a museum quality fashion. Acid and lignin-free environment. Luckily, I had the accidental foresight to store them away from damaging light. Now, I grit my teeth. If only I could remember where they all are. Then, I could string them together and draw on my love and my memory to build back tooth by tooth that baby, bucktoothed version of him.



Prompt: Choose something. Anything. The more ordinary, the better: shoes. Kitchen table. Garden hose. Bookshelves or tea pots or underwear drawers. Choose anything as your subject.

Write: I remember…

From Megan Devine’s Refuge In Grief Write Your Grief Workshop


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