We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter. ~Denis Diderot
There aren’t too many quotes that have to do with swallowing in the literal sense. But in my search, I found the one above and felt it worth sharing.
Anyway, I don’t know the exact chronological order of the events below, but most—if not all—happened when I was under the age of nine.
Marbles and pennies. I remember standing by our raised plastic pool in the backyard and my mom peeking out the side door. In my memory, she had a phone in her hand with the cord stretched as far as it could go. I later learned she sought the advice of my aunts about the fact I swallowed either a marble or a penny. In any case, I swallowed at least one of each at one time or another.
Gum. What kid doesn’t swallow gum? My problem: I’d swallowed so many other odd items that the gum probably wrapped around all of these other things to form a type of rubber band ball that could be lodged in my lower intestine to this day. There were a few times I didn’t swallow gum and ended up going to sleep with gum in my mouth, which later got tangled in my long hair. Because of this, I ended up with the pixie cut and was many times mistaken for a boy unless I was wearing a dress.
A Flag. My mom tells this story and I can somewhat remember. I had one of those small American flags on a wooden stick and I was carrying it in my mouth. Running. I fell and the wooden stick jammed into the back of my throat. It didn’t do major physical damage (it could have killed me had it punctured through far enough), fortunately, but may have something to do with my liberal tendencies.
A quarter. This is the most vivid in my memory. I was six or seven years old, passing the time out by our van while the rest of my family was getting ready for church. Rolling my church money off the top of the van and catching it in my mouth seemed like a fun challenge. (In case you’re wondering how a young child could reach the top of the van, I was standing inside the van, door open). Next thing I knew—and I have this etched in my brain cells—I was running toward the house unable to breathe. It was like one of those nightmares where you’re trying to run, but you’re not moving. I can still picture the side door to the house, which remained out of my reach. Next thing I knew, I was being hung upside down in the backyard with my mom’s fingers down my throat. Well, in this case, up my throat, as I was upside down. The quarter was lodged in there. Finally, I gagged and out it came. I was so happy I didn’t have to go to Sunday school that morning! Positive reinforcement for my oral fixations. Although I had originally thought I was alone with my loose Sunday school change and the van, I learned later that my older brother was there, too, and flew inside to report to my parents that I was choking. Thank you to my brother and parents for saving my life.
A raisin. This is a fuzzy memory, but my mom has been good at keeping it alive over the years. I was eating a box of raisins in the backyard. Pretty normal, right? Eating raisins. I chewed and swallowed without any problems. But for some reason, I decided to put one up my nose. My nose swelled up and my parents couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Until I sneezed and out came—not a raisin—but a grape!
Toothpaste. Sometimes, when I was young, I pretended to brush my teeth. Turned on the faucet, hum to myself for a period of time that seemed long enough to have achieved a full teeth brushing. That would explain the many cavities I had as a child. When I actually did brush, I liked to swallow the toothpaste. To me, it was quite flavorful. A perfect start to the day; a nice evening snack. I’m still alive to talk about it.
Glue. Elmer’s glue tasted good to me. One day, in kindergarten, I took a sip of white glue. But it wasn’t Elmers. It was some off-brand. And it was nasty. I spit it out into tissue or toilet paper and my friends thought I had thrown up. I was too embarrassed to say I had to expectorate the bad glue. From that day forward, I checked the label. Other times, I put a thin layer of Elmers on the palm of my hand. After it dried, I peeled it off and put it on my tongue. I liked the way it melted.
Paste. I’m not sure they even make paste any more (today’s glue sticks perhaps?), but I was a connoisseur in my day. Minty, smooth with a sticky finish all in one little plastic jar. I would sneak it during class. Just lift up the desk top (not a computer, an actual top of the school desk that lifted up) when the teacher was writing on the chalkboard, quickly dip my finger into the goo and insert into mouth. Tasty! I recall doing this numerous times before I was caught. I remember getting caught and feeling a bit ashamed. But I don’t remember whether I tried eating it again during class.
String. It was fun to take a string and swallow one end while holding the other end in my hand. Then pull it out. It felt really weird. Little did I know, this was good for me.
Spoonfuls of sugar and vanilla. When I was little, I’d climb up on the kitchen counter and sneak spoonfuls of pure white sugar. And vanilla. Not mixed together. I found each to be delectable on their on merit. Another explanation for those cavities.
Bugs. An Ohio University fact sheet estimates that we eat from one to 2 pounds of insects each year. Without even knowing it. (according to SixWise.com)
Now that I’m older, I scold my son when he tries to use his teeth to separate LEGO pieces. I tell him the story about the quarter and how I almost died. He recently choked on some food while talking, jumping and chewing at the same time. I was getting ready to administer the Heimlich Maneuver, when he gagged it up. A close call that made me thankful, once again, for my parents and brother saving me from George Washington.
I haven’t eaten glue in years, try to minimize the sugar intake and keep my loose change in a jar, never to pass my lips. Insects will remain in my diet, although not by choice.
These days I have to worry more about what I hear or read. That I not swallow unkind words to my heart where they’re taken personally. That I not choke on compliments given. And allow the truths in and out without chewing too hard. I also avoid bitter pills.
Photo: flickr.com by keithbgoldstein
* Originally published on elephantjournal.com.