It Started With A Chair

My life was a problem, had always been one, but everything seemed to really come to a head that day in the dentist chair. I laid back in the orange vinyl seat, my mouth stuffed with gauze. I had just been assaulted with a needle as thick as a pencil lead, not once, not twice, but six times. Twice for each tooth. Nothing burns quite as much as a shot in the root of the gums except for maybe childbirth, but thankfully at age 16 that wasn’t a pain I knew. But this was a pain I knew, and in addition felt something I couldn’t articulate. Each shot equalled one year of loneliness. I laid back and stared at the brown paneling. Dr. H had left the room to let it all sink in, and I cried silently. As the Novocaine activated and slowly turned my mouth to rubber this thought stayed sharp and stabbing. Any chance I had at being pretty was about to be twisted out with a pair of pliers.

I kept telling my mom that I still had baby teeth, but she didn’t believe me. After holding my brother Ed down on the couch and yanking out a tooth that turned out to have a root like an icicle I think she felt it best something she shouldn’t worry herself with. When they wanted to fall out, they would. But nothing is ever that simple in this family. I kept noticing that while my smile was even and somewhat straight, my canines weren’t pointy but instead looked like a couple of pieces of shoe-peg corn.

Finally, at age 16 my dentist noticed this and decided to do some X-rays. Sure enough, my canine teeth had not descended. Being part of my body they decided to be difficult and artsy and were in fact, hiding. Instead of lining up neatly along my gums and doing their job of dissolving my baby teeth roots they were squatting in the roof of my mouth like a couple of teenage runaways. One tooth doing this seems insolent, two seems like a conspiracy. My eye teeth were like siamese twins refusing surgery. They wanted to be together. Separating them was their only shot at a normal life, but being part of my body they were terrified of gainful employment.

The dreaded word was spoken. Braces. Braces when you are 12 are a rite of passage, a necessary ugly duckling maneuver on the way to swan-hood. All the beautiful girls in their magenta and orange sweaters from PASTA, white jeans, and matching bow flats had braces. The cheerleaders with their sun-browned skin and hot-rolled hair and bangs teased in rows, blooming out of their foreheads like a prom corsage.

They all had braces and so I wanted some. I wanted to be them. I grew so attached to one of them, Ashley Wells, that I made up excuses to hang around her. We didn’t have any classes together, and the lunch table was obviously out. I discovered she always brushed her teeth after lunch to dislodge food particles stuck in her braces. Doctors orders. I took to bringing my own travel toothpaste and brush to school and casually began brushing my teeth one sink over. When questioned about my aberrant behavior I made up something about having cavity prone tooth. This actually turned out to be true, and I was cultivating a good habit. But I was embarrassed at being found out. I gave up on lunchtime brushing and popularity.

Now, they were all having their braces taken off and reveling in their straight, bleached teeth. And my yellow teeth were finding a commonality 4 years too late, which seems to be a trend with me.

So I was dispatched to Dr. Helman, an orthodontist, for a consultation, and he sent me to his brother Dr. Helman, a dentist, for the preliminary surgery. My miniature canines would be dispatched, along with a tooth on the bottom that was crowding my other teeth like a fat guy on a bus seat. So far so good. Then I would have braces put on the remaining teeth.

But this was not going to solve the problems of the holes left where my meat-tearers needed to be. A solution of fiendish cleverness emerged from my orthodontist’s brain. They would unearth my teeth through surgical excavation, cutting a giant hole in the roof of the my mouth. I sort of imagined the discovery of my teeth as being akin to opening the tomb of Tutankammen or unearthing a frozen Mastodon.  And the similarities don’t end there. My teeth would literally have to be dragged into place with CHAINS. Brackets would be glued, chains attached and rubber bands would be tied to the chains, and the other end tied to my braces. It would take months, maybe years.

But at the time I wasn’t thinking of how painful this would be (and trust me, it was awful.) I wasn’t mourning the loss of bubble gum, or thinking about how for two years I wouldn’t be allowed to bite into an apple (one of life’s supreme pleasures, I have learned) or even a sandwich. I was thinking about those holes in my smile, and the metal they’d be covered with. How once again, there would be something making me other,only this time it wouldn’t be a Carol Brady haircut or a shorts outfit printed with frogs, but something in my face.

I contemplated this in the orange vinyl chair, tears streaming down. I tried to pretend it was because those shots really hurt. I laid back and listened to the cracking of bone and twisting of root, but I knew it was really the sound of my heart breaking. The teeth laid one by one on the white paper tray like bloody flower petals whispering “He loves me, He loves me not” before they are ripped, scattered and forgotten.