When I was seven I woke up one morning to find coins under my pillow. The night before, I had lost my first tooth and my siblings convinced me to place it under my pillow. That was the first time I heard of the tooth fairy.
“She’s about three inches tall,” my eldest sister, Jane, claimed.
“Yeah, but instead of wings she has, like, a bunch of extra arms,” my other sister, Jen, added.
“And she always carries around a massive rod. If you’re bad, she’ll wack you off – ” my brother was abruptly cut off by my sisters. Their description of the tooth fairy would be disturbing to most people. But to me she was perfect. I imagined her with eight limbs, like a spider. Unlike a spider, her arms were smooth and gentle. They flowed on her back like a pair of butterfly wings.
Seven-year-old me was already jumped up and down with excitement.
“How many fairies are there?” I wondered.
“Every kid has their own fairy,” Jen said.
Jane gave me a small envelope for me to put the tooth in. I shook the envelope with my baby tooth in it several times for good luck before placing it under my pillow. That night I tried to stay up to get a glimpse of the fairy. There were so many questions I wanted to ask the fairy. If she was a fairy what happened to her wings? Could she still fly? Where did she get money from? What was she going to do with my tooth?
Finally I drifted off with those questions still racing around in my head.
My siblings weren’t around the next time my baby tooth fell out. My mother told me to flush it down the toilet. But I couldn’t do that. The tooth fairy was expecting my tooth! How could she collect it if it was in the toilet? Could she even swim?
My mother told me not to be silly. There was no such thing as a tooth fairy and my siblings were just messing around with me. I ended up flushing the tooth down the toilet, but I felt sad. I bet she was mad because the tooth fairy never visited her.
Later that night I told Jane that I had to flush my tooth down the toilet, and that mom didn’t believe in the fairy. She only smiled and said,
“Of course she’s real. Just wait and see.”
The next morning I woke up to find a dollar worth of coins stashed under my pillow! I was beyond happy at first. Then a pressing concern moved me to confront my sister.
“Why did the tooth fairy give me money if I didn’t give her a tooth? How did she know I lost my tooth anyway?”
My sister was quiet for a few minutes. I figured she didn’t know the answer either.
“She heard you drop it,” she said finally. “She has really good hearing. And she gave you more money this time because you washed it.” That answer was good enough for me. I counted all the coins I had collected from the tooth fairy – a whopping $1.25. To a seven-year-old kid that was a fortune. I thought about all the cookies I could buy from the school cafeteria.
I almost put the money into my pocket to do just that. But something stopped me. I couldn’t just spend the money like that. These were special coins. The tooth fairy had given them to me. So I put them in a socket and hid them in the back of my closet, eagerly looking forward to the next time I lost a tooth.
I ended up pulling my third tooth out with a string tied to a door. But when the morning came, my tooth was still under my pillow. Jen said it was because the tooth didn’t fall out naturally, and the tooth fairy knew I cheated. I almost cried. I didn’t want the tooth fairy to think that I was a cheat.
So the next time, I let the tooth fall out naturally. My siblings weren’t around to see it. But I dropped it on the ground just to let the tooth fairy know I had lost a tooth. I dropped it three more times just to make sure she heard. She never came. I didn’t tell my siblings about the teeth. I didn’t want them to think the tooth fairy hated me.
Some nights I stayed up staring at the night sky wondering what my tooth fairy was doing. Did she get lost? Was she still upset that I pulled out my tooth?
It wasn’t until many years later, as I was looking in Jane’s room that I discovered a small envelope with a tooth in it. My tooth.
I had long stopped believed in the tooth fairy by then, but all the same it saddened me. There was always a small part of me that really wanted to believe this fairy was real. Sure, she seemed odd with her extra arms, large rod, and penchant for paying for teeth. But she was my fairy and with the realization that my siblings were actually playing the part of the fairy, a little wonder left the world.
Looking back at it from an adult perspective I finally understand that the wonder never left. My siblings were the one who created this wonder for me – a kid with a blooming imagination – and kept it alive for as long as they could. And to a kid willing to believe in anything, the gift of wonder is the best thing they could have given me.