By Tara Cohen
When I was in fourth grade, I already needed braces. Badly. My overbite was pushing beaver-esque proportions (man, I wish I were exaggerating), and the kids at day-camp referred to me not-so-affectionately as “Chipmunk.” The orthodontist was concerned that if I had any kind of accident involving my face, those two disproportionately large front choppers would be history. But, he told us, before he could even start shifting those pearly marbles around, some of them would have to be sacrificed to the tooth fairy in order for the rest to fit properly. “You,” he informed me, “have a very small mouth.” And thus began one of the longest-running jokes in my family’s history. “Tara?? A small mouth? I really don’t think so,” they joked. “The child who speaks at such lengths she seems to take breaths only once every five minutes? The one who, at age 4, told her great-grandmother and every other grey-haired person she met that they were old and surely going to die soon does not have a small mouth. No. This kid hands off wrapped birthday presents and says, ‘It’s a sweater! I hope you like it!’ Surely you’ve mixed her X-rays up with someone else’s. This child has the biggest mouth of all time. Call the folks at that Guinness Book place. They’ll back us up. Seriously. Add some teeth. There’s room. We swear.”
Turns out they were both right. The ortho-sadist knocked me out and pulled four adult and four baby teeth from my disproportionately small jaw, and then, when I woke up, I told anyone and everyone all about it. Considering it was 25 years ago and I’m still talking about it, I’d say my family had a fair point. Considering I’m talking about it with a very straight set of healthy teeth, I gotta give the doc a little credit too.
While surgical extractions and four years of braces did resolve my “small mouth” issue and alleviate my “chipmunk” status, it did nothing to improve my “big mouth” reputation, something I continue to perpetuate even now in my 30s. While I am finally capable of shutting up long enough to let people be pleasantly surprised while opening their gifts, I’ve never quite mastered the art of keeping a strong opinion to myself. As I have no current aspirations to politics or mafia life, I try to think of it as an asset. Being loquacious (sounds better than “more-talkative-than-a-teenage-cheerleader-on-speed”) often leads to interesting conversations with people in the most random settings. Just a few months back I had the most fascinating two-hour chat with this dead-ringer-for-Obama-atheistic-democrat-with-two-goddaughters-and-a-flat-in-Soho on a flight to New York. He was the most fascinating single-serving friend I’ve ever met (If you didn’t catch that little pop-culture reference, go rent “Fight Club,” seriously.), and being unwilling to talk politics or religion, or to talk to strangers in general, would certainly not have led to anywhere near as interesting a flight.