I learned about human frailty and death through the discovery of dentures. I had known about dentures but only in that abstract ‘the weird grade school janitor loved to scare the kids by popping his teeth half way out and lunging at us’ type of way. I would search past the brick of teeth in his mouth and look for the grey pink gums that were behind them. Be grossed out and then go back to playing kiss the boys and make myself cry. It was just one small part of the Seaside Elementary School freakshow that I was privy to in my K-6th grade life.
Over what I imagine was an overly salted, overly cooked meal, my step mom nonchalantly informed the whole table that my beloved aunt Sheila had dentures. I felt like someone had just pushed me flat on my back. There was no way Sheila could possible be so un-whole, so unfinished. Deteriorated like that. If she was, that meant that someday she would fall apart in other ways. The deadly kind of ways.
At this age I was finally allowed to use the phone on my own. I knew two numbers, ours, and Sheila’s. I dialed her and asked her, my hysteria growing, if she had dentures. In hindsight, I must have sounded like a lunatic. But she indulged me. Sheila walked me through what it meant to have fake teeth, yes, sometimes they hurt, no, the didn’t just fly out of your mouth at the slightest misstep. She even cried with me a little as I begged her not to fall apart in any other ways, no fake legs, arms, hearts, or lungs. It all needed to be real so that I knew she would never leave me.
My aunt Sheila is still alive. Not as whole as I had hoped, but I am grateful none the less. Of all the people in my life that have left me, physically, emotionally, and mentally, She is still here. And because of dentures I know that our bodies are basically robotic and scaring kids with fake teeth is twisted and should result in suspension without pay.