I woke without opening my eyes. I was small, I don’t know, maybe 7 years old? Do you still even lose teeth when you’re 7? No matter—all that I know is that I was small, smaller than I am now, that it was dark and quiet, and that I had been woken up but my eyes were still closed and I had lost a tooth the day before. These are all the things I knew for sure, in this moment. These are all the things I still remember for sure, maybe 19 years later, maybe less, maybe longer.
I tried not to tense my body as I realized what was happening; my step dad had his arm wedged under my pillow and was feeling around between my resting head and the sheets for the tooth that I had lovingly placed there somewhere in the gap of time from when it had fallen out of my mouth and the time I had gone to bed. I knew what his awkward, ungraceful groping meant. I knew that once he found what he was looking for, he would replace it with a shiny $2 coin.
And to that end, I stayed very still, and kept my eyes firmly closed.
The next day, I feigned surprise at finding the $2 coin beneath my pillow. I lied to both my parents that I believed the tooth fairy put it there. To this day, it is still the lousiest, most selfish thing I have ever done. I was a tiny Machiavelli drunk on the promise of more $2 coins. I knew the teeth in my mouth were worth a pirate’s bounty (this was when $2 bought you a pie, a chocolate bar, a box of juice, an icy pole, a handful of jelly sours and a donut at the tuck shop during recess) and I wasn’t willing to give that up for ‘honesty’. I wasn’t going to be anybody’s chump.
So I continued the charade of pretending I believed in the tooth fairy (karma for this was failing to learn the truth about Santa until I was 12. No really) just so I could get rich (or die trying). I diligently put each tooth I lost under my pillow and accepted my $2 coins with a filthy liar’s smile. And it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I revealed any of this to my parents, which was the exact point at which I realized my parents needed the myth as much as I did.
I never really thought about it before I came out, but one of the downsides of “growing up” is having all that awe and wonder slowly sucked out of you as reality comes to conscious understanding. Which really blows. You can do as much stupid kid shit as you want—you can eat fairy bread and hide eggs at Easter—but there’s never going to be another point in your life where you actually believe the fantasy.
So I guess parents get a nice break from reality in that sense, something that I felt as a big sister, when my brothers were little and I would tell their wide-eyed, slack jawed faces stories about Santa and Pokemon and Harry Potter. The sincereity of a child’s beliefs draws you in, and you can even, if only momentarily, convince yourself that magic is real in the presence of a believer. Do you even remember what it was like to clapping in earnest to save Tinkerbell? I do—and despite now knowing that there aren’t any fairies at the bottom of my garden, I’d still clap just as hard to make her real.