Ode to 31

I don’t believe ridonculous (my children tell me I use this word incorrectly, but I don’t care) coincidences are in fact, fated events or psychic connections. But I do have a bit of a funny coincidence, that really isn’t a coincidence at all, but I’ve decided that: There’s a connection between those royals in England and me.

On April 29, 2011, Prince William and Kate got married in England. I was sitting in an office at my endodontist (root-canal-ist for those unfamiliar) outside of Pittsburgh watching tv coverage of the wedding and musing on the difference between my day and theirs. I was about to get yet another tooth extracted, #31 to be exact. I decided to write an ode to my tooth and my life and it was the first piece of creative writing I had done in about 20 years. I titled it: “Ode to 31.”

Fast forward: Today is my 20th wedding anniversary and it’s also little Prince George’s birthday. They will have a party for hundreds, and my husband and I will have a picnic-for-two. See what I mean about there being no connection but I’ve decided there is? Anyway, here is what has happened since I wrote that piece:

William and Kate had a baby named George and now another baby named Charlotte. I lived in Charlotte, NC for six years, was married there and had two children there. Also, I was in Charlotte when I first performed in Ode to 31.

I have written a lot of little nonfiction pieces and many poems, and my daughter has become a poet. Her name is Elizabeth. (Ahem. No relation to the queen.)

I played and sang in public with my husband, the first time ever, the summer I turned 48. We named our duo “Ode to 31.”

My very best friend died the year after I wrote the piece. The most shocking thing in all my years.

I have not lost any more teeth, but I’m scheduled for an extraction in the next month; my teeth falling like flies.

Ode to 31 (my husband and me) will be playing outside the Pittsburgh Pirates game tomorrow(alas, no home game today on the actual anniversary) busking, for the first time ever. I don’t sing as deeply or as loudly as I would like because I still have all that silver in my mouth. You’ll know what that means in a minute.

Herewith, unedited, from the file I cannot believe I actually named, and saved, and found, is the piece from 2011, “Ode to 31”:

The dental secretary makes the call

“We need an appointment to extract #31.”

Silence. Then, to me, “May 11?”

I shake my head, eyes wide, and she understands.

Hangs up.

The dentist gallantly says,

“Call the other guys. She can’t wait.”

Friday they say and I calculate the days of pain remaining…3.

I reflect on baby pictures, mine, my children, all gummy smiles, teeth for the moment hidden, unbidden

Soothed in my day with bourbon, now with just a finger rubbed back and forth.

On my 8th birthday I have 8 cavities.

“Impossible!” says my mother. “Fact,” says the dentist.

My mother shakes her head at me. “She loves sugar.”

One on a long list of shameful things about me.

Another is: Big Mouth.

Dentists, oral surgeons, endodontists always say to me

“How can someone with such a big mouth have such a small mouth?”

Are they hearing me out in the waiting room

How do they know this about me?

So, another 8: four baby teeth and four sets of adult roots pulled out, all at once

No room in this mouth. No #32 ever to be.

In 8th grade, cheerleaders in the gym preparing to decide the captain

Of course it will be Anne Marie or Cindy, natural leaders, but our sponsor says,

“Why don’t you pick Lauren. You can hear HER MOUTH over everyone.”

And so, I’m voted Captain. Not to last, but that is another story for another tooth.

The most recent endodontist, whose teeth are as white as sun-bleached bone

With his beautiful wife and children in a portrait in the hall says to me,

“Whether due to poor habits, poor dental care, neglect, bad genes or bad luck, we cannot save this tooth.”

I say, head bowed, “It’s all of those” as he quickly becomes my confessor.

He says, “Spend your money getting all of those silver fillings covered. When you laugh, do you throw your head back?”

I am still kicking myself that I didn’t reply “depends on how funny it is…”

(Is my ego that fragile that I need to impress this stranger with my wit?)

Maybe it will make him less pitying of my mouth and me.

But now, at age 47, this pilgrim tooth that has been with me before I even knew what it was

Will be laid down.

It can no longer bear the burden of me, the breaking-down of all the things I feed it, for many years the smoke, which they tell me now causes bone loss, who knew?

And also, I can no longer bear the burden of it, as I wail in pain the night before the extraction, saying,

“How can something so small hurt so much?” How like life, sometimes.

At age 47, another thing: it is the year that I learn I will die.

Losses pile up, both small and large, but there are deaths that are too big to believe, and I finally know that I will one day “fall down forever.”

Our neighbor, just a few years older than me, her children growing right alongside mine.

Laurie’s John, another Jon, then Carrie’s John, our John.

And at John’s memorial, I’m no longer the loud mouth.

In fact I cover my mouth now when I laugh because there is so much empty space

And like the guy said, “so much silver.”

Big mouth is gone, and there is no wine to do the talking.

I saw people looking my way,

“Why isn’t Lauren sharing a story about John?”

I couldn’t, I just couldn’t, but if I had here is what I would have said:

“He knew I wanted to be a singer and so he said to me, demanded of me: Sing something. I started Rhiannon, he said no. I sang Go Your Own Way, he said no. We settled on a Ted Nugent song, “Hey Baby” and often when we were alone, because he knew I wouldn’t do it in front of people, he would say, Sing it. And I did. I did.

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