Amy Yeager recalls her creepy teacher's obsession with loose teeth.
Dentists do not stand alone in their attraction to teeth and oral hygiene. My first grade teacher, as far as I believe, chose to teach kids aged five through seven simply because of the copious amounts of teeth that fall out of their growing mouths during these two years. Some people obsess over insects, or fashion, but most have no interest in the molars and bicuspids of others. Mrs. Garland, however, had a morbid fascination with teeth, the things we use to mash our food into more manageable morsels before we swallow; the lumps of modified calcium that sprout out of our gums as infants, eventually becoming riddled with cavities, crowns, and plaque as we age.
I remember her plump, round face, reddish hair, long finger nails, and prominent front teeth. Every morning before snack-time, she would coyly ask my classmates and me if we had any loose teeth. If someone told her 'yes', she would ask to see them wiggle it. Occasionally this fulfilled her strange craving for the teeth of children, but more often than not, she desired more. She would then ask to wiggle the tooth for you. What with her soft Texan accent, and position of authority, we all agreed. At recess, we would stand in clumps whispering about her eccentricities, and as time passed, we learned to smile with our mouths closed. I did not understand the pleasure she got from tugging on the milk teeth of six year olds, and I don't think I ever will. Midway through the year, I moved out of Mrs. Garland's combined kindergarten and first grade class, but she still maintained control over the teeth I had left in my mouth.
One afternoon as I played on my own in a corner of the playground, I heard Mrs. Garland calling my name. I knew what she wanted, and I instinctively moved behind a bush and continued to play out of sight. Earlier that day, she had asked me to help her reorganize her bookshelf. I eagerly complied and followed her into the classroom. I began sorting the picture books alphabetically, absentmindedly pushing around my latest loose tooth with my tongue. It took me a while to realize that she had crept up behind my shoulder, and had been watching me for some time. I turned to face her maniacal grin.
Her pupils dilated as she asked, "Amy, do you have any wiggly teeth today?" I felt conflicted: If I said 'yes', she would inevitably stuff her fingers into my mouth and try to wiggle my tooth. If I said 'no', I would be lying to a teacher.
I sighed and whispered, "Yes Mrs. Garland."
Her tongue brushed against her lips. "What did you say?"
I inhaled deeply before responding. "I said 'yes' Mrs. Garland." I felt vulnerable, cornered by her and the bookcase. Luck hovered on my side as the bell rang and I excused myself for class.
Back in the playground, as my pulse slowed down and I started to relax, naively confident that the bush obscured my location, I heard her call my name again, and I felt a pang of discomfort in my stomach. Once again, I felt conflicted. Should I disrespect my old teacher by not responding to her calls, or walk over to her and deal with the consequences? Unfortunately, my mother came outside of her classroom just in time to hear Mrs. Garland call my name again. My mother wasted no time finding me behind the bush and instructed me to go see what Mrs. Garland wanted.
I protested, "Mumma, I don't want to. She's going to try to pull my tooth out!"
My mother looked at me as if I had lost my mind. "Don't be silly, of course she wouldn't do that. Now go see what she wants!"
Dejectedly, I turned to face Mrs. Garland, who casually leaned against the door frame to her classroom, staring intently at my mouth. She made eye contact with me as she said to my mother, her words sticky with faux-sincerity, "Rebekah, I want to give Amy some extra worksheets. She needs a challenge." My mother believed her.
She said to me, "See Amy? It's just some worksheets. Go! Then we'll go home." I tried to tell her that Mrs. Garland lied as frequently as my classmates lost their teeth, but my objections dissipated into space, void of meaning.
My stomach flip-flopped during the trek to her classroom. Once there, she ushered me inside near the back of the room where the child-sized sinks stood, lurking in the shadows. Mrs. Garland bent down and looked at me. My heart raced, and I scanned the room around me, desperate for an escape.
She placed a hand on my shoulder, scarily aware of what I had been thinking. "Open up your mouth! Let's see that wriggly little tooth," she said with an unhealthy amount of glee. She pushed in her fingers, grasped the tooth, and started to wiggle it. I squirmed as she twisted it back and forth, desperate to mask my immense discomfort. Her salty fingers suppressed my tongue, and muffled my cries as my vision blurred with tears. Finally she stopped, and I rushed out of her classroom, clutching my mouth in pain.
I ran to my mother, wrapped my arms around her legs, and yelled "Mumma, I told you so! I told you she wanted to pull on my tooth!" and then broke down, overwhelmed by the emotional toll of having my tooth wiggled by my insane first-grade teacher, and the physical discomfort I felt in my mouth. I tasted blood as we walked to the car, my hand firmly gripping my mother's out of fear of Mrs. Garland. She allowed me to sit in the front seat as we drove home. I sobbed hysterically, begging to go to the dentist so he could pull the tooth out and stop the pain. It never occurred to me that I could have pulled it out myself, as it was dangling in my mouth, secured by little more than a thread of tissue.
I sniffled my way into the house to find a bowl of cut up mango waiting for me as an afterschool snack. The horrors of my afternoon began to fade as I contentedly sat down at the little plastic play table with my bowl of fruit, the silvery tear tracks rapidly drying on my cheeks. My mom talked on the phone with the dentist explaining the situation, and just as they confirmed the appointment, I took a bite of mango, and that wriggly little tooth fell out on its own.
I did not let Mrs. Garland and her long fingernails come near my mouth for the rest of my time at that school, and the trauma of that event has never left me. I can still hear her calling me to her deceptively friendly classroom, just as I can still feel the pain in my gums as the roots of that tooth loosened one by one with her vigorous twists.
Lately, haunting memories of Mrs. Garland and her tooth fetish have resurfaced. I am often afraid that in the middle of my next visit to the dental office, the dentist will pull down her mask and smile, revealing herself as Mrs. Garland, and then proceed to pull on whichever of my teeth she pleases. I am unsure why she didn't trade in her career as a teacher to become a dentist, oral surgeon, or one of those people who digs through the trash to find lost teeth to chain into necklaces - instead she chose to become a real-estate agent. I often wonder to what lengths she goes to fulfill her craving for children's teeth.
The anxiety I feel when I have to visit the dentist replicates the anxiety I experienced as a child during the tumultuous two years my teeth were within pulling distance of Mrs. Garland. My mouth remains an incredibly private part of my body, and I feel uncomfortable at the thought of anyone venturing inside it, regardless of what credentials, drills, suction tubes, or authority they may have.