On the afternoon of September 26, 1986, I am at the top of our driveway in Kingston, shooting tennis balls into a hockey net. The net is one of those flimsy types—with a base and a back, but no sides or “top-shelf.” More a lacrosse net than a hockey net. Framed mesh, if comparisons to lacrosse nets mean nothing. I am seven, and have three Steve Yzerman posters on my bedroom wall. Nothing unique by mid-80s standards.
I don’t know what I am thinking on this afternoon. I mean this literally. I don’t remember. Nor will I try to probe the depths of that seven year old with romantic adult make-em-ups: dreams of playing in the NHL (who didn’t have that?); grade three crushes on a black girl who was actually from India (Sorry, Jaspreet); a fight with a teacher about how many States there are (Fuck you, Ms. Holden, there are fifty!).
I don’t know what I am thinking on this afternoon when after a wonderfully average shot (or a stiff wind), the net falls over and instead of bending down to pick it up, I stomp on it the way Marty McFly does on one end of his skateboard to pop the whole thing up into a waiting hand. Simple lever mechanics…I think.
Ah, the flimsy net…the flimsy net. Well, what can’t stand up to my rad wrist shot is strong enough to pop past my hand and McFly into my mouth, knocking out my front tooth—an “adult” tooth! I don’t suppose the net hits me particularly hard, but for whatever reason the little guy comes out. When there is no tooth where a tooth should be, it’s always going to be disconcerting*; anyone who has had wisdom teeth removed can relate to the idea of getting used to a new mouth architecture. Let’s catalogue the scene here:
• A tooth is floating in a small pool of blood and saliva just under my tongue
• I yell for my Mom (probably)
• When my mouth opens, some blood and spit spills out onto the driveway (probably); there is a splat (unlikely)
• I run inside, lean over the kitchen sink, and cry.
"We" call an emergency dentist whose office is curiously at the Cataraqui Mall, and he tells us to put the tooth in milk. A bloody tooth in a bag of milk: Strawberry Cow, anyone?
Bundled in a hoodie, I am buckled into the front seat of our ‘85 Grand Am. I wonder if in the middle of my first trauma, I marvel at being let into the mall on Sundays—the opening of malls on Sunday being a social hurdle we had yet to overcome. Guess what Dr. Sunday does with the tooth? Just guess. Did you guess that they ram it back into my gums? You shoot, and you score. I shit you not. And like any broken bone, they put a cast on it. Splinting it to the uninjured teeth which surround. Even at seven, the joke, “Can I sign your cast,” is at best, only slightly amusing. It hurts to laugh anyway, so stop making jokes, Jaspreet.
The very tooth will stay in my mouth, changing colours, until 1997 when the dental artists at the University of Manitoba are good enough to give me an implant. Some things we just can’t let go of.
Thus began the years of putting a hand over my mouth when I laughed, mouth guards at recess, being nervous in pictures, and even now, cringing when teeth clink during makeouts.
Not to mention the saddest grade three school picture ever taken...on Tuesday.
* Since this time, I have had four periods in my life where I’ve had to live without a tooth in my mouth, most recently, early 2008 when implant surgery meant a three day self-imposed exile.