Monday, November 30, 2009

Tin Grins

"Tin Grins are In" proclaimed my favorite tee-shirt. I finally had braces! I wore that yellow shirt with the mouth full of glittering braces and green bands around the bottom of the sleeves almost constantly. I was showing the world that even though my teeth were still quite a fright at least I was in the process of doing something about it. Little did I know as I was sitting in the orthodontist chair that I would wear braces longer than Jimmy Carter would be in office.
I could hear my orthodontist whisper to his assistant. "No regular braces for this one, we need to bring out the big guns." Huh? What did he mean by "big guns?" I had visions of my teeth being extracted and beautiful fake front teeth being inserted. I would take them out at night and put them in a glass next to by bed where they would soak in Polident. I was ready to bolt from the chair. Before I could get up, the orthodontist and his assistant came back into the room carrying what appeared to be a small train track.
"Meredith," the orthodontist said, "you have quite an overbite." (No kidding doc, trying lying on your stomach and find yourself elevated 3 inches off the bed). "I am not going to be able to use the type of braces that can be cemented onto the front of your teeth. I will have to put these bands all the way around your teeth. Then I will have to put rubber bands onto the hooks on the back so we can start pulling the teeth back into your mouth. This will eliminate the fact that you look Bugs Bunny’s first cousin. You will also have to wear a head gear twice a day." Oh my God, would I ever be able to leave the house? Having braces sounded like a full-time job.
Pull, push, grind, cement, twist....I could feel the beads of sweat trickling down my now forming breasts as they sawed down my teeth to a regular size. I think they took off about two inches. Tooth dust was flying everywhere. I was covered in it. Would they ever get this over with? Where was the nitrous? I heard this was available to people who were going through painful procedures. Where was my mother? Did she know I was being tortured in here? I swear that doctor was smiling through the entire process. What a sadistic son of a gun.
"Well now Meredith, we are finally done. Let my assistant just clean the blood off your mouth and face and that should do it." Blood? I felt the room start spinning. I was starting to long for my unfortunate overbite that had become the focal point of my elfish face. Then again, I really felt no pain after my blood transfusion. Braces didn’t hurt. They just felt funny. I tried to lick my teeth with my tongue and it got stuck in the wire running from one side to the other. Help.tongue stuck! Anybody??? Was I going to have the tip of my tongue removed? This caused me so much anxiety that I reached for the paperbag I still carried from my near death experience at the Ice Capades. Finally, I just grabbed my tongue and gave it a mighty pull. An explosion of pain...I was seeing the light. Then I remembered I was still sitting in the dentist’s chair and the light was the one beaming onto my face so Freddy Kruger could inflict misery upon me. All the while he was giving me a look that said I needed more than braces, perhaps a round of therapy would help to finish out the day.
I took a glance in the office mirror and was so shocked at how I looked liked Richard Kiel, the character who played "Jaws" in the James Bond Movies, "The Spy who Loved Me and Moonraker."
All I was missing was a small train to ride on the wire tracks of my braces. Humiliating. How was I going to get through the next 15 years of braces with my mouth closed? Eventually someone was going to ask me a question. It was then and there that I decided I would learn sign language.
I made it through the day at school noticing my teeth were starting to get quite sore. Not terribly, just kind of like I had pulled a muscle in my mouth. Which I actually had when I ripped my tongue out of my braces. By evening trying to eat solid food would send me writhing on the ground. My family would look at me and just shake their heads. Then they would reach for the Salisbury Steak. Not only was I going to suffer, I was going to starve to death....In my own home while my family watched. They would be playing Monopoly and I would be inhaling jell-O trying to get as many nutrients as possible. The worst of it had yet to come. I hadn’t even put on the head gear.
Now this head gear was not typical head gear, the type that went around the back of your head. No, mine looked more like something that NASA designed. I would insert my rubber bands, and then attach the spaceship looking helmet to my head. It ran across the top of my head and around the back all in one piece. There were two holes on either side of the band that ran across my head, I guess so I wouldn’t overheat in my sleep. This head gear caused two problems. One, I liked to take a shower at night before bedtime so I wouldn’t have to get up so early. What I didn’t realize as my hair dried through the night, some of my hair would come out of the holes. My ritual was waking up in the morning just in time to get dressed, grab a little breakfast and run to the bus stop. However, on day two, as I was taking off the headgear, I noticed that the hair that came out of the holes now looked like Mickey Mouse ears on the top of my head. Holy crap! Not only did I have the ugliest teeth in America, now I looked like I was a groupie for the Mickey mouse club. I wet my hairbrush but try as I might, I couldn’t get the "ears" down. I had no choice. I had to get to the bus stop or I would miss the bus.
I made it to school. I was walking toward my locker and a group of kids behind me were singing M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E. I could have died of embarrassment. Annette Funicello I was not.
Problem two. My sister and I shared a bed at this time. Almost nightly head gear hooks would get stuck in the pillowcase on my side of the bed. When I rolled over, I would pull them loose and because they were connected by rubber bands they would act as a projectile and slap my sister in the face. She was just a little kid. Eight years younger than I. She would cry out and I would console her. "It’s okay Heather, go back to sleep, don’t tell mom and dad." She would fall back into her slumber and wake up the next morning with bruise marks across her face shaped liked head gear poles. This went on and on until her school threatened to call DFACS. We couldn’t move her, we only had three bedrooms and my parents selfishly would not let her sleep with them. My brother had the other bedroom, so that was a mote point. My idea of making him sleep on the floor didn’t go over every well.
To compensate for my sister’s wounds, I stopped wearing the head gear at night. Of course the dentist wasn’t impressed by the slow movement of my teeth back into a "normal" position. But, the family stopped getting threats that they were going to take my sister away for abuse and stick her in some orphanage where we would never be able to find her, and I stopped having mouse ears on top of my head every morning.
Some years went by, and we moved to Seattle. I saw a new orthodontist who was amazed that I had been wearing braces for so long. He promptly removed then and I graduated to a retainer. I was ecstatic. I could finally see the bombshell I would turn out to be lurking under the surface of my little elfish face.
I was slowly turning into a swan....

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