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Trismus

January 16, 2012

“But mom.”

“Don’t but me young man.”

“But I don’t want to.”

“Darren James, this is not a discussion.”

Darren, known as DJ to his friends and Darren James Charleston to his mother, was a biter.  On account of this, his mother, acting on the advice of his doctor and the approval of the local DA was going to have his teeth removed.  The process was not unlike de-clawing a feral cat.

In response to this decision Darren had crawled deep under his bed, out of reach of his mother.  Mrs. Charleston sat on the bed above Darren, attempting to coax him out with a mixture of stern parenting and feigned sympathy.  After several hours, her patience was nearing its end.

“But mom, the other kids will all make fun of me.”

“The other kids will never know,” His mother, Mrs. Charleston reassured him, “The doctor is going to make you a special set of prosthetic teeth.”

“What’s prosthetics?”

“They’re special teeth you can put on when you go to school.  They’re even better than real teeth.”

“Really?”

His mother leaned in as though sharing a secret.  “Yes, and you know what?  You won’t ever need to brush again.”

“Never?”

“Never. Ever.”

This relaxed Darren, but did not convince him.  Mrs. Charleston was growing frustrated.  They needed to leave the house in fifteen minutes, otherwise they would be late for his first appointment.  Today the doctors were scheduled to remove several teeth, including, but not limited to, all four bicuspids. She did not want to be late.  Mrs. Charleston looked back down at her boy.  His indignity was fading, but he still had not come out from under the bed.  Nonetheless, Mrs. Charleston believed she was making progress.

“What if I promise never to bite again?” Darren Said.

“I think we both know better Darren.  You’ve had months to learn not to bite, and you haven’t stopped.”

”I promise to stop.  I won’t bit anymore, not even food.”

“Now Darren, that’s just not realistic.  We both know you’ll bite again, and how could you stop biting food?  You would starve, and we don’t want that, do we?”  She bent her face to its most sympathetic, leaning further under the bed.  She could see Darren now, he was yielding and would soon come out, she was sure.

∗ ∗ ∗

Darren’s biting problem had been most troublesome the month before.  Mrs. Charleston had taken Darren to the grocery store, but refused to buy him a candy bar he badly wanted.  In protest Darren had fallen to the ground and curled up in a ball.  When his mother attempted to coax him off the floor, Darren took hold of her ankle and bit into her calf.  Mrs. Charleston’s efforts to restrain the boy only provoked him further, causing him to tighten his grip bite her again.  At a loss, Mrs. Charleston dumped a container of ground black pepper she had intended to purchase onto Darren’s angry little face. Only the sneezing fit drove him to release her.

The ordeal was embarrassing.  All the other mothers in the store had stared.  What a bad mother, they all thought.  Furthermore, she was forced to purchase two containers of pepper when she had only intended to buy one.  That night she decided; she would not take Darren to the store again as long as the child had teeth.

During her initial inquiry the doctor reassured her the procedure was entirely safe, and fast becoming a popular parenting alternative.  She was startled to learn that as many as one in five children have had teeth removed for non-medical reasons.

“When you send him to school,” the Doctor said, “or when he is old enough to go out on his own, you can give him false teeth.  No one but you and Darren needs to know.”  Mrs. Charleston did her best to look thoughtful as they explained, even though she had made up her mind long ago.

“But,” the doctor continued, “In your home, and under your care, you may remove his teeth and lock them away.  He may still gum from time to time, but typically children lose their taste for such things following the procedure.”

That afternoon Mrs. Charleston went to the courthouse to gain approval for Darren’s operation.  It was granted without contest.  The clerk told her tooth removal was rarely declined.  Only in cases of severe parental neglect, or when the procedure might put the child’s health in undue jeopardy was the request denied.  The court did require that Mrs. Charleston visit a psychologist.

“Not for your sake,” The clerk said, “but so you can know what to expect from your son.  It’s not uncommon for toothless children to resort to other means of expression, and the psychologist will help prevent further complications.  If you’re not careful, you could end up with a scratcher, or even a pincher.  It’s much more difficult to obtain approval for fingernail removal.”

“What if he does begin pinching?”  Mrs. Charleston said.

“Come back, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Mrs. Charleston grew concerned.  There were several occasions in Darren’s life where he had pinched.  She feared the seed was sewn, and a thumbnail removal on his right hand was inevitable.  She did not mention this to the clerk.

The psychologist was a stout man who spoke only in clinical terms.  He instructed Mrs. Charleston of how to be supportive of Darren, and she listened intently.

“There is one thing you must know,” He said, “It is foreseeable that Darren may never have a healthy romantic relationship.  As he grows older, and learns to express his emotion in more physical ways, the biting habits may resurface.  He will need a very patient, understanding partner.”

Mrs. Charleston was not upset by this.  In her more desperate moments she wondered about the legality of having Darren neutered.  She feared an entire flock of biting grandchildren.  She decided to leave grandchildren to fate, but any news indicating Darren would find it difficult to bear children was welcome.  If he did find a woman, and they did have a child, there was still hope that the child would take after its mother.  According to the internet, biting is a recessive trait.

∗ ∗ ∗

Darren continued to argue with his mother from his refuge under the bed.  After a momentary calm, he was again becoming agitated.  Mrs. Charleston would need to hurry.  She was under strict orders from the doctor not to tranquilize her son prior to his arrival at the hospital.  Over the counter child tranquilizers were known to cause complications when taken too close to the administering of the heavy sedatives used for surgery.

“Darren, I want you to listen to your mother, can you do that?”

He nodded, but would not look at her.

“What we’re doing today Darren, it’s for you.  If we don’t do this now, who knows what could happen.  If you bite a boy at school, the teachers could send you to a special school for biting boys.  Do you know what the other boys are like in those schools?”

Darren shook his head.  He didn’t know.

“They won’t be nice to a good boy like you.  You might even have to become a slave for one of the other boys so he will protect you.  Do you know what a slave is?”

Darren nodded, and his mother continued.

“Only they won’t call you a slave, they’ll call you something else.  They’ll call you a bad word.”  Mrs. Charleston was unsure if Darren had learned the word ‘bitch’, so she refrained from adding it to his vocabulary.  Later she decided this was unnecessary, as he had surely heard the word on television by now.

This convinced the boy, and he began sliding out from his hiding place.  I don’t want to be someone’s bitch, he thought, confirming his mother’s suspicion about the television.

The trip to the hospital was uneventful.  Mrs. Charleston pulled up to the children’s wing two minutes early and dropped the boy off with the nurse at the loading station.  She decided to take the three hours of peace the appointment would afford her and spend it relaxing in a coffee shop. Only then, as she sat enjoying her beverage, did she realize that she had forgotten to stock the cupboards with soft foods for the boy.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 27, 2012 8:14 am

    I really enjoyed the fact that you draw heavily from personal experience ;). But in all seriousness, I think you should leave out the direct reference to the internet. The rest of the story has a sort of timelessness about it that’s interrupted by that reference.

    • January 27, 2012 11:17 pm

      I think you’re on to something there. That line never felt quite right to me.

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