“I’ll grow into my overbite. You won’t outgrow stupid.”
It was something! I reckoned, once, that Peter could fit his entire fist into his overbite. I didn’t say it, of course. I felt bad for him. Kids say things, you know? Harsh things.
And it got much worse the day Peter became a walking dark-age orthodontic experiment.
He walked into Mrs. Eames’ second grade class wearing this medieval-torture looking device. No kidding, like something Jigsaw might have employed in Saw. Bands, belts and bolts, it was a stream-of-drool-inducing, lightening-strike-inviting, leather and metallic contraption, affixed to his skull. I do mean affixed; with screws or something. He tried to explain it to us. He was hard to understand. (Pinch your tongue with your fingers and try to talk—that’s sort of what he sounded like … but a lot wetter.)
Something about the top part was pulling his face back, and the lower half was moving his chin forward. I’m no engineer, but that was definitely the direction things needed to go.
He had to wear this thing 24/7 for the first few weeks. Then, good news! He’d only have to wear it during the day after that … or in other words, when he was around all the other kids … who say mean things. And they did. Greg, worst of all.
Greg took it as a challenge to come up with new cut-down monikers every day. They spread through our elementary school like a runny nose. Kids who didn’t even know his real name called Peter Tin-grin, Zipper-lips, Train-tracks, and Cheese-grater. During the holiday season—Christmas for us, but not for Peter because Santa didn’t like Jews—Tinsel Teeth was wildly popular.
What Peter lacked in jowl-alignment was more than compensated in his thick-skin and quick-wit. He’d laugh himself, and fire back disarming humor. And never with an ounce of malice; never a hint that any of this teasing nicked him—
Until the day the apparatus was gone. I don’t remember what Greg said, something like, ‘Doesn’t look like it worked’ … because, well, it didn’t. This jest cut, I could tell. Peter turned to face Greg, looked him in the eye, and said, “I’ll grow into my overbite. You won’t outgrow stupid.”
Peter was a prophet.