I sucked my finger until I was 25. . .

by Stephanie Pyke
(Omaha, NE)

and I had a blanket. Some people think that this is a security blanket, but I wasn't attached to it in that way. I didn't need it for security. It wasn't any special blanket to look at. It was a linen felt blanket with satin edging. I loved the scratchiness of the linen against my skin, but more than that, I had to have the satin edging, twisted up into a little point, and rubbed against my upper lip while i sucked my right index finger.

I have never found another piece of satin or a blanket quite like it. without the satin to rub against my lip, I stopped sucking my finger.

I was also the kid with the chewed up pencils and erasers, who chewed the cap off of every pen and sometimes cracked the pen plastic down, bit the metal of the eraser holders into points, put tooth marks in my paperback books, and carried straws in the mouth like cigarettes before chewing them into twisted plastic uselessness. I chewed bottle caps because I like the feeling of the grooves of a bottle cap or the top of the bottle on my tongue.

Where else can I go with oral sensitivities? I hate the dentist because of how much their hands are in the mouth, even covered in gloves. I put my fingers in my mouth all the time, but other people's fingers? oh no, that's right out. The metal instruments, nasty cotton, flouride treatments, the bite pads, the scrapers, everything to do with the dentist is a nightmare. I hated brushing my teeth as a kid. it was the sodium laurel sulfate that makes the foaming action. I found toothpaste without it as an adult. I have no trouble now.

Even my husband tells me I have weird tastes. I tell him it's not necessarily the taste but also the texture. for example, because I have lots of stuff to talk about and only 100k words, I refuse to eat russet potatoes unless they are fried. They are gritty and taste like dirt to me. I was in my 30s before I could stand to eat a single tater tot without gagging. Red, yellow, or purple potatoes I can enjoy, but no russets. needless to say, I don't eat potato chips unless they're ultra salty and I have dip for them to mask their flavor. Powdered flavors will not do and are disgusting, it has to be dip.

packaged lunchmeats need to be dry. if they are slimy at all, I can't eat them. I gag. I can't stand the feeling of processed meats that are spongy in texture, or have an ironish tang. for this reason I can't eat hot dogs, bologna, arby's roast beef, chicken nuggets or processed chicken sandwiches. The meat cannot have a strong flavor of its own at all unless it is fish. I won't eat dark bird meat because it smells and tastes sulfury to me. I hate fatty meats. the feeling of the fat in my mouth makes me gag. Eggs are all sorts of spongy, chewy, sulfury, nasty.

The list of beefs with childhood food goes on and my parents with their nicotine deadened mouths didn't understand and they used to punish me for pickiness. My mom did not celebrate food, she slopped it, blanded it, gave up on it, and made monotonous. It wasn't until she was dead and I moved out and my dad quit smoking and got married to a woman with a degree in home economics that he apologized to me for the mealtime torture he put me through. Because as it turns out, after quitting smoking he's orally sensitive too, and when he made food that he used to enjoy out of mom's recipe book, he gagged on it and threw it out as inedible.

I still can't logically explain to my husband why spaghetti is the devil's pasta and bowties are a-ok. It's just the way it is.

But here's the paradox. I love ultra spicy, ultra sour, ultra minty, ultra salty, and even ultra bitter sometimes. I love almost unsweet chocolate (80% cocoa). I prefer to chug bottles of tonic water. Indian food, Thai food, as long as the herbs are big and bold, it starts being wonderful. Isn't that weird coming from a gal that just extolled the evils of bitter, sulfury brussels sprouts? Ultra sweet, on the other hand, makes me gag.

oral sensitivity is not all bad though. I learned to enjoy it though the flavors and textures of the foods I hated as a child I can't seem to shake gagging at them no matter how hard I try, I have become quite the food explorer. It turns out that not liking chicken nuggets, beef, tomatoes, russet potatoes or processed cheese is an awesome thing when you get away from the people that put that stuff into everything. Those things are, unfortunately, staples of the american diet, but they are not the same everywhere. If you have oral sensitivity, I encourage you to explore the taste and texture of everything. and you learn to appreciate different textures. You have the superpower to appreciate them like nobody else can. For example I discovered okra as an adult, and I adore it. It is a plant with very little flavor, but lots of wonderful textures, from the velvety outside, to the crunchy husk, to the seeds that go pop when you crunch them, to the --yes-- slimy goo that it develops when cooked and cut. so many textures to enjoy all at once without the tastebuds getting in the way except for a slight bitter on the seeds, there's no other fruit quite like it, and I am glad I discovered it as an adult, with an adult's capacity to appreciate at first encounter rather than recoil.

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