We’re in the bathroom flossing, brushing, and talking. The end of the day, getting ready for bed, catching up now that the little people are sleeping. You might call this our quality time together. I finish before him and take a seat. He looks over at me and notices me feeling around in my mouth.
“My left canine is sharper than my right,” I say.
“Those are for eating meat,” he jokes, crouching down in front me so we can examine his teeth. “Mine are flat, see?”
I’ll be…they are flat, naturally—and perfectly aligned, not naturally. This isn’t the first time I’ve noted how beautiful his teeth are. No, I remember him flashing those pearly whites the first time I saw him at the old Baptist church in Cumby, Texas over fifteen years ago. Swoon.
Like me, he had braces as a teenager, but he also got braces just on his bottom teeth a few years back because he noticed a slight deviation from perfection. He also had a retainer made for his top teeth that he wears every night to keep his chompers in line. The man works hard to keep that handsome smile.
At the time, he asked me if I wanted braces on bottom too. There is no slight deviation in my bottom teeth, rather, they are noticeably crooked on the right side. One tooth falls back while its neighbors crowd in front. But I like them that way, and for a good reason.
I remember watching my mom floss and brush, after which she always did the floss test. She would jut her bottom jaw forward like a bulldog, exposing her bottom teeth, and then suck air through the cracks in her teeth, and likewise for the top ones, ensuring that the floss had done its job. Her top teeth were pretty straight, but her bottom teeth were a little crowded and crooked in front, just like mine.
“Who do you take after?” I’ve heard this question countless times growing up, and even now when people see pictures of my mom and dad. It’s a valid question, I get it. While my sister looks very much like my dad, my DNA seems to express the recessive genes. The answer is, mostly my dad’s side. I have my Grannie’s eyes, facial features and body type more like my dad’s siblings, and my dad’s skin tone.
When I see pictures of me with my mom, I sometimes think there’s a similarity between our chins or smiles, though I can’t quite name it. Or sometimes I wonder if I have her legs. I remember her having the prettiest white legs. While the rest of her body aged, which she hated her baggy eyes and sagging neck the most, her legs lagged twenty years behind with only a wrinkle or two above the knee caps. I don’t have her hair, skin, or eyes, and there’re more junk in my trunk and less up top—she was the opposite.
But I think I have her sense of humor and the ability to laugh at myself like she did. She was pretty even-tempered and excited by little things, adventurous and loved to travel. And she dealt with things internally, didn’t always communicate like she should have. One could argue that these things are more nurture than nature, that I could have inherited these characteristics apart from a biological connection.
And though there is not much outward semblance between us, I wonder if we share the same insides; that is, I wonder if I will die like she did–spontaneously, unexpectedly, relatively young–though I’m not really sure what the cause of death was. The autopsy suggests she died as the result of blunt force injuries from when her car wrecked, but something was happening to her before the wreck, and therein lies the mystery. Surely they would have found something obvious like an aortic aneurysm, blood clot, or heart attack while they tested and scanned her body for hours in ICU, but their tests revealed nothing behind the massive amounts of bleeding and cardiac arrest.
Not too long ago my dad came to visit for the day and we decided to have a picnic at the nearby lake. He sat at the kitchen table while I made a BLT for each of us. I toasted the bread and spread the requested condiments, sliced the tomatoes and arranged them evenly on each sandwich, followed by salt and pepper, then a layer of spinach and bacon before finishing up.
“You make sandwiches like your mom,” he said, and I knew exactly what he meant. I saw her standing in the kitchen, summertime, showing off those pretty legs, neatly layering lettuce and tomato, shaking the salt and pepper, every bite just right.
“With care?” I replied.
“Yes, with care.”
You may not be able to see that I am my mother’s daughter when you look at pictures of us. It may be that I only hold the nuture traits and not the nature ones. I may or may not have her insides (dad, I promise I’ll get a thorough testing by the time I’m 40). But, I do have these crooked bottom teeth, physical evidence that I am her daughter, and I make sandwiches with care.