An Ode to Food Stuck Between Your T,e,e,t,h
He wore a retainer with a fake tooth in it that had to be removed when eating, so dinner was never a grand, celebrated matter. Rather a hushed secret solely for the purpose of an ending. But how else do young kids who claim to be in love spend their time? So, we went out to eat. I relied too heavily on the absence of heaviness in my body, maybe because of mental illness or maybe because of vanity. He never wanted to be seen without the fake tooth that completed his constructed smile, so going out to dinner was never an exciting endeavor, rather an evolutionary inevitability brought on by all the young couples that came before us, and destined to continue with all the young couples who came after. Is it because we need to eat in order to survive that we find ourselves so often out to dinner with a person who holds our affection? Or is it that we yearn to expose the depths of our soul through our stomachs and gallbladders? Our favorite place to go was a small, failing Chinese restaurant that sat between a tanning salon and pet store in a strip mall on the outskirts of town. I don’t spray tan, and I am allergic to cats, so there was no reason for me to be there, except to eat General Tso’s chicken with a boy missing a tooth. The restaurant was almost always empty, or as close to it as possible. Occasionally, an old married couple, or a father and his kids would occupy a table across the void, as though only there to serve as a quintessential personification of what we hoped life would have in store for us, and to eat fried rice. He would wait until the last possible moment to remove his retainer, usually when our first course of egg drop soup arrived. He would wait until I wasn’t looking and discreetly slide the retainer into its case before bringing the steaming, hot soup to his lips in a clenched expression, careful to hide his teeth, or lack thereof. He would always say a short prayer before he ate, and I wasn’t sure which made me more embarrassed. He never took care to try and hide the prayer like he did the tooth, and I thought that maybe he should. I wore a gold crucifix necklace around my neck, not because I was religious, but because I saw a model wearing it in the October issue of Vogue. I hated religion, and I hated him for praying in that Chinese restaurant in the strip mall off Route 1, as though he was shoving his devotion down my throat. Maybe that's how he lost his tooth. Maybe Jesus ripped it out, as he held on for dear life in a final attempt to save himself from falling into a dark pit of tonsils and vocal chords. I’d think to myself that I was glad I didn’t have a penis because I wouldn’t want Jesus to climb out of his throat and grasp on to it during oral sex, a pornographic effigy of Jesus nailed to an erect cross. I started paying close attention, and watching for when he removed the tooth. I had a piece of his heart in my chest, and the small silver container had a piece of his mouth. I wondered if he felt lighter without those body parts, I imagine he probably felt heavier. It embarrassed me when he removed the retainer, and I felt guilty for that. Maybe that is why I took such care to try and notice when he did it, as though staring down the barrel of the gun would allow me some plausible deniability for the embarrassment I felt. Although I haven’t been to church in years, in those moments I longed for the convenient repentance of the confessional booth.
Forgive me father for I have sinned.
But I’d avert my eyes when the spoon was brought to his lips for fear that I would see the empty space between two white glaciers, scared I’d see Jesus’ warped face caked in mucus and spit. The next course would come, and we’d scoop lo mein and beef and broccoli onto our plates. I’d slide the food around my plate, and he’d chew with his mouth closed. The first time we had sex was in the back of his mother’s Nissan Versa at 2:00 AM, because everyone knows God can’t see through foggy windows, and I imagine He would rather watch two people getting it on in a Porsche, rather than a Nissan. We didn’t wear a condom the first time. He always told me, we had to wait until marriage to have sex.
We never got married.
We did have sex.
It seems the one thing more powerful than God is a horny boy. It happened so fast, and I worried the Holy Spirit would secrete into my vagina, but really, I was more worried that the cum would. The soft, gummy inside of my vagina that usually resembled the gum from his toothless smile was fitted with a fake tooth that night both made of bone. I cried after, and the next morning, before church, he went and got me Plan B from the pharmacy two towns over. I guess he thought whatever baby may be forming in my stomach wasn’t going to be the next son of God, so it was okay to make an expectation this time. That night we went back to the Chinese restaurant, me without my hymen, and him without his tooth. We were silent, him in prayer, and me in frustration. We fought so hard not to reveal much of ourselves, but empty stomachs have a way of demanding to be filled, and so, our insecurities slipped through the cracks like pieces of food stuck between your teeth that your tongue desperately claws at to break free. We’d pay the check and share the fortune from our fortune cookies, and claim that we already had all the fortune we needed in life. And yet, we still ate the cookies that tasted of cardboard and hopefulness. I’d comment that fortune cookies were like the bread of the eucharist, and he’d tell me that wasn’t funny. I’d take his hand as we waved goodbye to the small woman that sat behind the cash register at the front of the restaurant, and I would wonder if she saw him remove his tooth, or when he put it back in. He’d smile at her, and I’d see the strip of highway that spread across his cheeks, extending for miles with not a pothole or crack in pavement in sight, and I’d feel comfortable. The restaurant closed a couple months ago, and now like his smile, the strip mall is missing a tooth, and I eat noodles from a takeout box, my pearl necklace from the December issue of Vogue dangling over the chopsticks.
About the Author
Dogma-chine is a Pittsburgh based writer, who currently attends university in Boston. She was raised catholic, but now she is not so sure.