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Tabitha Blankenbiller

Writer of things that are true. But stretched.

222

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The Second War of My Jaw

MY TEETH

I declared victory over my teeth when I was 29, after the second war I waged against them. The flashing bone, a shameful shade of ivory betraying hundreds of Diet Cokes and coffees, held hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Enough to cruise the Mediterranean or fly across the Pacific and confirm that yes, Tokyo exists. Instead they were invested in a smile I no longer need to think about. I don’t angle my jutting front tooth away from a camera or Clone stamp its jagged gap out in Photoshop. I don’t catch my reflection in the mirror and cringe with the sudden realization that I don’t look as sophisticated and intelligent as I fancied myself. My mouth opening to laugh or speak revealed disorder. A drifting gone unchecked, through either the shame of laziness, ignorance or poverty. I looked like a caricature at a fair.

We had this battle before. Two decades ago, when I was still a kid shuttled to her dentist appointments by her mother, getting prizes from the dentist treasure chest.

“She needs braces,” the doctor told her. They made a plaster model of my mouth with warm wax that tasted like grape Laffy Taffy and smacked my entombed gums in the most strangely pleasurable way when the hygienist popped it away from my jaw. He held my doppelganger mouth in his hands, shifting the top and bottom teeth away from each other, telling the future he foresaw without treatment. My front teeth jutted forward, scraping my invisible lips.

I sat while my mother clutched her purse in her lap, weighing the impact of terrible genetics against all the bills and obligations. I watched the tropical fish tank and stared at the Stages of Gum Disease poster hanging above the dentist’s balding head. He seemed, to me, a false prophet. When I smiled in the mirror, nothing was out of line. My teeth didn’t look any different than my sister’s or my best friend’s. How could he know it was my destiny to become Ugly if we didn’t buy his muzzle?

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