Posted in 2020-2021 Readings and Talks
October 20, 2020 at 7PM ET
Moderated by Aminatta Forna
Cosponsored by The Georgetown Medical Humanities Initiative
Watch the replay on Crowdcast
Lost Children Archive (Penguin, 2020)
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions (Coffee House Press, 2017)
From The Story of My Teeth
I’m the best auctioneer in the world, but no one knows it because I’m a discreet sort of man. My name is Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, though people call me Highway, I believe with affection. I can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums. I can interpret Chinese fortune cookies. I can stand an egg upright on a table, the way Christopher Columbus did in the famous anecdote. I know how to count to eight in Japanese: ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi. I can float on my back.
This is the story of my teeth, and my treatise on collectibles and the variable value of objects. As any other story, this one begins with the Beginning; and then comes the Middle, and then the End. The rest, as a friend of mine always says, is literature: hyperbolics, parabolics, circulars, allegorics, and elliptics. I don’t know what comes after that. Possibly ignominy, death, and, finally, postmortem fame. At that point it will no longer be my place to say anything in the first person. I will be a dead man, a happy, enviable man.
Some have luck, some have charisma. I’ve got a bit of both. My uncle, Solón Sánchez Fuentes, a salesman dealing in quality Italian ties, used to say that beauty, power, and early success fade away, and that they’re a heavy burden for those who possess them, because the prospect of their loss is a threat few can endure. I’ve never had to worry about that, because there’s nothing ephemeral in my nature. I have only permanent qualities. I inherited every last jot of my uncle Solón’s charisma, and he also left me an elegant Italian tie. That’s all you need in this life to become a man of pedigree, he said.
I was born in Pachuca, the Beautiful Windy City, with four premature teeth and my body completely covered in a very fine coat of fuzz. But I’m grateful for that inauspicious start, because ugliness, as my other uncle, Eurípides López Sánchez, was given to saying, is character forming. When my father first saw me, he claimed his real son had been taken away by the new mother in the next room. He tried by various means—bureaucracy, blackmail, intimidation—to return me to the nurse who had handed me over. But Mom took me in her arms the moment she saw me: a tiny, brown, swollen blob fish. She had been trained to accept filth as her fate. Dad hadn’t.
The nurse explained to my parents that the presence of my four teeth was a rare condition in our country, but one that was not uncommon among other races. It was called congenital prenatal dentition.
What kind of races? asked my father, on the defensive.
Caucasians, sir, said the nurse.
But this child is as dark as the inside of a needle, Dad replied.
Genetics is a science full of gods, Mr. Sánchez.
That must have consoled my father. He finally resigned himself to carrying me home in his arms, wrapped up in a thick flannel blanket.