You were the flower girl at your aunt’s wedding. After your procession, you stood next to the women in your family, tall and stark in green, velvet dresses, in a line on the stage.
As the pastor spoke, you played with your now-empty basket. It’d felt like hours since you’d been in the spotlight, since your debut. You were hungry, and you had to pee. But soon, you noticed that the women were crying; you wondered why you weren’t crying too, wanting to be more like them. You started to lick your fingers and streak them down your face, trying to look more like them.
Once your face was covered in spit, you tugged on your mother’s hand, made her look down at you. “Oh, honey, don’t cry,” she’d said. It was the first time you felt like a woman, like them.
You sat on the treadmill in your parents’ bedroom, hiccupping as your Grammy fed you sugar from a spoon.
“Sugar will help stop the crying,” she said, in that all-knowing voice. You couldn’t remember how long you’d been crying, but a while ago, you’d been standing barefoot in the kitchen. Your mother, grandmother and a cop had talked over harsh walkie-talkie feedback. Your mother was holding a towel with ice to her forehead, and a head of lettuce sat in the middle of the floor. The condensation from it was dripping onto the tile.
The cop said your father threw the lettuce at your mom. He said your dad was handcuffed somewhere outside. The cop kept writing things down as your mother spoke, listening intently, nodding, sighing. You didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but at the end of it all, he knelt down to your level, took off his sunglasses, said,
“I’m sorry all this happened, little lady. Your daddy didn’t mean it.” You would go on to learn he did mean it.
That was when you’d started crying. Your Grammy took you upstairs for you privacy, and you stared at her as she rubbed the bridge of her nose, prepped more sugar for the spoon.
You didn’t think the sugar was working. You were crying too hard to say so, but even if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have stopped her. It tasted good.
That year on Christmas Eve, you set a trap for Santa in your living room: ropes tied to chairs made a maze from chimney to tree, and you even placed Jacks on the floor at every turn. An Indiana Jones path to the milk and cookies.
You were hoping he would fall, maybe twist his ankles. The sound of him plummeting to the floor would reach only you, wake only you up, and then you would finally find him, the enigmatic glutton. That plate of sugar cookies that you and your sister baked? They would be yours, and so would all the presents.
Your mother and father watched you set up your trap, every step of the way. Your father said that you were much smarter than Santa, your mother said he would be no match for your prowess. Once it was done, all night long you fought sleep; drifting off, waking up the sounds of your parents’ fighting. Didn’t they know he doesn’t come if you don’t sleep?
The next morning, you went downstairs to find your trap expertly disassembled: the floor was clean, the ropes and jacks gone, the chairs moved back to the dining room table. All six of the cookies were bitten into, and the empty glass of milk held down a handwritten letter.
“Better luck next time! – S.” You’d soon learn he wasn’t real just a couple months later.
You’d soon learn the purpose and the nature of lying: it’s okay as long as it protects people. At school, your little sister got her teeth knocked out. Too much horseplay at recess caused a boy to kick her in the jaw.
Your mother was on her way to pick her up from school, and you waited with her in the nurse’s office. She held her small, bloody hands over her mouth as the nurse prepared the mouthwash, put the tooth in a plastic bag. Secretly, you wished that you were hurt so you could go home too. At least you got to skip a class.
“Does it hurt?” you asked her.
“Kind of,” she mumbled, her hands over her mouth. “It does, but the tooth fairy will fix it. You know what they say, money makes the world ‘go round.”
That night, you realized that your parents forgot to be the tooth fairy. She was fast asleep, it was one A.M., and you were quietly sifting through the contents of her room. Trying to find pennies, quarters, anything, stuffed between cushions and stashed in the toy chests.
You found nothing a tooth fairy would leave. Instead, you listened to your parents scream down the hall, wishing you could open up their doors, see them like that. Somehow, your sister was always a heavy sleeper.
The next morning, your mom dropped the two of you off in front of your K-8 school. Your sister was upset all morning, quiet and cross-armed. She sat down on the front steps when your mother pulled away, refusing to go in. Crying.
“What’s wrong with you?” you said.
“The tooth fairy didn’t come,” she lamented. “I’m broke.”
When you got to homeroom, you asked your teacher for a dollar in quarters. You slipped into her classroom next break, told her teacher what you were doing. You left them for her under the lid of her desk.
The next time you saw her, she was gap-toothed-smiling, clutching the change against her chest and spinning ‘round.
“I knew it, I knew it!” she told everyone who’d listen. “I’m gonna be rich!”
At the end of the day, you sat together on the steps again. She was no longer happy like before, dropping the coins one by one onto the concrete.
“What’s wrong with you?” you said.
“I know what you did,” she said. “Someone in my class just told me about the tooth fairy. It’s not good to lie, you know.”