The women in my family have broken teeth.
My grandmother had a story she wouldn’t tell me about hers, and eventually her dentures buried the truth. My mother, twelve, fell while climbing the counter to put away dishes. She landed on a toaster. My own front teeth went the way of the horse: when I was ten I marched into our pasture and tried to saddle a pony that had been starved mean by its previous owner. I had convinced myself that he would reward my kindness and my oats with his loyalty. He let me get fifty yards before he threw me, my buck teeth split into sharp points somewhere around the fence post. My brother and I tried to track them down after I’d gotten temporaries put in, sifting through unmown grass, but we never found them.
After the dentist patched the fangs, he warned my mother that the break had happened along the nerve, exposing it; that one day the root might die and I’d be faced with another problem. Still, he said, the pony might’ve done me a favor. Pre-pony, my front teeth would’ve looked at home on Roger Rabbit — their artificial replacements actually fit in my mouth. It was a sentiment my grandmother gently echoed: “you don’t want those teeth,” she would say, gesturing to old yearbook photos of my mother, taken when she was still, herself, a bit of porcelain lodged in the cavity of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The pony, it seemed, had been the deliverer of some gift of fate, the same one that had visited the two women before me. I had never been a cute kid, and it was right around this time that I had begun to realize it: the difference in the way pretty girls at school were treated by teacher and student alike, the way their teeth lacked that diagonal hairline that occasionally made someone stop mid-sentence and peer at my mouth. “Is your tooth broken? What happened to your teeth?” And then I’d have to tell the story, until eventually those temporaries were replaced with porcelains without the fault line, and the story sunk backward into my life. After that, people would occasionally tell me I had a beautiful smile and after several years I believed them and forgot that the smile wasn’t wholly mine, accustomed to the slick feeling of porcelain like a square pearl attached at the gum.
After the dentist…