My oldest daughter’s tooth is on my desk. It cost me a dollar, slipped under her pillow as she slept. “The Tooth Fairy?” Mara says the next morning. “There’s no Tooth Fairy.” I don’t answer. She’s nearly seven, knows what is and isn’t. “A dollar?” Cas says. “When I was a kid I got a quarter.” “Inflation,” I say. “What can you get at the health food store for less than a dollar?” I’ll see that she spends it on something sugarless; I don’t want her teeth to fall out.
Not her “permanent” teeth. They’ve got to last through adolescence, college, career. Or has my little debunker of myth written a different script, with tragedy scrawled on the page, or joy beyond my knowing? I regard her tooth — a living part of her, now without consequence, garbage in fact, a tooth from death’s grinning skull regarding her and you and me equally: one day we’ll all be garbage, no matter how much health food we eat, or how we write the script.
Does that sound harsh? I usually deny it — by not thinking about it at all, or reassuring myself that “only the body” dies. But who, half-believing in an eternal soul as most of us do, doesn’t believe unreservedly in flesh; it’s more believable than most things in this world, or anyway more valuable: my daughter’s cheek, my lover’s lips, the face of a friend, these are my riches. I’d rather die making love than money. But I’d rather not die.
Last week, I went to the doctor because of pains in my chest. My heart was fine, the doctor said; perhaps it was gas. Perhaps it was my way of reminding myself how full of hot air I am; I wasn’t at all ready for a curb-side pickup. Come back next year, I told the trash collector — better yet, twenty years, make it forty, make it four hundred. Wait until my children are grown, my book is written, my tomatoes are canned. Wait until dawn — one more dawn, one more kiss, once more the covers thrown back like dreams, bare feet on the floor, one more cup of coffee, my favorite chair squeaking under the weight of me, my body, the Light’s flimsy shade — before I toss away the shade, fly directly toward the Light. Wait. Until I see God everywhere and in everyone, my journey not toward but through God, the God of seeming opposites, of changing weather and changing moods, the God whose tangled hair I comb with my life, changing the shape and the style as if it mattered, as if a more beautiful me would profit my soul, as if profit mattered. Wait until all distinctions are lost in the mat and silk of that glorious hair — dreams breathe darkly there; lovers writhe; stars are born and die in contemplation of the light, God’s suns. Wait.
The mind, old beggar, pleads. The mind, old trickster answers: another chance. Only this time, less coffee, more prayer. Yes, anything. Write your mother. Of course. Drunk without touching a drop, by turns bereft, beatific, always beguiled — that’s the mind. Thinking I can think my way out of it — scale the wall of thought on a ladder of thought — that’s the trap. Waiting for salvation, that’s the hell of it. It’s not in tomorrow’s mail, or yesterday’s either: the time I touched the moon, drew flowers from a stone — ah, memory, its rich folds, the mind’s sagging gut. So much weight, such a burden on the heart.
But the heart, old workhorse, beats on — faithful, enduring, no whore to reason, no idler, no drunk. The mind pounds the table, demands its way. The heart listens; it’s heard it all before. Sooner or later, the mind will tire, skulk away muttering, to a book or a war. The heart knows this, and more — even that I’ll forget, clutch the bedsheets, slam the door. The heart, which forgives, knows no doors.