by Cathy Arden on November 27, 2014


I’ve been finding my children’s baby teeth in varied and dissimilar boxes tucked away in closet and dresser drawers. When I’m searching for something – one of those deep, frantic searches — I run into my children’s baby teeth. I always forget what is inside those boxes, given that my deep searches are few and far between. Some of the baby teeth boxes were formerly little white gift boxes that once housed jewelry. So I open one and assume I’ll see some old jewelry in there. Perhaps a pair of earrings from adolescence. Or a ring of my sister’s that I’ve saved but will never wear. Or a bracelet of my mother’s I keep meaning to show my daughter to see if she wants it. I open those small white boxes and small teeth appear. I see the teeth and I feel a twinge of guilt. Guilt that I never separated my daughter’s baby teeth from my son’s. Whose teeth are staring up at me? I have no idea.  As far as baby teeth go, my daughter and my son have merged into one being. One small child. One memento.

There is another memento, if one can use that term for this particular item, that sometimes appears in one of those searches along with the teeth. The one place they both turn up together is in the top drawer of my dresser, a dresser that has been moved to 2 different houses in 2 different states since the first time the items were placed there decades ago. Initially, it was designated as my underwear drawer, although now it’s simply my junk drawer.   Granted,  junk drawers often  house valuable items.  I began using my underwear drawer as a hiding place, i.e. for the baby teeth, and this small black journal I named my Black Book. They’d be stuffed carefully at the back of the drawer, under panties, hidden behind bras. Two vastly different items meant to be hidden, but both meant to be beyond reach of my children. After all, I kept the fantasy about the Tooth Fairy going way past the time my children knew better.   Even when they began to question it, I’d say, no, there really is a tooth fairy, and she isn’t me. I was adamant about it.   Even to the point that eventually my children would laugh at me, though I could tell they wondered if perhaps the Tooth Fairy was indeed the real deal.

The Black Book is not what you think. Although I did make a list at some point in my 20’s, or was it 30’s, of all the men I had slept with up to that point, this Black Book isn’t that list. And that list was never saved, at least it’s never turned up in one of my frantic, deep searches.  I must have thrown it away at some point, which is interesting to me that I’d do that. It makes me wonder — at what point in my life did I throw out that list? When I got married, perhaps? I don’t recall.

Okay, so the Black Book. It was my secret, dark journal. So dark that I can’t even bring myself to open it all these decades later.   I was 7 months pregnant with my second child, my son, when I started writing in this journal. My daughter was about to be 4 years old. In fact, my children’s birthdays are 2 days apart. The week I started writing in the Black Book was the week my husband revealed to me he was gay, and continued to reveal to me that he had been secretly having anonymous sex with men throughout our marriage. I had my little plaid diary that got me through a difficult childhood. Now I had my Black Book. It was the same size as my plaid diary. Very different from my many journals that were looseleaf size and housed single space, typewritten pages.  I filled the Black Book with anger, with fear, with feelings of betrayal, with guilt over my son being born into a broken family, with devastation for myself and for my daughter. I hid the Black Book in my top dresser drawer stuffed behind the bras and panties. Along with the baby teeth. Precious and secret. The myth of the Tooth Fairy snuggled up against the end of my marriage.

Although life does turn on a dime, transitions take months and years to occur.  Something shifts and you notice.  I have always remembered the first day I didn’t cry after learning my husband was gay and knowing our marriage was over. At the end of one particular day, months after we separated when my son was a year old, my daughter five, I realized I hadn’t shed a tear. I was in my car, exiting the thruway onto Route 59 in Nyack, NY where we lived. I was stunned when I realized I hadn’t cried that day. It was a revelatory moment. Eventually, the shame lessened. The fear and anger subsided. I fell in love again. My children grew. My ex-husband and I became friends. The magic of a tooth fairy doesn’t seem that far fetched to me. If I needed to keep that fantasy alive for my children, then perhaps we all needed to hold on to magic, to faith. I keep the Black Book but I have no need to open it.   My children’s baby teeth spill out into the drawer, and the Black Book, although visible, remains unopened.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara November 27, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Ah, the black book! I have several of my own! Cathy, this is a beautiful and eloquent piece! Thank you for sharing such a momentous time in your life.


Stephen Howard November 27, 2014 at 2:36 PM

I can remember my first days without distress over what seemed a great loss. I often refused to accept it; determined to nurture my suffering. Life is a fairy tale.


Amy Louise Pommier December 3, 2014 at 9:05 AM

As ever, you’re very, very courageous in digging up these images, feelings and memories to share with your readers. Most people have some sort of “life-changing” event or discovery that has been traumatic in their past, and your way of describing how you’ve dealt with your experiences will no doubt be inspiring and helpful to others.


Iris December 8, 2014 at 4:07 PM

Reading your very personal account of the dark places in your life led me to think about my own little “black book”, which is little, but not black. I haven’t thought about it, nor of other emotional scribblings that lie in the recesses of my drawers. I can’t get myself to throw them away, nor can I read them. Some day. Thanks for your candor, and for reminding me.


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