I think I was six when I learned the Tooth Fairy didn't exist.
I was playing in the sandbox at the playground behind our house. I was building a sand fortress – no, not a castle, a fortress. Fortresses are much bigger than castles, and much grander. I was always a big thinker, I guess. My mom said I was always running away with my imagination. At the time I didn't know what she meant.
So, I was playing in the sandbox, building my fortress, and a big boy came up to me. He was probably about nine or ten. Either way, he was old enough to know lots of things, and old enough to think he knew all of them.
He looked at my sand fortress. He raised an eyebrow and poked one of the towers with his finger. It held. He seemed satisfied and nodded and poked another. It crumbled a bit where his fingertip touched the sand. He shook his head at me and said, pointing at it, "Gimme this."
I stood as tall as I could, trying to match up to his height. I put my hands on my hips and leaned to the side. I thought for a minute, I tilted my head. I stood taller and looked down at my sand fortress and wiggled my loose tooth. I looked back at him and wiggled my loose tooth.
I said, "No." and wiggled my loose tooth. The boy's smug expression dropped from his face like a little rock from a huge mountain. He saw me wiggle my tooth. His smugness came back.
"What'cha gonna do with that?" He asked, pointing at my mouth rather rudely. "Put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy?" He was sneering now, and he spat at the ground. For a moment I stared at the spot in the sand where he spit. It was wet and there was a small white glob of spit dissolving into the sand.
I nodded and said, a little defiantly, "Yup. Mama said I'd get a dollar if I did."
The big boy laughed and spat. "Course she did!" Laughed and spat.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
He leaned in closer until I could smell the leftover hot dog from lunch in his breath. "She is the Tooth Fairy." He leaned back, satisfied, and spat.
I didn't know what he meant. I was confused. He must have seen it on my face 'cause he sighed like I was stupid and rolled his eyes like it was obvious and laughed like the whole thing was funny to him – it probably was.
"The Tooth Fairy don't exist, kid. Got it?" He said and spat and kicked in half my sand fortress with his foot. He didn't wait for me to answer – It was a rhetorical question. Then he walked off, leaving me in the rubble of my wonderful former-fortress, all my dreams and hopes shattered like broken glass.
After a while, it occurred to me that the kid might not be telling the truth. So I decided to ask someone I trusted completely. I decided to ask my mom because, at least in my eyes, she knew everything.
She was making dinner in the kitchen when I walked through the back door. I went up to her and tried to see through her arm into her hand, which held a pan full of sizzling veggies. "Careful! Not too close Mandy." She said when I tried to reach over her arm into the pan.
I went over to the counter and sat down and rested my chin on my hands. I sighed loudly and she sighed too and said, "Yes?"
I bit my lip and started out casually. "There was a big kid at the park today." She looked at me over her shoulder and turned the heat on the stove down and sat next to me. She put her chin on her hands too, imitating me playfully.
"Was the big kid mean to you, sweetheart?" She asked, probably wondering where this was going.
I shook my head, then hesitated and nodded. "A little." I said. She nodded like she knew what I meant.
I hesitated again, not wanting to hear her answer to the question I was about to ask. "He said.... Well, he said the Tooth Fairy didn't exist."
Her forehead wrinkled and she looked a little bit mad. I'd never seen her mad. I silently mused what it would be like. I imagined she would breathe a little louder and she would try to keep her voice level and her temper under control, but her anger will bubble up like boiling water inside of her and then it will burst out, burning everything in its path and leaving the room in complete and stunned silence. She'll apologize forever, but no one will really ever forget that moment that transformed the calm, patient woman we know into an angry tyrant.
Her voice snapped me back to the present. "And do you believe him?" The way she asked was quiet and almost hesitant, as though she was afraid of what I might say.
I sighed. "I don't know." She breathed a small sigh of relief and I knew she was hoping I wouldn't hear it. I did.
"Would you ever lie to me?" I asked her. She seemed surprised, but glad we were talking about something else. "No, baby. Never. Never ever." She said, tussling my hair.
I was about to drop a bomb on her, and I felt guilty. But I had to ask, had to know.
"Mama," I had to ask, had to know. "Is the Tooth Fairy real?" There. I had done it. I had done the unthinkable. I knew I wasn't prepared to hear an answer, but I had to ask. I had to know.
She took my hand and patted it. She sighed and looked at it. She slowly lifted her head and looked deep into my face. I could already see her answer there, in her dark blue eyes, but I needed to hear her say it, or I wouldn't believe it.
"No, baby. She's not real."
I knew now. I knew, but I did it anyway. When my tooth came out a few weeks later, I put it under my pillow.
The next morning, I didn't find a dollar. I found something so much better. I found a shiny silver tooth-shaped charm to add to the charm bracelet I got for my birthday last year.
It must have taken forever to find it. Shiny silver tooth-shaped charms don't grow on trees, you know. I clipped it on to the bracelet and wore it for every day until fourth grade, when it cracked and fell off. But even now, it feels like it's still there.
I didn't find a dollar under my pillow. I found the truth, and, no matter what I chose to believe, it felt good to know it.