My sister let my Dad pull her teeth.
I did not.
She would tilt her head back to allow his determined fingers access to the precious, precarious tooth. Then, a quick tug and Liza had an appointment with the tooth fairy.
I refused to let my father’s prying fingers anywhere near my delicate teeth. Rather, I would let a wiggle become a wobble. The tooth would be on my mind all day, wavering in my salivating mouth like seaweed vacillating below ocean waves. I would renegotiate my eating—avoiding apples and sliding gummies to the opposite side. Anything to skirt the pain.
For days the tooth would flounder as fiber by fiber silently severed until a single thread held the tooth in a tragic dervish.
I did not come out all at once. I was surrounded for years by a host of affirming friends and family, and I kept my mouth shut, leaving the truth to wiggle and wobble and flounder, leaving people I trust most to ask or assume so that when the blunt “I’m gay” did eventually tumble out, it was not such a scandal or such a miracle.
In college, I ran a season of track and field in which I felt compelled to vomit after nearly every race. With my throat scoured by the bone-dry air and stomach squeezed from excruciating effort, I would sit beside a trash can as still as I possibly could and think cold thoughts. (I’ve discovered that imagining ice settles my stomach.)
While other teammates would have thrust an impatient finger down their throats and let the discomfort slop out, I sat still as a statue, breathing shallowly, holding the hot tension in my belly sometimes for up to an hour until it subsided or forced its way out.
I dated a girl once. For two and a half years. She was my best friend. I knew I was gay less than six months in, and yet we accompanied each other to school dances and exchanged birthday gifts and attended family Christmas parties and took a trip to Chicago. When we watched movies together, she would take my hand in hers and place her other hand on my forearm. That hand burned, but I could bear it.
When we finally arrived at college and I realized that we were on pace to marry when we graduated, I put space between us, let things wiggle and wobble and flounder so that when they came crashing down one snowy February afternoon, the landing was incrementally softer.
I still have a mouthful of teeth, and I can feel them wiggle and wobble. I can feel the doleful, gyrating, all-consuming dervish and the tension of the final thread.
And I’m only now beginning to realize that perhaps I inherited my father’s fingers.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.