So to continue our journey into the land of junior high angst, let’s hop on the orthodontia bus.
I had braces when braces weren’t cool. None of this thin-wire-with-cute-colored-rubber-things stuff. It was full metal mouth bondage, with silver bands fully encasing each tooth and pounded on with a mallet.
To make the process more delightful, Drs. Manson and Stenstrom had the meanest receptionist on earth, with platinum blonde hair, super long nails and a serious smoking habit. You could count on her to get you into horrendous trouble through sly innuendo and withholding of pertinent information. Like when your next appointment was.
Once you got past the dragon lady, you were passed into the inner sanctum waiting room for patients only, papered with gigantic photos of those poor unfortunates who didn’t wear their headgear, or worse, didn’t correctly brush an appliance.
The ladies (and it was always ladies… only the doctors were men) who did all the work were a parade of trainees with varying degrees of finesse. If you gasped when the chisel hit your tongue, you were sharply rebuked. They were in TRAINING, for God’s sake – did you want to ruin their career?
I came to braces early. It was apparent by age eight that my baby teeth weren’t coming out on their own, which meant multiple trips to Dr. McCoy, former dentist for the USMC, who had fingers the size of kielbasa. We didn’t go to him because he was good. We went to him because he went to school with my dad. With one tattered old copy of Highlights (and, oddly, a bunch of creationist bedtime stories) in the waiting room and perennial floaters in the fish tank, Dr. McCoy’s office was not the happiest place on earth.
By the time I was nine I’d had more than a dozen teeth yanked and had been fitted with my first appliance: a flesh-pink bite-plate with springs in the front. Springs. As in tightly curled wire. In my mouth. Within days I had no skin at all on the front of my tongue, and became accustomed to the flavor of hemoglobin.
At ten, I received my first set of bands – thick rings of steel with sharp protrusions and “arch wires” that tightened them unmercifully. Even yogurt hurt. But it got even better.
Headgear. The name alone causes a shudder in nearly all who had to wear it. Mine was more special than most: it went over the top of my head, and connected with scaffolding to rubber bands hooked onto my eye teeth.
Smile. Now put your pinkies in the corners of your mouth. Now lift straight up three quarters of an inch. Do you look like the Joker? Why, yes, yes you do. And that was me. For twenty hours a day, each and every day of the week. I signed a behavioral contract. I had a progress chart. And twenty hours a day means you only take the damn thing off for meals and bathing.
That’s right. I had to wear that bastard to junior high school.
And the thing I worried about most through every ass-kicking I received was the well-being of that headgear, as any damage meant certain death at home.