My hands shake as I wipe the dust laden cedar lid of the old cigar box on my dresser. It rattles as I lift it, while your baby teeth roll around inside like little pearls.
One by one I watch them fall like tears into my hand, looking for your first one.
I remember how you cried when it came wiggling out of your skull. You brought it to me, cupped in your small hands, blood on your lip.
It had been a part of you only a moment ago, but now it was a foreign thing, grotesque and sticky, surprisingly light, and you were all too eager to drop it into my hand,
as I assured you one would grow back.
The second time, you were nervous, afraid that pulling it would hurt, so you fiddled with it for days, (despite my nagging) until it fell out of your head, exhausted.
Now I lift that tooth from the box, throat constricting when my eyes catch on the small chip in your discarded enamel.
By the third time, you didn’t need my help at all, you just brought it to me in a rush of fearless victory, as if conquering your own body was the last battle you would ever have to fight.
Your little pink tongue pressed through the fresh gap in your smile, the smile I now held in a box, no longer able to speak your words or chew your food.
When you brought me your fourth tooth, you asked me how much of yourself you can lose, and still be the same person.
My chest compresses as I remember my painfully simple answer- "Well, you can lose all your teeth, that’s for sure.
" You asked me then how it was that your teeth could be a part of you, and then, in an instant, not. "They’re still you," I said, "just not you enough.
I grew all your bones inside me, and aren’t you glad you fell out?
You were a big tooth to lose."
Soon you had given me all the teeth you were able to give me, and I breathed you in as you laid with your head in my lap, and I thought of the thirty two new teeth inside that head,
and all their potential, and how they were you, but they were younger than you.
You got older, and you began to lose other pieces of yourself, ones you would soon find didn’t always grow back, ones that your mother couldn’t lovingly collect,
and how easy it is to lose track of who you are when you are composed of new parts.
I wonder when exactly you found the answer to your question- About how much it takes to lose yourself completely.
These twenty teeth that are no longer you ring like porcelain bells against the wood, and are echoed by your thirty two other teeth, which are also no longer you,
and which lie in a larger box downtown.
I am now overly aware of my own teeth, in my own mouth, large and clunky, and all at once I want nothing more
than to pull every last one and put them next to yours.