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Wider and wider

Posted by on February 27, 2004

My teeth are gapping. The tiny cracks between my teeth, which are perfectly normal and natural, are slowly widening as I sleep. Every morning I take a tiny tape measure and examine the progression, the continental drift of my teeth. Tiny bacteria clad in woolly mammoth skins are shaking spears and migrating slowly from molar to molar, one day to evolve into tie-wearing city dwellers trailing their poncey colognes onto the subways of an incisor metropolis. They are widening. They. Are. Widening. The micrometers of the tape measure do not, cannot lie. I am keeping a graph and the line is smooth and straight. And slanting upward. Undeniably.

I have tried to stop it — I’m not crazy. Before I sleep I bind my jaw with scarves, with masking tape; I glue my mouth with peanut butter and once, disastrously, rubber cement. (This last was helpful as a preventative but caused more problems than it solved.) The teeth continue their smooth jazz electric slide against my restraining gums. I have tried meditation. Astral projection. Hypnotism. Wider and wider. My modest reluctance to bother my dentist with such a small, painless problem is eroding. I suspect a famous oral surgeon from Belmont, NJ, will be called in to consult on this case. More time is lost. More micrometers on the chart. He rides in brandishing a bouquet of tiny high-magnification mirrors on sticks, his stern eyes heroically, myopically gleaming above a flimsy green mask. Open wide? Yes, doctor, that’s the whole trouble, you see. Wider and wider. At this point I have become a grotesque, suitable only for the modern day freak tent, the talk show. Children are encouraged to stick an entire fist in the gaps. Go ahead, kiddo, she won’t bite, just gum you a little is all.

The decision is made. The teeth cannot be saved. They are painlessly pulled under the influence of a safe and rather enjoyable anesthesia. She’ll never have a normal mouth, my father is told, but then look how well Julia Roberts does for herself. I am sent home, beaming in relief.

Disaster. The gums, unhampered now by those useless lumps of cheery porcelain, continue to stretch. I buy a larger tape measure. Millimeters. Centimeters. Meters! I can and do fit the entire head of a three-month infant in my mouth. Wider and wider. The celebrated oral surgeon refuses my calls. Wider still. My graph spills over onto several sheets of paper.

My 25th birthday. My mouth has stretched all the way around my head. I adjust rapidly to my new situation; I am extremely adaptable. I use half a tube of lipstick every time I go out, but I save on toothpaste. I guest star on WWF and beat every contestant by gripping his head with my sturdy gums until he is too disgusted to continue. A syndrome is named after me. The Moms publishes her bestseller, Don’t Give Me No Lip: Raising and Loving Your Larson-Syndrome Child. Oprah invites me to discuss my experiences so that the world can get to know me, as a person. My hometown erects a bronze monument to my suffering, and my name is known everywhere. I am a survivor. I am a hero. I am a star.

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