A Comment on Stature

Theodore G. Gage tapped at the x-ray and looked down at me. “Looks like that baby tooth is wedged in there. It’s blocking the adult tooth-do you see it?” I saw it cramped in the gum at an angle.

“It won’t take too long to pull it out, so I don’t suppose she’ll need a painkiller…” My mother glances at my wrinkled, cringing nose and declares that “we want the painkiller”, as if she is going through it too.

Fifteen minutes later he is standing above me with a giant needle. “Just a pinch. That’s all you’re going to feel.” He comes closer with the shaking needle. “Juuuust a pinch. Only a pinch. Well, maybe a few pinches.” He pinches me in the gums. Then he said, with a deceptive measure of bravado, that he was just going to wiggle it and after I opened my eyes I saw my little tooth going in the garbage.

His office is on the fortieth floor. It overlooks a frozen summer park where I jog sometimes, steamed up by the motivation I hear (“if you run for a long time, you’ll grow taller!”) before being discouraged by the inevitable fact that stature is 90% genes and my parents have not ran for long times, ever.

Later that day I bared myself to the icy world, standing stark grey in baggy sweatpants against the starker background of snow. A 0.7 mile track ran around a lake. The park was better off remembered in the summer but it didn’t matter as I was older now, and wanted to stretch above the 5th percentile for growth. Looking across the deeper ice that had once contained lovely swans in cool water, I saw ugly ducklings and they were not moving. The birds in the shallow part of the melted water were frolicking, though. I wondered if they were sleeping or extremely still, in suspended animation, like they had stopped living, blinking, growing.

One stretch of the circular path around the park was completely blocked off with ice. An ambiguous hooded thing came out of the other path, the clear path. The other path was in the process of melting, so I lurched around ice patches until I came to intervals of running, feeling almost too old and too weary to continue. I felt like every splat on the muddy pavement was a tracking sign for all hooded things. And on every cautious footfall on the ice patches, I crunched on cigarette boxes just to be sure no one had left behind something, which reminded of the time my friend had found a full box but left it on the subway seat at my suggestion.

Slushing along, I kept repeating: Until the next ice patch, and I’ll stop when I reach that place where a tributary carries sediment into the pond. Or would it be frozen over? Before I could find my answer I jumped at another hooded thing looking out into the lake and did a double take. Huffed out my last pink puffs. Ran from something that wasn’t even chasing me. And finally, collapsed on a rock that did not disappear into the lake water but was blanketed by an amount of ice. Not like in spring and summer, I felt paper courage and leaned short legs against the blanket of ice knowing full well that if the ice were to melt just then, my legs would be dragged under into murkiness.

Everything was warping. It must have been because of my running but the ice was so dizzying that it looked like it was caving into itself, and was about to melt any minute.

I thought about the numbness of the Novocain, how Theodore G. Gage had lied to me, that I felt the wiggling but was aware that he had actually taken my tooth out. I felt the numbness of my fingertips and lips when I rubbed them against each other, how I could not feel a thing because of the cold. But I was not lamenting over things I could not feel; I was trying to sense everything else. I was in suspended animation, like the ugly ducklings, I looked frozen but could not keep from thinking. Just then, I felt so vulnerable, that even the deepest of thoughts couldn’t drown out an excruciating pain, the cold reality that would cut through my numbness. And I made it up in my mind that a primal scream registering in the symphony would cause the ice not to melt gracefully but to explode like an opera singer shattering a glass. I wondered if the tiny frozen ducklings would feel the dagger shaped ice cutting through their insulation, or if they would feel “just pinches” too.

Wonderingly, I stamped my foot down onto the ice and made a satisfying crack. The frozen ducklings twitched, the shock wincing my numbness away. I was not frozen, fragile, vulnerable. I was living, breathing, growing, and I did not need anyone to tell me otherwise, or to set my path for me with ice patches here and there, or push me out into a lake. I would always be able to fight back against whatever was under my bed or in my closet. I was able to speak and move and choose, and in the dead of winter, when only the evergreens wavered, I grew.

In this world a 5th percentile foot has cracked a blanket of ice.

Ping Hu
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School
Gold Key

Leave a Reply